Gary Newsome

Editor’s note: This story was originally filed in April during the spring semester.

(Columbia, S.C.) – Many essential workers continued to provide important services during the COVID-19 pandemic, while much of society remained in isolation to prevent the spread of the virus.

Perhaps, no group has been more affected by the pandemic than healthcare workers.

At the Prisma Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia, the staff has been working to keep employees safe while taking care of patients battling the virus.

Andrea Schuster currently works at Prisma Health as a sight manager, working to ensure that employees maintain safety measures when entering rooms with COVID-19 patients.

Her job is to make sure people wear the proper equipment and know how to put on and take off clothing safely.

“All equipment, for example, that goes in the room, X-ray machines or anything, they have to be cleaned inside the room,” said Schuster.

She said Prisma Health has all the necessary equipment needed to help patients fight the virus effectively.

“Actually, Prisma Health bought some units now where they can decontaminate N95 (masks). Those are the respirators that will not let the virus through,” said Schuster. “We can use them again should we run out, so that’s like an emergency stockpile.”

Darryl Jackson, a nurse technician at Prisma Health, said people have donated masks, which is a way people can help.

Hospital staff are required to wear masks, stay 6 feet away from each other and wash their hands frequently, which allows employees to work safely on different floors, whenever and wherever they are needed.

When employees come into work at the hospital, each person has their temperature taken and is handed a surgical mask that is worn throughout their entire shift.

In non-clinical areas, employees can bring their own masks from home.

Jackson said the only time he takes off his mask is when he is on a long break away from staff and patients.

Registered nurse Ashley Graham said the hospital has brought a lot of the departments together, while closing some of them entirely.

“Some of them help out with carrying stuff and those types of things, making sure we are putting on our PPE (personal protective equipment) and taking it off properly,” said Graham.

Graham and Schuster said they are grateful to volunteers who have made adjustable headbands for the hospital staff to help make them feel more comfortable.

These headbands “have been personally comforting, because these masks are killing my ears,” said Graham.

Additionally, many healthcare workers are taking precautions to keep their families as safe as possible when they arrive home from a day at work.

Schuster said the first thing she does, when she gets home, is change out of her uniform in the garage and she doesn’t even take her shoes into the house.

“My uniform immediately goes in the washer and it gets laundered and then I directly go to the shower, because one of the best things to kill the virus is actually soap and water,” said Schuster.

“I take off everything before I enter my apartment. I bag it, shoes as well. Everything comes off,” said Jackson.

He said he throws the bag in the washer as soon as he gets home and then takes a shower.

Graham said she takes her shoes off and leaves them in her car and puts fresh shoes on.

“I have to go into my mudroom through my back door and I take all my scrubs off there and just go directly into the shower,” said Graham.

Schuster said she also keeps her distance from her the family and doesn’t allow visitors at the house.

Prisma Health employees also said their work has affected them mentally and physically.

Schuster said the whole situation is stressful, especially the visitation restrictions for the patients.

A person nearing the end of their life can only have one visitor and a person infected with the virus is not allowed any visitors at all.

“For me personally, that’s mentally challenging just knowing that nobody can come and actually see them,” said Schuster.

Jackson said his job is mentally draining, because of having to watch people succumb to the illness when there is nothing left that could be done.

Graham also said her job has been physically draining for her, because she has been working while pregnant.

“It’s just a little more exhausting than usual with the masks and the breathing with everything else going on,” said Graham. “But really I haven’t had to do a lot in those (COVID-19) rooms, just because I am high risk due to the pregnancy.”