JRMC staff feel the brunt of the pandemic

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The last time the Monticello Express spoke with Eric Briesemeister, CEO of UnityPoint Health – Jones Regional Medical Center (JRMC), concerning the COVID-19 pandemic was back in April. At that time, Jones County was reporting 10 confirmed positive cases of the virus.

     Seven and a half months later, Jones County now has a total of 1,728 cases since the pandemic started in mid-March.

     And the situation at JRMC now is like night and day compared to early April.

     “We’re definitely seeing much higher numbers than we ever did in the spring,” said Briesemeister in terms of COVID patients being admitted into the hospital.

     JRMC is not at capacity, though.

     “We can safely take additional patients,” noted Briesemeister. “We’re still able to accommodate.”

     However, now the issue is staffing at JRMC, not the number of available beds.

     “There is a lot of fatigue,” shared Briesemeister.

     He explained the healthcare workers tending to COVID-19 patients have to wear more PPE and protective gear than a nurse or doctor taking care of a non-COVID patient.

     “It’s been hard and a challenge for the staff,” added Briesemeister.

     The COVID patients coming to JRMC are experiencing the common symptoms associated with the virus, including breathing issues or needing oxygen. Once a ventilator is required, those patients are transferred onto another hospital like St. Luke’s or the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

     “We’ve had some frustrating situations,” Briesemeister admitted. “It’s been a challenge as staff try to meet the needs and take care of the community. This is five-times more intense than it was back in March and April.”

     Early on when the pandemic began, everyone was trying to figure things out in terms of the regulations and public health and CDC guidelines. Now, Briesemeister said hospitals have figured it out and things are still so uncertain.

     “We know how to do this’ we’ve learned how to deal with this virus,” he said. “And we’re doing a better job at communicating with staff to make things easier. But the uncertainty is not good for anyone.”

     The staff at JRMC are parents, children, grandchildren, siblings, etc., just like everyone else. They come home and try to carry on with their “normal” life, but with COVID always in the back of their minds.

     “They’re human beings, too,” stressed Briesemeister. “It’s a stressful work environment.”

     Staff at JRMC have also been infected with and exposed to COVID. Like everyone else, they also have to quarantine and a number of days before they can return to work. However, JRMC still has patients in need to care.

     The hospital has implemented the use of mental health professionals and counselors for staff when it comes to managing everything being thrown their way.

     “We’re checking in constantly to see how our people are doing and feeling,” said Briesemeister.

     He said they continue to see a huge outpouring of support from the greater Jones County community.

     “People are so appreciative,” continued Briesemeister.

     JRMC works closely with Jones County Emergency Management and Coordinator Brenda when it comes to having enough PPE for all staff. Briesemeister said they have learned since the beginning to conserve and use PPE wisely. A stockpile was created in the interim, before things took a turn for the worse.

     “We’ve learned to be innovative,” said Briesemeister. “We’ve learned how to be better stewards of our resources.”

     JRMC is still testing residents for COVID-19, those showing signs and/or symptoms. You need to have a recommendation to get tested from your healthcare provider. Those who are asymptomatic are encouraged to contact Test Iowa.

     JRMC encourages the public to wear a mask, wash your hands, and to stay away from group settings. Those who have been exposed or test positive are urged to follow the public health/CDC guidelines.

     “This is the only way to get things under control,” said Briesemeister. “We don’t make recommendations lightly, but we need to do all we can to really help. We don’t have many choices left.”


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