All about family: How one cardiac unit came together around COVID

When Curtis Jenkins joined Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center as a Certified Nursing Assistant in 2003, he wasn’t sure if nursing was for him. But he decided to give it a try, and that was all it took.

Today, Jenkins has found not only a career but a work family. As nurse manager of 5 West I, a cardiac post-procedural unit in Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, Jenkins, along with two assistant nurse managers, leads a team of 28 nurses, 10 CNAs, and three medical unit receptionists. The last several months, the unit has faced their greatest challenge yet: COVID-19.

As the pandemic first hit the community, the unit transitioned exclusively to a COVID unit. Over the past four months, the unit has seen several admissions of married couples because the virus can spread through close proximity.

“We tried to pair them up next door to each other,” Jenkins said. “They obviously couldn’t come out in the hall and communicate, but they at least knew that they were a wall apart. We wanted to create as much comfort for the patients, and knowing they were nearby their spouse helped.”

At times, Jenkins and his team of nurses have had to take emotional support steps further. Several months ago, a husband and wife of more than 60 years were both hospitalized. As the husband’s health deteriorated, the nurses worked together to ensure the wife was able to visit him before he passed.

When it came time for the funeral, the wife was not well enough to leave the medical center and attend. So, the nursing team — Quang Dang, RN, Holly Williams, RN, Hailey Hawks, CNA and Teleshia Chambers, CNA — worked with case manager Alisha Uribe to set up a video conference, so the wife could watch the service.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, though, she was going to be alone watching her husband’s funeral, so Chambers and Williams remained at her bedside to support her through her grief. When technical difficulties arose, another team member offered her personal cellphone and placed it inside a clear plastic bag to protect the patient while she watched.

Jenkins was proud of how the team came together to care for their patient. “That takes some emotional strength from team members to really pull off,” Jenkins said.

Over the last several weeks, the nurses have worked to take care of one another, too. When one nurse, along with several family members, tested positive for the virus, the unit rallied around her.

“Once we found out about her diagnosis, our group came together,” Jenkins said. “This support is just one of those phenomenal things that happens with close-knit nursing families on a unit. We ended up supplying her family with at least two weeks of groceries, toiletry products, even things as simple as Band-Aids and Q-tips. Little things like that are what keep us going because we know the small things matter,” Jenkins shared.

The Novant Health Foundation has been also doing its part to show support during the pandemic. Through the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund, team members experiencing hardship can request financial assistance. Jenkins said he is aware of team members who have benefited from the fund.

“The fund helped team members who were in a very dark time where they wondered, ‘How in the world am I going to make ends meet?’” Jenkins said. “As a nurse manager, knowing Novant Health was helping them also helped me tremendously because I felt like my hands were untied.”

Openness is a common thread on the unit. Jenkins works with a diverse team of nurses from many ethnic and religious backgrounds that embraces inclusion.

“I think we have handled situations and conversations here in the unit in a transparent and open way,” Jenkins said. “There are so many different types of folks on the unit and so many different patients who come through that we have to be socially adept to changes and work through those areas where we sometimes feel uncomfortable.”

Together, Novant Health is a place filled with opportunity in Jenkins’ view. He knows team members who have been with the organization for more than 25 years.

“I know people that were housekeepers who are now nurses,” Jenkins said. “If it’s where you want to be, Novant Health can help you get there, as long as you’re willing to work hard and try.” Jenkins and his team challenge one another to always think outside the box, be open-minded and think about next steps.

He credits president and chief executive officer Carl Armato with enabling him to become a leader and being accessible to the extent that Jenkins felt comfortable reaching out and sharing his unit’s hard work. He also credits his director, Linda Harris, for guidance and unending support.

“I think he’s helped us grow,” Jenkins said. “He’s certainly helped me grow as a person and in my leadership. The organization has helped me progress through stages of my career, starting out as a CNA to being enrolled in a Master of Health Administration program as a health leader.”

Jenkins said others who become part of the Novant Health family are bound to feel happy and supported, too.

“Folks stay when they come to this organization, and the reason why they stay is because there’s a sense of family,” Jenkins said. “There’s a sense of belonging. You’re a part of something greater than just a job.”

You now have the opportunity to support healthcare professionals in your area.

Through the Novant Health Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), team members can access financial assistance during this unprecedented time. Make your gift today.

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