From the frontlines: Grand County nurse steadfast amid outbreak
Janice Tilstra knew she wanted to be a nurse early on, but like almost everyone else, she never expected a pandemic to take over her life.
Tilstra has worked for Middle Park Health since moving to Grand County in 2009. She is an emergency room nurse and has worked at both the Kremmling and Granby facilities.
When Tilstra was 17, her sister was diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cord cancer and given six months to live. Tilstra’s sister spent four months in both Swedish and Craig hospitals, and her family was told that Tilstra’s sister would never walk again.
For Tilstra, the compassion the medical team showed her sister inspired her to become a nurse. Tilstra said she always knew she wanted to make a difference and being a nurse has allowed her to do that.
But the coronavirus has changed things in ways Tilstra couldn’t predict.
“I never imagined that I would be a nurse working during a worldwide pandemic,” she said during an inverview via email.
Middle Park Health has adjusted its operations to protect patients and staff. That means Tilstra now has to greet patients in the waiting room before assessing their symptoms. Welcome in the emergency room before the outbreak, visitors must now wait in their cars.
Tilstra said that social distancing makes it harder for her to provide the same level of compassion that has guided her throughout her career, but she knows these aren’t normal times.
“As a nurse, we are always looking for ways to comfort our patients, so this can feel very harsh,” Tilstra said of social distancing. “I need to continually remind myself that the procedures that we follow are for everyone’s protection.”
Middle Park Health had a health care worker test positive for COVID-19 last week. The worker’s partner was later listed as a probable case, but there hasn’t been any reports of the infection spreading beyond that.
Precautions to combat the coronavirus taken by Middle Park Health include monitoring all employees’ vital signs, even if they are asymptomatic, and increasing cleaning and sanitizing measures in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition to new safety protocols, all hospital employees are being required to wear personal protective equipment during patient contact.
On the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, nurses like Tilstra are risking their and their families’ health to care for the sick. Tilstra said she worries about exposing her family to the virus because of her profession, but she has taken steps to guard against it.
Before things got bad, Tilstra had been planning to visit her 80-year-old mother but has canceled the trip three times out of fear of exposing her mother to the coronavirus. Tilstra said it was after the third cancelation that she realized the impact this outbreak was going to have on everyone.
Another challenge right now is not knowing how many patients in the Grand County community might be affected, Tilstra said.
“Daily, I wonder when the eye of the storm is going to hit and if we are going to be able to meet the needs of our community,” Tilstra said. “At times, I feel like I am not doing enough when so many people’s lives across the world have been impacted by this crazy virus.”
Middle Park Health’s website says it employs about 250 people. In addition to treating potential COVID-19 patients, the hospital is still taking care of other emergencies.
“The COVID-19 outbreak has challenged the organization to think outside of the box,” Tilstra said.
The staff at Middle Park Health has daily meetings to stay updated on the coronavirus and take inventory of supplies. While there are fears and challenges, Tilstra said her faith and the support of her family, friends and coworkers are helping get her through this time.
“During times of adversity, I believe that as humans we become stronger than we ever think is possible,” Tilstra said. “We are all in this together.”
Tilstra’s sister is now 57. While there have been bumps in the road, Tilstra said her sister is the family’s miracle.
“Be kind to each other,” Tilstra said is her request of the community right now. “Never take people for granted. Let people in your life know how special they are, don’t panic and we will all get through this together.”
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