Aug. 28—ALBANY — The phone calls seemed ceaseless. On a recent Sunday in the medical intensive care unit at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Meredith Holland answered call after call, so the nurses wouldn't have to. She calmed family members of critically ill COVID-19 patients, inquiring about their loved ones' conditions. She spoke with physicians and lab techs and the imaging department. She even phoned multiple restaurants before finding one that could quickly prepare enough food to feed famished ICU care teams too busy to take a break to find lunch on their own.
"It has been so good to support the nurses," Holland said. "Just answering the phone calls really does allow them to concentrate on what they need to be doing."
This is not Holland's normal work day. As a director of operations for Phoebe Physicians, she oversees the health system's hospital-based practices. But she's one of more than 425 Phoebe Family members who have signed up to work as "helping hands," supporting clinical care teams during the latest vicious surge of COVID-19.
"The main thing I've learned is that our health care teams are very resilient," Holland said. "Having someone here to help them bolsters that resilience. It's a reminder that teamwork really does help us all get stronger, even when we don't think we can."
Holland said she felt so useful on that Sunday in MICU, she temporarily moved her office there. Working on a computer at the end of the nurses' station, she's handling many of her typical duties, while also providing whatever assistance she can to the critical care team caring for a unit full of COVID patients.
"Just being present is really the most important thing," she said. "Even if we can't be as helpful as we want to be, just being here has an influence and helps the care team feel better."
While most of Phoebe's "helping hands" are non-clinical workers thrust into unfamiliar clinical settings, dozens of trained clinicians who no longer work at the bedside have volunteered to return to the front lines.
"I try to do things for the experts, so they have time to do what only the experts can do," Doug Gregory said.
Gregory is a board-certified critical care nurse who transitioned to administration nine years ago and currently serves as vice president of Phoebe Heart & Vascular Services. Now, he's working a weekly shift in the critical care unit at Phoebe North.
"We've kind of adopted each other," he said. "They've got a great team. They're so welcoming and very appreciative."
Gregory said that team was initially a bit shy about asking him to pitch in, but he convinced them not to hold back and to ask him to perform any necessary task.
"Anybody can unload supplies or help bathe a patient, but it takes a complex skillset to care for a patient on a vent," he said. "The team here is doing amazing work, and we need to support them every way we can."
Other Phoebe employees have been temporarily reassigned in response to the ongoing COVID-19 surge. With elective surgeries suspended, OR nurse Felisha Roberts has spent some of her shifts in the MICU.
"It's very important to have an extra person here with clinical experience because I can help in several ways," Roberts said. "I can help give medications. I can help with taking blood sugars. I can even help the nurses chart, if they need me to do charting."
Like so many other Phoebe workers, Roberts says she's willing to do whatever she can to assist.
"We're all here to help each other and help patients get better," she said. "I'm just happy to lend a helping hand."