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October 23, 2020

Challenges of Staffing the Nursing Department During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Rita K. Devine, RN, MPA

The great coach Vince Lombardi once said “Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence upon one another and of strength to be derived by unity.” The nursing staff of Rockefeller University Hospital has always worked as a team but the COVID pandemic and the requirements and restrictions that came with it presented new challenges to our very small team.

The urgency to start new COVID protocols did not allow the usual luxury of preparedness. Staffing, equipment, education and discussion seemed to happen overnight. Adhering to Rockefeller University Hospital’s essential personnel policy required limited staff on site. Daily communication between the research teams was required to determine how many research participants would be scheduled in addition to the length and complexity of each visit. Precision communication among the nursing staff was required each day to determine the staffing required to maintain safe participant care and protocol demands, while adhering to our essential personnel only policy.

And everyone pitched in! Our largest study required obtaining half-a-pint of blood from each of more than 150 participants, so to scale up we needed to obtain samples from more than one participant at a time. When we realized that we did not have enough scales to measure the amount of blood being drawn, the Rockefeller University Hospital Bionutrition department loaned us their scales, along with the Krueger Lab, which also provided equipment to mix the blood with the anticoagulant as it was being drawn.
As New York City was hit hard by COVD-19, the nursing staff was also affected. Several staff members required quarantine and self-isolation and some could not return from abroad because of travel restrictions. Despite the limited availability of staff, all scheduled COVID-19- related study visits were completed as per the protocols. Several non-COVID studies could not be stopped because they required visits to assess the safety of already enrolled participants.

As the COVID pandemic in New York City evolves, we continue to function with the flexibility required to maintain equilibrium between safe care of the research participants and fidelity to the research protocols while adhering to requirements and restrictions as mandated from the University and New York City. The dedication of the nursing staff members, who bravely put their own health at risk in order to fulfill the University’s mission and perform important studies to better understand and treat this terrible disease, reflects their professionalism, and is an inspiration for us all.