The Power of Community

Aug 16, 2021

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Just hang on. This is temporary. And if you have lived through this, it speaks volumes for the kind of nurse you’re going to be.

Cathy Hayes

When Cathy Hayes was 8 years old, she had her tonsils removed at a local hospital. The recovery nurse was so kind and compassionate, Cathy says, that she was inspired to become a nurse herself. Today she works at that very same hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she was recently promoted to nurse manager. Cathy has earned her MSN and BSN and also has taught nursing courses at Liberty University.

During the pandemic, Cathy answered frantic phone calls at the hospital and cared for her parents, who both contracted COVID-19. So when the county health department offered support for distributing vaccines, Cathy sprang into action: She knew just how critical it was for her community to get vaccinated.

Cathy, along with dozens of volunteers, organized the vaccine clinic on-site at her church, and she convinced the vaccine-hesitant to get their shots. Learn how she organized the effort, and how her tight-knit community supported her during the past year and a half.

What were some of your concerns when you considered starting the vaccine clinic? And how did you plan for them?

My main concerns were if we would have enough help to give these injections, how to schedule individual appointments, and having medical support if someone had a bad reaction. But once I started talking to the deputy chief of Bedford County’s fire and rescue, I learned they would provide the vaccine and also the staff if we didn’t have enough. After we started communicating with our church family we had plenty of volunteers sign up. I modeled the clinic setup after a vaccine clinic we had at the hospital.

Were some people really hesitant or scared of the vaccine?

Yes, as a matter of fact. We had one lady who was just scared to death. She had heard so many negative things about the vaccine. I said to her, “I know you have reservations, but COVID-19 is so much more dangerous. Especially for certain age groups and if you have certain comorbidities. You are at such risk for getting COVID. The advantages of the vaccine definitely outweigh the disadvantages.”

I kept saying to people: “We need to get back to some normalcy! This is something we have to do as a community.”

What recommendations do you have for nurses who would like to organize a vaccine clinic in their town? How should they get started?

I learned if you have that desire to help the community, reach out to your local health department. Tell them you need to know what steps to take to set up a clinic or to volunteer to give the vaccine injections.

The nurses at my church are part of a nurses’ ministry. The church posted our numbers on social media, we got the calls and made a plan to call people back. One Saturday I just started calling everybody and texting them with their appointment time. And you know what? Everybody came on time. Only two people did not show up. And when they showed up they said, “Where is this nurse that called me? I just want to tell her thanks.”

How have you been doing at work during the pandemic?

I was initially working in the recovery room, but they halted all surgical procedures unless it was an emergency. So I started working in my hospital’s COVID-19 call center, answering calls from individuals asking questions about symptoms. I was also trained to do the N95 fit testing. I got my vaccine in December, and I’ve been fortunate to be OK.

What were the calls like?

It was a state of fear for people. They would call about their mother or father or spouse, someone else in their family, scared and wanting to know what to do. We would direct them to testing centers, based on symptoms. The hospital had several set up.

As long as I didn’t panic, talked to them calmly and said, “Let’s just take a breath; it’s going to be OK,” they would calm down.

Would you think about the callers later?

I sure would. A lot of people who called were very symptomatic, coughing on the phone with me, or had high temperatures. A lot of times I could hear other people in the background asking what to do.

It was mentally draining. The most I could work on the phones was two days in a row. I would have to take a break. There were four of us in the call center and the phone rang constantly, off the hook. Everybody was just in panic mode.

How did you cope?

My co-workers. We were all kind of in the same boat. We would just be supportive of each other. That’s basically how we got through it. We wouldn’t discuss it with our family -- I would just say I had a lot of calls today and heard some scary things. But I discussed it with my co-workers. And then I thought too about how I felt fortunate because none of my co-worker friends were working in the COVID units. Those nurses couldn’t leave -- they had to have meals delivered and dropped at the door. I felt like what I was going through was nothing compared to what they were going through.

Who else did you rely on for support?

My church family. We did Zoom church for a long time. And they would all just say: “We are praying for you.” It felt so good knowing your faith family is behind you and understands what you’re going through. That really meant a lot. My children and husband were supportive too: Whenever I’d leave, he always said, “Be safe out there.” That meant a lot.

How are you doing now?

I feel more relaxed now. We are still required to wear masks at the hospital, but I feel a lot more relaxed outside the hospital and especially around my family, because the majority have had the vaccine. I’ve been especially careful around my dad, a cancer patient. He had COVID-19 in February at the age of 82. Those were some scary times. We made several trips to the ER. His only saving grace was that his oxygen stats were above 90%. The ER doctor said to me: “I trust you’re a nurse and he’s going to be OK. The best place for him to be right now is at home.” I think my ICU background really prepared me for this. By the grace of God, he was all right. But it was scary. At one point he couldn’t even hold a spoon.

My mom had COVID too, at the same time, but she had no symptoms. And we got my father over it. It took a solid three weeks. So I would go to their house between shifts, and on my days off I would go there at 7 a.m. and come home at midnight. And sometimes my mom would call at 2 or 3 in the morning, and I’d go back to their house. I would put on all of my gear, thinking, “I gotta do what I gotta do. I gotta take care of my dad.”

I would tell my husband to just leave my robe in the garage. When I got home I would strip in the garage, and run inside and shower. Every time.

What is your advice to nurses who are early in their careers and had to face the pandemic?

I’d tell them to just hang on. This is temporary. And if you have lived through this, it speaks volumes for the kind of nurse you’re going to be. Hang in there; there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just know that what you’re doing is the most gratifying career choice you will ever make.

What are you looking forward to in your new role as nurse manager?

I want to encourage them as nurses. I want to promote their professional growth. But at the end of the day I want them to know that we are a team, and we work together as a team. I work with them and will be accountable to them and present for them.

That’s my plan. Most of all: While we are still nurses, let’s continue to be kind, and kindness will come back to you. That’s been my motto. Please be kind.

I know this will be challenging because it will be a new role for me. But I am looking forward to this transition.

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For More COVID-19 Vaccine Resources, Please See:

Covid Vaccine Myth Busters
Making the Decision: COVID-19 Vaccine
Understanding Variants and Their Impact on the Pandemic