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For Nurse of the Week Emily Fawcett, working at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City during COVID-19 is the culmination of a series of nursing stints in stricken areas. She went to Puerto Rico in 2017 to help in the wake of Hurricane Maria, attended to patients on the USNS Comfort in Venezuela in 2019, and makes regular trips to work in free community clinics in Kenya.

Such experiences have left the 30-year-old RN with first-hand knowledge of how important it is for caregivers to forge strong support networks, especially in times of crisis. Dealing with a flood of desperately ill and dying patients—on a daily basis, for weeks and even months—exacts a high toll on the nurses who are working the frontlines of COVID-19. Burnout has long been an occupational hazard in nursing; now, in the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, clinicians can find themselves engaged in a constant battle against mental and physical fatigue and trauma.

Of working at Lenox during the pandemic, Fawcett says, “We’re truly in a war zone here. These are nurses that are tough as nails. … But I was on this text thread with them, and they were saying how horrible it’s been [in the ER], how upset they are. One of them said it was the first time that they had ever in their life cried at work. And they’re just so completely overwhelmed and upset and overcome with emotion.”

Concerned by the evidence of flagging morale, Fawcett looked for a way to help beleaguered ICU staff prepare for the onslaught of each new shift. As a float nurse, she encounters patients on every floor, and this gives her the opportunity to witness the “success stories” of those who recovered from the virus. Armed with these more positive experiences, Fawcett introduced a new ritual to the Lenox ICU: the “hope huddle.” Now, prior to beginning a new shift, staff share good-news stories about patients’ progress, exchange uplifting and humorous anecdotes, and bond in preparation for the challenges they will face in the hours to come. An assistant nurse manager in the ED explained the uplifting effect of a huddle: “Hearing five people [were] getting extubated and 13 people [in the ICU were] stepping down to lower levels of care, meaning… they’re starting to improve and they don’t need to be in an ICU anymore, just hearing those overall numbers is super inspiring.”

Hope huddles are now held on every floor of Lenox Hill. Fawcett told the New York Post, “It really just came about to spread positivity, good patient outcomes, how we’re really saving lives here at Lenox Hill and to kind of increase the morale and give us a little pep in our step. The hope huddles are bringing hope to our hospital, and they’re bringing a little light.”

For more on this story, see the article in the New York Post.

Koren Thomas
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