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Rice nurse sees growing confidence and commitment among co-workers caring for COVID-19 patients and their families

The staff at Carris Health — Rice Memorial Hospital has been planning for a rise in COVID-19 cases for at least 11 weeks. As more has been learned about the coronavirus, the staff has prepared to work with the patients and families that arrive in the emergency department.

Kaye Dooley, a nurse and clinical coordinator, poses for a portrait before her evening shift at the Carris Health - Rice Memorial Hospital emergency department Tuesday in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — When a Carris Health team began meeting in March to prepare for the arrival of COVID-19 patients, “it was very anxiety provoking for a lot of the staff,” said Kaye Dooley, a nurse who works as a clinical coordinator in the Rice Memorial Hospital emergency department.

“I look at our staff; it’s pretty challenging right now to be on the front line,” Dooley, 61, said in a phone interview last week.

But with education and new information, “I see the staff becoming more comfortable.”

Staff members understand the risks to themselves and their families from the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, and they are diligent about wearing personal protective equipment, she said. Rice’s supply of PPE allows staff to change between patients. Some facilities around the country have reported severe shortages.

The number of beds in the emergency department has been doubled from 12 to 24 by using an area normally used by the surgery department. The hall between the two sides allows a good separation between COVID and non-COVID patients, Dooley said.


“It’s tough on families and patients,” Dooley said. “They’re very frightened to come to the emergency room; it’s anxiety provoking.”

It’s difficult for families, too, because no visitors are allowed. “It’s hard to say to a family, ‘You need to wait in your car,’” she said. “We want them to be as safe as possible.” Their cell phones become a lifeline to their loved ones.

“I just hope people know that we are doing the best that we can,” Dooley said. “We have learned so much about this virus in such a short time. ... Hopefully, we can conquer this and feel comfortable going out in our world again.”

When screeners in the triage tent outside the hospital send a patient to the COVID side of the department, the emergency department tests and assesses patients. The hospital lab can get coronavirus test results in an hour and a half.

The initial assessments help the medical team decide on their next actions.

Patients who are not admitted to the hospital are sent home with instructions for monitoring themselves. They are sent home with a thermometer and an oximeter to measure blood oxygen. “A lower than normal (oxygen) level can be a sign they need to return to the hospital,” she said.

Dooley describes her job to non-medical people as an air traffic controller for the department. She and the other nurses in her job try to help the staff maintain their health during busy times.

She makes sure people have breaks to eat and drink.


“We’ll check with each other, 'Have you had any water today?’” she said.

With a surge of cases expected in June or July, hydration will be even more important, she said, as the negative pressure in the rooms — used to isolate infectious patients — will likely interfere with air conditioning.

It’s important for health care workers to find balance in their lives, Dooley said.

On her days off, she eats a balanced diet and tries to get some rest. “I like to get outside as much as I can,” she said. She’s been able to go golfing and play pickleball with her husband.

“Any diversion is so important, when you can get out and get away, take a big breath,” she said. “If you can involve family, it’s very important.”

She and her family follow recommendations by wearing masks, washing their hands, not touching their faces and avoiding crowds.

When she gets home from work, she changes in the garage, puts her clothes in the washer and takes a shower. Others on the staff do the same.

Carris Health and Rice have undergone extensive preparation for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus causing a global pandemic. A daily newsletter has kept staff members informed and helped them prepare.


Dooley said she has enjoyed the well-made, brightly colored reusable gowns that were made by a local business and can be laundered after use.

“I feel like it’s a little bit more responsible to the environment,” she said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

Many other businesses and individuals have offered help or made donations to the hospital, she said.

“You just feel the warmth of a smaller community in that respect,” she said. “It makes you feel really good to be part of a community that wants to help in that way.”

After 35 years as a registered nurse, working through a pandemic was not necessarily in her plans.

But “It’s all about resiliency; you just have to go with the flow, and you’ll get there,” she said. “I work with some really intelligent, energetic people, and they’ll get the job done.”

After the pandemic, “It will probably never be the same as what we all knew,” Dooley said. “It will change the way we look at health care delivery for a long time.”


In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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