Frontline workers reflect a year after St. Joe’s COVID hospital creation


The response from healthcare workers in our community was quick.

St. Joe’s hospital became the first COVID hospital in the state, less than two weeks after the very first cast was announced in our area.

Empty hallways and empty beds… it’s what St. Joe’s hospital looks like today on the surgical floor.

A year ago, it was a different story.

A six bed ICU hospital was converted overnight to house 96 patients suffering from coronavirus.

“We had been watching at what was trending across the world and anticipating what potentially this could look like and how sick patients would get and asking those questions… are we going to have enough ventilators? What are we going to do if we don’t have enough ventilators? Where are we going to get them from?” explained Jessica Visser, the Vice President of Patient Care Services at St. Joe’s.

Amid the unknown, Catholic Health closed the emergency department, stopped performing surgery and shifted focus.

And on March 26th, St. Joe’s opened as the first coronavirus hospital in the state, to serve people battling the respiratory illness.

“We brought in ventilators, we brought in beds, we brought in dummies, we brought in educators – any nurse in Catholic Health that wanted to help, got to come and learn how they were going to help,” explained nurse manager, John LaForge.

There was no playbook.

“They responded like they should… like a nurse does,” said LaForge.

Catholic healthcare workers wrote their own rules.

People learned how to do new jobs and became the patient’s connection to the outside world.

“We had nurses that turned into iPad nurses… that made sure their families had a connection to them, even if they could just talk to them for a minute, they could just see them, know that they heard their voice, know that they’re still there , know that somebody’s with them and that’s what some nurses – you know they’re still doing it – making sure people have a connection to their family,” said LaForge.

Amazingly enough, the hospital never ran out of PPE, which was a major concern at the start of the pandemic.

And now, one year later, the people on the frontlines at St. Joe’s have a tough time describing what they went through.

“I don’t know. I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around it. Obviously, the numbers weren’t what they were. But we’re still in the midst of the COVID response. We still have very sick patients in the hospital. We still have patients whose families can’t come see them so the team here is still fighting through that and I’m sure at some point I’ll be able to sit back and eloquently express how I felt during that time but right now I’m not sure,” said LaForge.

The words will come one day to LaForge.

But the appreciation from the community is undeniable.

The “thank-you’s”, still evident in the posters that decorate the walls of a place that saved countless lives during a time of true crisis.

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