Stronger together: Grand River Hospital staff rely on one another to continue providing care throughout the pandemic |

Stronger together: Grand River Hospital staff rely on one another to continue providing care throughout the pandemic

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Coleman, right, and Dr. Cole at Grand River Hospital.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

In a small office with framed photos covering the walls, two women and three men all sat six feet apart. These individuals are the heads of medical staff at Grand River Health and were reflecting on the toll the pandemic has taken on their hospital and personal lives, but not hesitant to laugh along the way. It was in the same mindset that they were able to recount positives from the pandemic and how it affected the strength of their staff as a whole.

“Teamwork is No. 1 and I think we’ve done a really good job here sticking together and recognizing if someone is fatigued,” said Jessica Menu, Covid Charge Nurse Coordinator. “Lifting them up, giving them credit for sticking through it because a lot of people like you said, defining moment, a lot of people in health care want to walk away because it is a lot to handle.”

A year ago, the team did not have this kind of stride when it came to COVID-19— a pandemic that grew in scope and held the world hostage to uncertainty. Dr. Dustin Cole, the Administrative Director for Clinical Support Services, said he remembered the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kevin Coleman, was coming back from vacation as the pandemic arrived in Garfield County. Cole said the rate at which things were developing made it challenging to determine what was the right call to keep as many people safe as possible.

“Do we go full-court press and shut everything down? Do we have a little bit of a wait and see approach and see how it depends on the next few hours and days? That was the kind of time frame we were operating in,” Cole said. ”What can change in the next hour for this?” Cole said.

The past year took away the privilege of not having to bring one’s work home. Cole said that it presented a unique situation where his workday was COVID-19, but the virus was also at home and in schools, practically inescapable. Dr. Matthew Skwiot, Chief of Staff, agreed and said he approached a work-life balance the same way he always has — by allowing his daily drive home be the cutoff point for thinking about work.

“I have this rule, there’s this bridge I drive over that’s about 2 miles away from my house that I think about stuff up until that bridge, and when I get to that bridge I try to not bring it home. It’s all about perspective for me,” Skwiot said. “If I can make a difference, if I can help somebody who has covid, somebody who doesn’t have covid that is worried about it… provide some reassurance. I make sure I appreciate the value in what I’m doing with that. And that fills my tank.”

Coleman said losing two of his family members to the virus gave him insight to what loved ones of patients at Grand River were going through. This in turn brought about change to the hospital’s policy, including allowing visitors in the room when a patient was entering their last moments.

“The unfortunate part for both of (my family members) was that they died alone. We’re able to understand how awful that felt for my family and say ‘what can we do as an organization to make sure that doesn’t happen to anybody here,’” Coleman said.

The team also had a strong understanding of the wreckage Covid caused in many lives outside of just contracting the virus. Local business owners are a group Coleman said he wanted to give a shout out to in particular. Due to the sacrifices many of them made, the valley was able to better control the pandemic.

“Just from a livelihood standpoint you know that is a big ask, to ask somebody to close down their business to protect the well-being of another person. I saw very little in the way of people being selfish about that. I think our small business owners were real heroes through this whole thing. They did what was necessary. … I think that was nothing short of heroic by our business owners,” Coleman said.

Despite their appreciation and increase in knowledge about COVID-19, the team is not immune to weariness or the sorrow that accompanied what this past year had brought by any means. Their approach is to continue to take things day by day, but Menu said the vaccine rollout brings an ever-increasing light at the end of the tunnel.

Skwiot added that the amount of collaboration between local healthcare facilities has been greater than anything he’s seen in the past, and now their patients aren’t determined by city limits, but they see the Garfield County population as a whole. These leaders at Grand River thrive off one another’s energy, and as the vaccine distribution grows within the community, they’re all able to tap into a sense of relief and cautious optimism.

“I think for the first time we have some sense that we can be proactive and not reactive. But everybody in this room when you’re in and participating in administering vaccines, that’s when it’s really bringing the community’s spirits up. There hasn’t been a single person from this institution who hasn’t been there and walked out at the end of the day and said ‘wow, that feels good,’” Cole said.

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