Many nurses who graduated from Valparaiso University are lining up to face COVID-19. These alumni are joining the thousands of other healthcare workers fighting outbreaks across the country. According to the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ website, 99.2 percent of graduates are currently placed somewhere in the healthcare system.
Erin Roeske, BSN ‘18, is one of many Valpo alumni working on the frontlines of the pandemic, as she works at a downtown Chicago hospital, but requested not to name her facility.
Roeske originally started as a nurse in the General Medicine Unit and worked the night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Like many hospitals, her workplace transitioned to closing certain floors to reserve them specifically for patients with COVID-19.
Roeske works on one of these floors and is in the process of getting transitioned to help in the intensive care unit (ICU). Her hours have not been modified to accommodate Chicago’s demand. She says her access to personal protective equipment (PPE) is not currently a concern.
“I have experienced no major concerns, but it’s been sad to watch on the media in facilities where workers don’t have those resources,” Roeske said. “It’s very unfortunate because I believe they should have access to them.”
Reflecting on her experience working in a pandemic, she encourages Valpo students studying healthcare to mentally prepare for their careers.
“I know going through school, I never had the thought that we would be going through a pandemic and now we’re working in one. Just prepare yourselves for anything that gets thrown at you and know that you can do it,” Roeske said.
When asked what we can do to keep ourselves safe, Roeske said to commit to social distancing, wash your hands and take vitamins. Most of all, she asks that we remain positive.
“It’s easy especially right now to focus on the negativity, but remember it’s still okay to smile,” Roeske said.
Kate Weber, BSN ‘19, is a pediatrics cardiac ICU nurse at Milwaukee’s Children’s Wisconsin Hospital. Even though children haven’t been as strongly affected by the pandemic, she has had to adapt.
“Before this hit Milwaukee, the unit was a lot lighter, everyone was a lot happier," Weber said. “I had just my cardiac babies, my heart babies. Then this all hit and everything changed.”
She has not treated any COVID-19 patients, but her patient population has changed since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“We were designated as a clean unit, so any immunocompromised patients, any high-risk patients can come to our floor if they need to,” Weber said.
With this shift in responsibility and seeing the effects of the pandemic firsthand, Weber worries for healthcare workers’ mental health.
“I have a lot of anxiety going to work, mostly because I’m worried I’m bringing something into the hospital exposing my patients. I stay at home, I go to work, I go to the grocery store and that’s about it, but you never know,” Weber said.
She has also noticed a psychological shift as she transitions into her new normal.
“It’s scary for me to see parents frustrated with visitation policies and get scared for their own children’s health. So it’s really a more emotional time, it’s more overwhelming,” Weber said.
Weber said Children’s Wisconsin has been doing everything they can to protect their staff and patients. They were given thin, light masks at screening stations outside by the hospital’s parking garage before walking into the building around the beginning of April. Staff were also screened for any temperature and respiratory symptoms.
In the past two weeks, workers were given N-95 masks, though she has had the same mask for the past 2.5 weeks.
“It’s falling apart, but you sanitize them,” she said.
Weber and her co-workers are required to wear them from the time they leave their cars until they return to their cars at the end of a shift.
“Milwaukee’s getting hit pretty hard by COVID and our governor extended our stay at home order until May 25. Shortly after that announcement, protests started happening,” Weber said.
Children’s Wisconsin has not had any issues with protestors, but the area surrounding has. Her facility however has experienced a different community response.
“We’ve actually seen parents holding signs saying, ‘Thank you,’ ‘We’re grateful,’ ‘We love you Children’s,’ so we’ve had a lot of love,” Weber said.
She feels more confident in her abilities because of her Valpo education.
“I think Valpo did a really good job preparing me for this,” Weber said. “You can’t prepare for exactly this, but the way I react to and handle it I learned from Valpo and the people there.”
Nurses are struggling as a result of working during a pandemic. Many of her coworkers are parents with children at home.
“I know there’s nurses staying with each other not to infect their families. That’s really sad and it breaks my heart, but I understand their caution and fear,” Weber said.
According to Weber, Children’s Wisconsin had already been supporting their staff by offering mental health services to cope with the nature of their jobs. Since COVID-19, she said the support has only intensified, with more frequent reminders and access to programming if they need it.
“They send out emails very consistently about the services you can use to talk to a professional about work, about the pandemic, even if it’s about a normal patient that you had that passed away, you can go to them,” Weber said. “I’ve used them before in the past for that.”
She credits the facility for providing PPE and resources since the pandemic arrived in Milwaukee.
Her facility has access to prophylactic testing, which is used on every patient before being operated on.
“It’s nice that we have testing available to us that we can use on our kids,” Weber said.
So far, the pediatric population has not been heavily affected by the pandemic. At Children’s Wisconsin, Weber said they’ve only treated 2 patients with COVID-19. They were discharged within a few days. When they do see patients arrive with symptoms of the virus, extra precautions are taken.
“We do use those alien-looking PPE, one of those helmets, and then the bunny suit,” Weber said. “We use those if we have a patient who we think may be positive until the test comes back negative.”
Generally, the children showing symptoms are infected with another virus that is more commonly contracted at this time of year, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which the CDC says typically causes cold-like symptoms.
“I’m very proud of our facility for providing those resources and putting our safety first,” Weber said.
Weber asks that people remain optimistic during this time.
“Even though this is a really scary time, I think we all need to remember that we’re human beings,” Weber said. “When we’re together, we’re stronger. Hold your loved ones tight, and we’ll get through this.”