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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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Where the rubber meets the road

Meet the biker community fighting breast cancer

The Lucky Turn Around in China Grove, North Carolina, is a hot spot for motorcycle riders, family and friends. Patrons can grab an appetizer, play pool and throw darts. And the pink lemonade is extra special: Buy a glass and the proceeds go toward providing life-saving mammograms to women in need.

If it stopped there, this would just be another story about a local business giving back to the community it serves. But the Lucky Turn Around takes it one giant step further.

The bar is home to a special group of women who are motorcycle enthusiasts and healthcare advocates. They call themselves Riders Against Cancer (RAC), and, for the past three years, the group has raised money and awareness for breast cancer prevention. Together, RAC has raised more than $50,000 and helped more than 100 women receive mammograms.

The year-round effort was sparked by a conversation Charlene Nolt, co-owner of the Lucky Turn Around, had with five women at the bar. Nolt was due to go in for a mammogram. None of the other women had insurance or had received one. Nolt and co-owner Kristina Hilton knew right away they wanted to do something to fix that, and their passion rubbed off on everyone else.

“Right after that, Charlene started telling all the regulars that came in there ‘We’ve got to do something,’” said Sally Rogers, a Lucky Turn Around customer and RAC committee member. “Before we knew it, we had 25 women.”

The group pulled together what would become their flagship event: Riding for Mammograms, an annual poker run, a growing craze in the biker community, at the Lucky Turn Around and other locations. Word spread quickly, starting with other patrons at the bar.

“We all know people who are motorcyclists,” Nolt said. “So when you reach out to one, you’re basically reaching to them at all, and they all know our cause.”

Riders from all over Rowan and Mecklenburg County got involved. The first year, about 60 motorcycles participated, and the group raised about $16,000.

Despite its fundraising success, the group struggled to find women willing to receive the mammograms. They realized they wanted to take their efforts to the next level. They reached out to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation, and a partnership was born. Committee members were thrilled when they spoke to Executive Director Rick Parker.

“He was on his vacation, but still took our phone call, and we all stood there and yelled how much money we had already raised,” Nolt said. “And that man was ecstatic.”

The next year, the group partnered with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation and raised $36,000, including more than $10,000 from an anonymous donor that brought tears to the eyes of the committee.

“It touched our hearts and made us want to push even harder,” Rogers said.

Novant Health was able to use the funds raised to provide dozens of mammograms to women the RAC didn’t know, and cancer was found in three of them.

“At the end of the day, we provided three mammograms for women who may not have had the means or the opportunity to do it,” Rogers said. “And it would have probably turned into a fatal cancer. That’s what makes it worth it for me.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, RAC postponed this year’s poker run indefinitely, but donations are still coming in through merchandise and sponsors. The group has also hosted events to educate women on early detection.

“It’s not all about the money,” said Stacey Thomas, another RAC committee member. “We try to get the word out as much as we can.”

All in all, the committee has been floored by the response from the community. 

“We never realized in our lifetimes that so many people would come together and help us with something like this,” Nolt said. “The community has really shocked me in so many ways on how they support us.”

Additionally, RAC has been grateful for the passionate support of Parker and the rest of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. The foundation has helped with everything from providing guidance on fundraising to sourcing ribbons at the eleventh hour, and the partnership has had its share of fun, as well.

“Rick is so excited,” Thomas said. “He just got a motorcycle earlier this year, and he wants to ride in our next run.”

Today, anyone interested in receiving a mammogram can contact Novant Health or RAC to receive one free of charge.

“You don’t have to do anything but walk in there and get a mammogram, and it’s going to be paid for,” Nolt said. “That’s how important it is that you go get one. You don’t need a doctor. You don’t need money. You don’t need insurance. Just go get a mammogram.”

In the course of their lifetime, about 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer.

You can help us continue to provide mammograms on the house. Join the fight and donate today.

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‘When I come to work at Novant Health, they see a nurse. They don’t see a Black nurse’

Angela Davis faced her share of discrimination — until she came to Novant Health

When Angela Davis was 18 years old, she met a nurse who changed her life.

She was living in Sumter, South Carolina, and had just given birth to her first child.

“As a young and new parent with a premature baby, I had no idea what to do,” she said. “I remember being in the nursery, and the nurse there, Ms. Elaine, took the time to show me what to do and how to do it. She took the time to explain all these big fancy words they were using. She really started something in me, and I remember wanting to make people feel the way she made me feel.”

Davis made it through those first few uncertain months and all the years of motherhood that followed, recently celebrating her son’s 19th birthday. Davis’ career grew, too, over the years, and she is now a clinical supervisor at Novant Health Huntersville Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. She’s a nurse and a clinical leader, during one of the most challenging times in healthcare. She’s also Black, and as the national movement for social justice and racial equality has gained unprecedented momentum, she’s found herself in a whole new reality.

“Before I came to Novant Health, I had patients who literally told me to my face that I’m not as smart. I’ve had a patient yelling up the hallway saying he didn’t want the ‘n-word’ nurse taking care of him,” Davis said. “It’s hard enough dealing with the demands of a changing healthcare system and making sure that you care for patients from different cultures and backgrounds, and then for people to say things like that just because of the color of your skin, it just blows my mind.”

Although those behaviors defined her past as a Black nurse, they do not define her present.

A few weeks ago, Davis and her team members took part in a peaceful protest that is part of a broader movement across healthcare institutions called White Coats for Black Lives. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Davis knelt outside Novant Health Huntersville Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. Next to her was a colleague — a white physician named William Flannery.

“As I’m kneeling there, I saw him praying, and it just brought tears to my eyes,” Davis said. “I just imagine that his prayers are for this world to be a better place for me and my children and people who look like me and for our patients. It was just a really eye-opening moment: It’s not just people who look like me who want change and equality; it’s everybody.”

In truth, that has been her experience since she joined Novant Health.

“I had no idea when I started with Novant Health how big they were with diversity and inclusion. It’s not just saying it for show. We really do this,” Davis said. “I look at people who are way higher up than me, and I see women, Black women, Black men, Asians and Hispanics. And it really means a lot because, for me, it shows me that I can go as far as I want to with this organization. My race, my gender — they don’t limit me at all.”

But gender and ethnicity are increasingly a subject of conversation as longstanding, systemic issues about race and discrimination grip the nation. As a result, Davis has instituted a policy of transparency within her team.

“I told my team there is nothing off limits for me if they need me or they want to talk to me,” Davis said. “We’re here to help heal people, and we don’t realize that our words can be a lot more healing than our actions. I tell my team to try to be understanding. And if you don’t understand, we’re here to help each other understand.”

As a mother, Davis encourages that technique among her children, as well. In addition to her 19-year-old son, she has two daughters, ages 15 and 13. And she tells them to treat people the way they want to be treated, no matter what.

“You never treat people the way they treat you because, when you fight fire with fire, you’re no better than them,” Davis said. “My daughter and I had that conversation. I asked her, ‘When you fight fire with fire, what happens to the fire?’ She said, ‘It gets bigger.’ And I said, ‘You have to start fighting fire with what’s going to put that fire out: water.’”

On the day Davis and Flannery knelt to recognize the White Coats for Black Lives movement, a colleague took a photo of them. His head is bowed as he holds a sign that reads “White Coats for Black Lives.” Davis’s head is lowered, too, and her fist is held high in the air.

Davis posted the photo on social media in the hours after the silent protest. In that post, she wrote: “Today, I got to kneel with this doctor who believes my voice and life matter. I watched him turn his hands to God and pray for a better world for me, his clinical supervisor and his patients. It gave me the strength to raise a fist to be proud of the Black woman and nurse God made me and called me to be. I am proud to say I work for an organization that prides itself on diversity and inclusion and has gone above and beyond to help me and others that look like me know that we matter!”

Davis recognizes the social justice work is not done. At the same time, she takes pride in the fact that her organization is taking a stand, in public and powerful ways.

“At Novant Health, they see a patient. They don’t see a Black patient. When I come to work at Novant Health, they see a nurse. They don’t see a Black nurse. They embrace that part of me, and it makes me really happy to be part of this team,” Davis said.

Support the work of Davis and other front-line workers like her.

A donation to the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation allows us to support vital patient care, as well as to support workers who spend every day fighting to ensure those patients lead long, healthy lives. Join us and make your gift today.

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His mom made him do it

Gary Niess, MD, on the origins of his cardiology career and what the future holds for cardiac patients in Charlotte

Somewhere in the recesses of the internet is a video of Gary Niess, MD, giving an interview as part of a promotional campaign for Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

In the video, the interviewer asks Niess, now the senior vice president of the Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute, why he decided to become a doctor. In a moment of levity, Niess offers a simple answer.

“My mom told me to.”

The remark was intended to be a joke, but as with all jokes, it contains a kernel of truth. Growing up, Niess had a younger brother who was born with a congenital heart defect. Doctors told their family he wouldn’t live to be 8. But in the years after his birth, researchers developed a heart operation that gave him years of life. Age 8 came and went, and his brother lived well into his 40s, eventually passing away due to causes unrelated to a bad heart.

Niess remembers those doctors’ visits, especially how his mother would push him into the room to watch the physicians in action. It made an impact, and when Niess returned to Charlotte after medical school, he joined Presbyterian Medical Center. He has been “a loyal Presby doctor” ever since.

“It turns out, our mothers have an inordinate influence on our lives,” Niess said with a laugh.

In his time at Presbyterian Medical Center, Niess has been part of some significant milestones. He performed the second heart catheterization ever done at the hospital. He has treated and counseled patients and families across the community. And in time, as his physician colleagues saw it, he became “a suit” — part of the Novant Health administration — which took him out of regular practice and put him into opportunities that allow him to transform care at a broader level.

The new building that will house the John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart & Vascular Institute, as well as the Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Institute, will be a perfect example when it opens later this year.

“We’re going to have cardiac rehab there, dietary services, cooking classes, recovery — all of it bright and shiny and new and high-tech,” Niess said. “It’s just invigorating to go into a new space full of new opportunities.”

The new building will also create more opportunities for direct collaboration with Novant Health’s cancer specialists, Niess said.

“Cancer creates a whole collage of potential problems for the cardiovascular system, either from the cancer itself or the treatment of it,” Niess said. “So having patients jointly managed by cardiology and cancer is very important.”

The efficiency of a shared location also plays an important role in the patient journey, Niess said. 

“Regina Hartung, my previous business partner, once tracked a patient’s journey with a pedometer for the full process of all of their treatments, between cancer and getting heart studies. The total was something like 10,000 steps. That’s a worthy goal on a daily basis — unless you have cancer. Then, it’s a nightmare,” Niess said. “The beauty of this center is that there won’t have to be this long, complicated journey because we’ll be cohabitating. As a result, the facilities and the synergies will be much better for patients.”

While the new institute will create opportunities for better care, Niess knows healthcare providers are facing unprecedented challenges. Although the country has begun to reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has come with a dangerous side effect: Many people are reluctant to receive the lifesaving care they need.

“We want patients to know you’re safe. You are much safer at Novant Health than you are at your grocery store. However, patients know that COVID-positive people go to the hospital. We isolate those areas completely, and that message is out there. But it is changing how people perceive healthcare,” Niess said. “People aren’t coming to us. We are wide open for business, and yet we aren’t seeing many of the sick patients who only get worse at home without care.”

Statistics across the country show that people with a variety of non-COVID-related ailments are avoiding care in the current healthcare environment. Some of them are waiting too long to visit the emergency room, delaying critical medical interventions for issues such as strokes and heart attacks. Some are dying at home.

“The number of people coming in with heart attacks has dropped significantly, and it’s not like stress is less. The things that make you have a heart attack haven’t gone away, but people are coming in less and less. And that’s because they’re either dying at home or toughing it out at home,” Niess said. “If they’re willing to tough out a heart attack at home, you can understand why they wouldn’t come in for other acute and serious problems.”

Niess also understands that fear may not be the only factor at play. The pandemic is stripping many people of their jobs, and without jobs, there is no health insurance or ability to pay for lifesaving medical care.

“People are having to make choices now that they’re out of work. They’re in this terrible dilemma of, ‘Do I lose my healthcare or my mortgage?’” he said.

That’s part of the reason why Niess has been so loyal to Novant Health for so long: It’s a not-for-profit health system with a commitment to providing remarkable care to everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.

“Our dedication to continually keeping an eye on the underserved is another huge piece that is even more important in the COVID world. They are not getting the same level of care as the insured,” Niess said. “At Novant Health, we’ve been testing those patients free of charge. That’s a reason to be proud of Novant Health. It’s not cheap providing free care, and at a time when revenues to hospitals are plummeting and the red ink is just flowing, maintaining that dedication to serving everyone equally is so important.”

You can do your part to support those efforts.

With a gift to the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, your contributions allow us to continue providing remarkable care throughout our community, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. And, as Dr. Niess explains, that’s more important now than ever before.

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The power of food in a time of need

How one gift is pulling double duty, providing meals for front-line workers while supporting hard-hit local businesses

Good food brings people together. So does the mission of saving lives. Wallace & Graham PA has found an innovative way to combine the two while supporting local Salisbury restaurants. 

Since April 1, the Salisbury-based law practice has provided lunches for about 25 team members at the respiratory assessment center at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, where drive-by COVID-19 testing is being conducted. The meals have come primarily from small businesses in downtown Salisbury, such as Sidewalk Deli and Go Burrito.

“It certainly made sense that they not have to go out in the middle of their shifts and try to worry about what they’re eating or drinks or whatever they might need,” said Mona Lisa Wallace, a partner at Wallace & Graham. “We decided that this would be a wonderful project for us to support them — providing their meals during this time when they are giving so much of themselves, while also helping downtown Salisbury and the local restaurants who have been suffering financially because of COVID-19.”

The meals have been a welcome morale boost for the staff, who are performing dozens of tests a day in all kinds of weather conditions. Many are living away from home to avoid spreading the virus to their families. To date, their gift has totaled more than $10,000.

“This is a big stress reducer and an opportunity for team members to have levity and fun during their break,” said Rick Parker, executive director of the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. “We really appreciate Wallace & Graham volunteering to do this.”

The firm has deep roots in Rowan County and with the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. It also has a keen interest in medical screening in the community. “It’s always been a goal of ours to improve healthcare and to make it more affordable for people in this county,” Wallace said.

Notably, the firm and the Wallace family provided the lead gifts in the foundation’s ongoing capital campaign to build a state-of-the-art treatment center that consolidates all Novant Health Rowan Medical Center cancer services into one beautiful facility at a convenient location. The Wallace Cancer Institute, which is slated to open its doors in August, will provide leading-edge treatment and personalized, patient-centered care, particularly for women with breast cancer.

“The Wallace Cancer Institute is going to be a magnet for cancer treatment in our community, in that you can stay local and receive the best care in the country,” said Bill Graham, a partner at Wallace & Graham and chairman of the Rowan Medical Center Foundation Board. “Here, you’re going to be a name and a person, not a number.”


‘You have to have a heart for the work’

Heather Egan on the passion that drives her as the new chief development officer of Forsyth Medical Center Foundation

The past two months have been the busiest of Heather Egan’s entire career.

She’s always worked with nonprofits, raising the necessary funds to support their work and their mission. And she’s long been driven by passion.

“We know we can’t be successful if we’re not passionate about the mission. That’s at the forefront of any development team,” Egan said. “You have to have a heart for the work.”

But she’s never been faced with something like the COVID-19 pandemic. No one has, really. And that has made the current reality challenging, particularly as she’s taken on an important new role: Two weeks after the pandemic hit, Egan took over as chief development officer of Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation.

As she’s acclimated to a new position with increased responsibilities, she’s been faced with the arduous task of determining the most pressing needs of front-line workers and how the foundation can rise to meet them.

“I don’t think we knew emergency child care was going to be such an issue, but that became apparent very quickly. And then lodging, for those team members who have an immune-compromised person at home,” Egan said. “We were really building the plane as we were flying it because those things were coming at us fast, and we had to make some very rapid decisions about what would be important for the foundation to support and talking to donors about how they could help.”

One of those donors is Bud Baker who, along with his wife, Zanne, has been a long-time supporter of the Forsyth Medical Center Foundation.

“I know they have a love of children, so I called Mr. Baker early, when our teams were having to figure out what to do with their kids, and let him know there was a need for emergency child care,” Egan said. “He responded immediately. He and his wife were so generous and quick to respond, and that’s what we’ve seen across the board. People have been raising their hand immediately to help.”

In fact, the outpouring of support from the community has been so overwhelming, Novant Health had to devise a system and a central location for collecting donations of food, masks and other items.

“We can’t have volunteers right now. So people are volunteering in the ways that they can, which is making masks or helping to support us financially or sending good wishes and drawing sidewalk pictures on the entrances,” Egan said. “And that makes a difference, too.”

As quickly as priorities shifted at the start of the pandemic, Egan is anticipating another change as the state begins to open up and Forsyth Medical Center shifts into the next normal. One particular area of concern lies in the number of job losses, which could leave people without insurance and the ability to pay out of pocket for medical care.

“Going forward, we want to make sure there are no barriers to care,” Egan said. “And we’re lucky: Our donors are loyal. They appreciate the care they receive through Novant Health, and they want to make sure that care is available to everyone in our community, regardless of their ability to pay.”

Another priority is the Family Connects program at Forsyth Medical Center, which is an effort to visit new mothers, either virtually or in person, to continue providing care after they give birth. Egan has also started thinking about the need for behavioral and mental health services, which could increase markedly on the other side of the pandemic.

“That is an area we’re getting more involved in, and it could become more of a priority later in the year,” she said.

Egan is also looking ahead to the foundation’s first-ever virtual fundraising event — a digital version of its signature Garden Party. Originally scheduled for March 20, it would have been Egan’s last in her former role at the foundation. Now, it will be her first as chief development officer.

“We know it’s not going to be the same, but we’re going to make it as warm and as personable as we can,” Egan said.

The virtual event is now scheduled for June 19. The goal is to raise funds to support the Family Connects program. There will be a silent auction, mystery bags, a raffle and a signature drink recipe to help everyone celebrate with a collective toast.

“It hasn’t been easy to see how the pandemic has impacted healthcare, but I think we’re going to come out of it with some amazing leaders,” Egan said. “I’m also just excited to see my donors again. Their support saves and changes lives. And I don’t say that lightly. We don’t know what barriers to care there are for a patient or what resources they lack as they’re going through their health journeys. So our donors absolutely make a difference every day.”

You can make a difference, too.

With a gift for Novant Health’s COVID-19 relief efforts, your donations will support critical needs for front-line workers so they can focus on caring for the community.

Join the Garden Party

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Lending a helping hand

A collaborative effort is bringing personal protective equipment to the team at Rowan Medical Center

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jessica Ramey’s first and most serious concern was around protecting her patients and her team.

Ramey works in infection prevention (IP) for Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, and the coronavirus presented a new and challenging reality.

“It’s not the virus itself; it’s having the things we need to protect our people. That, to me, was the scariest part,” Ramey said. “In infection prevention, we make sure that all team members, patients and visitors are all kept safe.”

To ensure that safety in an unprecedented time, Ramey had to think outside the box.

Ramey has a friend who works in healthcare in Washington State. When the pandemic hit and hospitals found themselves struggling to find personal protective equipment, Ramey’s friend started building her own face shields. She sent Ramey the schematics she had used, and Ramey got to work. She went to the craft store and bought what she needed to construct a few prototypes. In a short time, she’d built a few new face shields by hand, and they worked.

Ramey knew she was going to need more. She also knew she would need help. She found it in a group of volunteers at Memorial Baptist Church in Kannapolis.

The church had already delivered loads of snacks to front-line medical workers at Rowan Medical Center, but they wanted to do more. Ramey sent them the schematics and the supplies she’d purchased and gave them strict guidance on how to keep their manufacturing process safe for themselves and for the healthcare workers who would receive the face shields once they were complete.

“And they’ve been cranking out face shields ever since,” Ramey said. “We tried them here at Rowan Medical Center first to make sure they were safe, and it was really a blessing for us. The face shields help protect our masks and allow us to wear those masks longer. The team really values having them.”

At first, Ramey worried that her request would create too much work for the volunteers at Memorial Baptist Church. Little did she know, the church had been discussing its mission and looking for ways to support the community for more than a year.

“We wanted to be a place that was a blessing to our community with no strings attached,” said Rev. Jason Barber, pastor at Memorial Baptist Church. “We had been talking about, through various workshops and things I’d been teaching, what we wanted to be for our city in a way that was personal, ongoing and generous. Crises fast forwarded a lot of that conversation for us.”

The church decided healthcare workers needed their help, now.

“For us, the opportunity to partner up was an answer to prayer,” Barber said. “We don’t have the knowhow that these professionals have, but we wanted to do something that would be a real benefit in this battle. To be able to support and equip those front-line workers was a huge blessing for us.”

Now, they’ve produced so many face shields that Ramey has had to tell them to pause production. But Memorial Baptist Church isn’t stopping entirely. They continue to donate snacks and drinks to Rowan Medical Center, and Ramey ensures those gifts make it to every department in the hospital.

“You would be surprised what a water and a pack of crackers can do — just to know that people care and that they’re trying to make our days a little easier,” she said.

Now, Ramey is trying to do the same for them, in whatever ways she can. For instance, when the volunteers at the church called recently with a request for Ramey’s professional opinion, she immediately agreed.

“They’re trying to open up the church and host the first two Sundays outside, and they have a really awesome plan that I’ve helped them with to ensure everyone is safe and socially distant,” Ramey said. “Now they have a little infection prevention experience.”

And Ramey can shift her focus away from personal protective equipment and on to other areas within the hospital and beyond. For instance, she now hosts calls three times a week with long-term care facilities to offer feedback and assistance on infection prevention procedures.

“Their patients are our patients. We’re one community,” Ramey said. “Nursing homes don’t typically have an IP person. Now, we can give feedback, and hopefully that has strengthened our relationship with our long-term care facilities.”

All of that may seem above and beyond, but for Ramey, it’s business as usual. It started years ago, when she first joined Rowan Medical Center and made 300 cupcakes for the nursing team. And it continues now.

“You have to be a constant to people, especially in such a time of unknown,” Ramey said. “Of course there were days I went home in tears, like everybody, but I just knew that if I was panicked, everyone was going to be panicked. I love everybody here. I think they look to me to be that answer for them, and if I don’t know something, I’m going to find out for you.”

Lend a helping hand.

You can do your part to lend a hand by making a contribution to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund). The fund provides essential resources to front-line healthcare workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives. Join us, and make your gift today.

Donate now

Supporting moms on the front lines one flower at a time

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day during a pandemic?

For two locally based businesses looking to honor mothers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, the answer was flowers.

This May, Lowe’s Companies Inc. teamed up with Metrolina Greenhouses to provide nearly 25,000 hanging flower baskets across Charlotte for Mother’s Day, with 10,000 of those going to nurses and other caregivers in the metro area.

The gift from Lowe’s ensured that Mother’s Day was not forgotten amid the hectic days of COVID-19, when so many Novant Health team members are working diligently to treat patients.

“We wanted to show our appreciation to the healthcare workers who are out there on the front lines every day, helping to combat this virus and to keep us all safe,” said Betsy Conway, director of community relations at Lowe’s. “Many healthcare workers are not able to be with their families during this time, or they’re far away from their own moms and their families. So it was delightful to see their appreciation for just a simple act of kindness.”

The gift was part of a $1 million nationwide effort Lowe’s led to distribute 100,000 flower baskets to long-term care and senior housing facilities around the country. Lowe’s partnered with Uber to deliver baskets in various markets nationwide as part of the initiative.

“Just like the situation we’re in now, it was an unprecedented effort,” Conway said. “But it was well worth the effort and time we spent to ensure we were able to bring a smile to every mother, grandmother, caregiver and healthcare worker who received one of our baskets.”

This idea to celebrate mothers in a creative way dovetailed with a desire to support local growers such as Metrolina Greenhouses, a wholesale nursery in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Metrolina Greenhouses is a wonderful partner of ours,” Conway said. “We were thrilled that Metrolina could participate with us in this effort. It was part of our commitment to supporting small business locally. Metrolina worked directly with us to deliver to more than 70 locations in the Charlotte area.”

Headquartered in Mooresville, North Carolina, Lowe’s has taken several steps to support its hometown and surrounding areas throughout COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, the company mobilized large product contributions of masks to Novant Health and other healthcare systems across the nation. The company also worked with local distilleries to make hand sanitizer available in bulk to support local healthcare heroes.

“We continue to look for innovative ways that we can support healthcare workers,” Conway said. “The flower baskets were a natural extension of that, and we certainly look forward to helping Novant Health provide remarkable care in the future.”

You can do your part, too, with a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

Contributions to the fund provide critical resources for those on the front lines, helping them so they can help those in need. Join us and make your gift today.

Donate now

Making #CLTStrong

Caroline Elliott is on a mission to feed healthcare workers on the front lines

Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline Elliott has raised more than $85,000 to feed front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. It’s a campaign that has taken on a life of its own since its launch back in March, gaining momentum, attracting volunteers and making an impact.

The first week in May, it also landed her in the Oval Office of the White House, in a group of her fellow nurses, listening to President Donald Trump sing their collective praises in celebration of National Nurses Day.

“It was wild. It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Elliott said. “It’s such an honor to be a nurse. The fact that I’m considered in the same category as so many people I’ve met who have these incredible stories is just mind-blowing to me. I’m doing what I can, and that’s important. But as I kept saying over and over at the White House, I definitely don’t deserve this.”

The front-line workers she’s been feeding, as well as the restaurants she’s been able to support in the process, would beg to differ.

Elliott is a fertility nurse. She lives in Charlotte but works remotely for a clinic in Washington, D.C. She is not on the front lines, but she has friends and colleagues who are.

“That’s what sparked my initial urge to do something. I just started to think, ‘What can I do to help?”’ Elliott said.

One of her friends on the West Coast had purchased bagels and coffee for a local hospital, and Elliott decided to do something similar. Healthcare workers need to eat to do their jobs. With cafeterias and restaurants shut down, they have to bring food from home or rely on vending machines with limited options. Elliott thought she could take that worry off their plate, while helping them eat well throughout their shifts.

At the same time, local restaurants needed business as the state-mandated lockdown forced them to close their doors and lay off workers. So Elliott decided to try a campaign that would pull double duty: She’d raise money to buy food from local restaurants, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. Then, she would donate that food to front-line medical workers at facilities across the Charlotte region.

She started out taking donations via Venmo. Within 24 hours, she’d raised $8,000.

“I quickly booked some lunches and some dinners, and it took off from there,” Elliott said. “People heard my story and spread the word. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. We’ve raised a lot of money, had some fun partnerships and worked with some generous, gracious people.”

Those people have given life to the campaign, now known as #CLTStrong, and its mission even when Elliott couldn’t. On the day of her first delivery back in March, she found out she’d been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I was heartbroken,” Elliott said.

Soon, her husband, Frank, tested positive for COVID-19, and while Elliott was never officially tested, she fell ill soon after.

“We had to call on our friends and family and strangers to do our deliveries. Now it’s all strangers — people I’ve never met. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for,” Elliott said. “It’s just complete strangers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to do something to help. Nobody has to do anything, but they are.”

Elliott put herself on self-quarantine for six weeks and relied on the generosity of volunteers to continue deliveries. Local businesses, such as jewelry maker Twine & Twig and Glory Days Apparel, have joined the effort to raise funds. Young Plantations filled her car with 600 bags of cookies.

Those donations have gone out across the healthcare community in Charlotte, including Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Alex Funderburg, chair of the Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation board of directors, has become one of her champions, and the entire team at Presbyterian Medical Center has been tremendously grateful for the support #CLTStrong has been able to provide.

“Caroline knew a lot of these workers were facing tough hours and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Funderburg said. “Now, the campaign has served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort.”

At the same time, the money she’s raised has provided critical support for local restaurants. One restaurant owner told her he was able to hire back one of his employees, knowing that a big order was coming from #CLTStrong.

“Now I’m learning about which restaurants really need the help right now, and we’re doing our best to help those places out,” she said.

Even as we edge our way into a new and less restrictive normal, Elliott plans to continue this work, providing meals, helping restaurants and collaborating with others in the community. It’s not her job, but it is part of what being a nurse means to her.

“When I was a pediatric nurse, there were so many nights when I lay in bed with patients and scratched their backs to help them go to sleep. As nurses, we’re constantly stepping in to do whatever is needed to help,” Elliott said. “Throughout all of this, I have not heard one person complain. Everybody is just so eager to get in there and do what they can do.”

She’s seen that same resiliency throughout the broader Charlotte community, as well.

“Everyone has come together. It’s been pretty amazing,” she said.

You can do your part to support front-line healthcare workers with a donation to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

The fund provides critical resources for those workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.

Join us and make your gift today.

Donate now

Taking action on the front lines of COVID-19

Melissa Morin’s energy is her superpower in the fight against a global pandemic

Melissa Morin doesn’t like to sit still. Over the course of her career in healthcare, that energy has been her signature, her specialty and her superpower.

She started out after high school as a volunteer with a local rescue squad in Manassas, Virginia. She spent some time as a paramedic. Then, she joined the emergency room at Novant Health Prince William Medical Center as a nursing technician. From the beginning, she was hooked.

“I got the bug. This was a fit. This was what my calling was going to be,” said Morin, now a nurse manager in the Emergency Services Department at Prince William Medical Center. “I have a lot of energy. I don’t really sit still well, and I like to fix things. When people are in crisis, they come to the hospital seeking help, and I like being part of the team that says, ‘This is what we’ve got to do to fix you.’”

Solving those problems has become more difficult in recent weeks, as the COVID-19 crisis has taken hold in Manassas and surrounding communities.

“It’s been a challenge only because these are uncharted waters. We’ve not had to deal with anything on this scale,” she said.

But Morin and her team have risen to the challenge from day one.

“In the early days, we walked the unit, figuring out what we would need if we had a huge surge of patients,” Morin said. “We started pre-planning at the very beginning.”

Those walks through the unit continue even now, along with regular meetings to share updates, to ask about needs and to solicit new ideas from the team to streamline processes or operations.

“We want to hear what our team members have to say,” Morin said. “We try very hard to get them involved, and everyone from charge nurses to technicians are sending us emails and leaving notes with ideas about what we could try. Some things work really well, and if they don’t, we try something else.”

They’re all vested in the work because they understand the role the emergency department plays in the health of the rest of the hospital.

“We are the line of defense to hold infections from getting upstairs to the rest of the facility, or from going home to the rest of your family,” Morin said. “We have places to have you shower before you leave. We’re telling people to bring an extra pair of shoes — anything they need to feel comfortable to go home.”

The community has done its part, too, Morin said.

“Every day we have food. There are people who are coming to the door of the hospital giving us boxes of unopened gloves,” she said. “Our community really has rallied around us on this.”

There have been other wins for the team, like the patient who was on a ventilator for 33 days and recovered.

“He was high-fiving people on his way out the door, thanking people for saving his life,” Morin said. “He was one of our great success stories.”

Those moments help with morale and positivity, which is one of Morin’s strengths. But she acknowledges that’s been hard in the midst of COVID-19.

“I am pretty well known to be the positive, optimistic kind of person. You throw in that extra spice of an international pandemic, and it definitely gives you a challenge. But you’ve got to stay positive,” Morin said. “There are some days that are more of a challenge than others, but I have a phenomenal team of assistant nurse managers, and we take it as a group approach.”

That’s especially important on the difficult days. The emergency room has implemented a no-visitation policy, which holds true no matter why you have to visit the hospital. People are still having heart attacks or other life-ending or life-altering diseases, and Morin said it’s been hard to tell families that they will be limited in how they say goodbye.

“There are people whose families are afraid to come into the facility because of COVID or aren’t able to get to us because public transportation’s not running,” Morin said. “We do have patients who pass away. Nobody should have to die by themselves, but it does happen, and it’s happened more frequently than I would like.”

Slowly, the hospital is getting back to normal, as the world around Prince William Medical Center reopens, Morin said. Throughout that process, one thing will remain the same.

“Taking care of patients will not change regardless of what the influences are around it, and we do a really good job of it here,” Morin said. “The nursing staff is fantastic. Our senior executive team is supportive, and our community deserves to have the best care.”

Just as our healthcare workers are giving us the most remarkable care, we need to ensure they have the resources they need now.

You can help, with a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

Join us and help those on the front lines of an unprecedented battle.

Donate now