Meet the Faces of South 2
Above: South 2 RN’s Sharon Pecoraro, Ryan Maas, Rosie Gul and Sarah Mandy
The South 2 floor at Cape Cod Hospital, known as the COVID unit, has undergone many transformations over the years. At one time, it was used as an overflow unit and staffed with float-pool nurses. Five years ago, it was established as a Med-Surge Unit. Two years ago, it changed to strictly a COVID floor with 24 beds for patients who need hospital care for days, weeks or even months.
The South 2 team has been described by peers as a well-respected and remarkable group who have jumped right in during a crisis and have worked in a very difficult environment. We recently sat down with South 2’s clinical leader (day shift), a certified nursing assistant, a physical therapist and an RN who works the night shift to hear what life has been like the past two years on the COVID floor. Here are their stories.
Pam Morrison, RN
Clinical leader on the day shift for South 2
Started working on South 2 five years ago when it became an established floor and no longer just an overflow unit. Morrison has worked for Cape Cod Healthcare for more than 20 years.
As clinical leader for the day shift on South 2, Morrison says the beginning of the day is a bit hectic, figuring out who needs what. She describes herself as “a runner,” providing an extra set of hands for her staff, whether it involves boosting up a patient, retrieving medication or supplies or helping to bathe someone. She also takes people to tests, assigns patients to appropriate beds and is here for anyone who needs her.
She says each surge of COVID-19 has been different and the beginning of the pandemic presented quite a learning experience for everyone.“No one knew anything about it,” says Morrison. “We kind of learned as we went along. We were called upon to take on COVID because everyone on this floor is amazing. Everyone just went to work and no one complained. We just did it.”
Morrison says the most difficult part of COVID has been the no-visitor policy. Currently, if there is an end-of-life or CMO (comfort measures only), one family member can visit for 15 minutes if they show proof of vaccination. “Before COVID, there could be 10 family members surrounding a bed and holding a hand, and allowing the patient to die with dignity with loved ones around them.
“It still gives me the chills. I can probably say no patient has died alone here,” says Morrison. “There was always somebody holding their hand, a staff member, because there is no one else. We always let every family member know they were never alone, someone was always with them.”
The South 2 unit holds 24 patients and on this particular day in mid-February, there are 19 patients on the floor. There is typically a 4:1 patient to nurse ratio. “We still wear N-95 masks, a shield, a gown and gloves when going into a patient’s room. It’s a little bit of process. We are good at it now, but some days, we come out dripping in sweat.
“I have never seen a disease, a virus, affect a patient like this has and how fast they can get sick,” says Morrison. “How one extra little movement or exertion of their body can send them over the edge. We haven’t seen as many critical patients the last couple of weeks, but it still takes my breath away to see how much it does to people.”
As the last couple of years have progressed and the COVID numbers have leveled off, says Morrison, “we have come so far from what we were, as far as intubations. We know the amount of oxygen people need, we know the process. Things run a lot smoother now.”
Despite the stresses over the past two years, Morrison says the biggest reward is working with her South 2 staff, including Lisa Burke, who manages South 2 and Mugar 3. “I am so appreciative of this team every day. I leave here and I just feel like we all kick-[***] together every day.”
Lisa Dixon, CNA
Certified Nursing Assistant on South 2 for nearly four years and 18 years at Cape Cod Healthcare
Lisa Dixon describes herself as an upbeat, happy and positive person. But one day, she hit a wall. Dixon recalls her first meltdown, when she cried all weekend.
One of her COVID patients, an elderly woman, was dying. She had family members all over the country saying goodbye on an iPad in the hospital room and the children sang back the songs that Nana sang to them when they were babies. Dixon, dressed in full COVID gear, stood in the room for 45 minutes listening to families in California, Nevada, New Mexico. Then her patient died.
“I just couldn’t pull it together,” says Dixon. “It hurt so bad. It was devastating.”
The South 2 staff eventually developed thicker skin. “We were the ones holding your hand as you died,” says Dixon, recently coming off a 12-day stretch. “We were the ones listening, while we were sweating in our gowns, to the family members saying goodbye.”
Like many of her coworkers, Dixon worked on South 2 before COVID hit. “We were told on a Monday morning: ‘You’re now the COVID floor.’ That sent a lot of anxiety. We didn’t know if we were going to live or die. You never knew when you came out of a room what was happening. It’s still raw,” she says, with tears in her eyes.
Dixon also describes how her hands became so raw and tender because of the constant handwashing, hand sanitizer and putting on and taking off gloves. “All of my fingernails were cracked,” says Dixon. “I couldn’t even touch a keyboard.”
As time went on, some went to other floors at Cape Cod Hospital. But for those who stayed, Dixon says the transformation from a regular floor to a COVID unit brought everyone closer together. “We all sat down and said, ‘Look, we are going to take the titles away. We are a family, 24/7. We have to give the best we can for our patients.’
“We changed into something dynamic,” says Dixon, “because we had no choice.” Dixon praises senior leadership for giving their floor necessary equipment, such as shower benches, shower wheelchairs and surgical shears to shave beards more efficiently to better fit oxygen masks on patients’ faces.
Dixon says her days consist of everything from changing adult diapers and bathing patients to shaving beards and having their hair cut (one of the CNAs on the floor is a hair stylist). Her patients over the past two years have ranged in ages from a 22-year-old pregnant woman to a 101-year-old. Although Dixon describes this period as the hardest ever in her nursing career, she says the rewards outweigh the stresses because they are helping people and making a difference.
“We’ve been to hell and back,” says Dixon. “I look forward to the day when this is all gone.”
Jenn Cameron, PT
Physical Therapist on South 2
Started out as an outpatient physical therapist for Cape Cod Healthcare in 2015 and transitioned to inpatient in 2017
Before COVID, physical therapist Jenn Cameron worked with patients who were stable and doing well. They were getting ready for the next phase of improving their mobility, either at home or at a rehab facility.
Cameron said she is now doing the opposite on South 2. “I jump in when patients are failing,” says Cameron. “They are doing poorly to the point where they need to be intubated, so I come in and position them to improve their oxygen saturations to avoid intubation. The more stable ones I don’t see as much.”
Before vaccines came along, Cameron says some patients were here for two months. Now, with vaccines, a typical stay on South 2 could be anywhere from two days to two weeks.
Cameron says one of her main focuses is oxygen management: The goal is to reduce a patient’s supplemental oxygen levels, avoid intubation and using positioning, such as proning (carefully turning the patient from their back onto their stomach), to help distribute oxygen more evenly throughout the lungs. “A lot of people can’t prone because they are elderly and they have shoulder issues. We position them on their stomach because it helps their oxygen saturation to increase, and in turn, helps them avoid being put on a ventilator.”
If the patient has a hard time lying on their stomach, Cameron will help to adjust them with pillows. “I get them comfortable so they can stay in that position.”
During the height of COVID, it was traumatic, says Cameron. Although she received support from friends and family, it was mainly over the phone. “People in the community almost saw us as being contaminated because we were in COVID all day long. So no one wanted to be around us. We watched a lot of people die, and you go home and no one wants to be near you because you’ve been in COVID all day. That was the hardest part.”
To help her get through the stresses of work, Cameron said she runs outside before she starts her workday. “Running got me through COVID.”
After two years of working on South 2, Cameron admits she and a lot of her coworkers have experienced burnout. But now that more people are vaccinated and mask mandates are starting to be lifted at schools, she sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The people who work here are really strong people, and we all rallied together and worked as a team. It’s hard to keep going when so many people do die that come into the hospital with COVID. You just need one person to say, ‘Remember this guy? He lived.’ It helps keep you going.”
Ryan Maas, RN
RN on South 2 since 2017, when he started with Cape Cod Healthcare
Ryan Maas says he often explains to his COVID-19 patients that the illness is like climbing a mountain—it is a hard journey and it gets harder near the top. He advises them to be just as careful when coming back down, which often takes longer and involves just as much planning.
“It is always a great feeling when you can help wean a patient off the supplemental oxygen,” says Maas. “Respiratory therapy is often on the floor and plays a huge role in helping to accomplish this. It is important for the nurses to be aware of the numerous complications that could arise during the patient’s recovery and report the findings right away so that the patient could receive the appropriate treatments.”
Maas begins his shift at 7 p.m. and works through the night until 7 a.m. In the beginning of COVID, he said one of the scariest parts was coming home to his wife and two young children after his shift and possibly passing on the virus to them. His wife, Kim Maas, also works as a nurse for Cape Cod Healthcare at Fontaine Medical Center. “When our floor was named the COVID floor, it was kind of a surreal feeling at first because it was the unknown. You were worried. Was I going to be bringing this back to my family? What’s going to happen?”
But he said everyone had one another’s backs on South 2 and management was unbelievably helpful by providing them with all of the PPE equipment needed to provide the best protection.
When working nights, the father of two says it is important to assess the patient right away and prepare them for a restful night’s sleep since a patient’s rest is an important part of the recovery process. “I often compare it to getting my children ready for bed,” says Maas. “I try to anticipate their needs and provide it, before they know they need it.”
The challenge of working the night shift, says Maas, is knowing what patients can be left to uninterrupted sleep and which ones need to be assessed again for complications. “On South 2, we do a great job of consolidating care to limit disruptions to the patients. The teamwork is truly impressive in accomplishing this. If a patient becomes confused, we work as a team to help reorient the patient and keep them safe. The night shift also tries very hard to set the day shift up for success and tries to anticipate what they might need to be successful for their shift.”
Maas works hard build a relationship of trust with patients early on in the process. “I make sure to educate the patient on the current stage of their disease process and what may come next. Informing patients that speed bumps may occur and letting them know what to do to help overcome the challenges helped lower their anxiety levels.”
Silver linings? “The teamwork. There’s nobody that I work with that I couldn’t count on—especially working nights.”