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‘Leaders are made in moments like this’



From Hurricane Florence to COVID-19, Rob Stumbo is on a mission to help, no matter what

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When you ask Rob Stumbo about the most poignant moment in his nursing career, he takes you back to 2018, when he was standing on the helipad of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in the hours immediately after Hurricane Florence had battered the surrounding community.

Stumbo had been on lockdown in the hospital with the rest of the medical team for six days while the hurricane raged. The North Carolina National Guard was conducting search-and-rescue missions and then bringing sick or injured patients to the emergency room.

“That was one of the hardest moments, professionally and personally, I ever had to go through,” said Stumbo, a nurse and house supervisor at Brunswick Medical Center. “There was a lot of fear. Everyone has their family in the community and their homes, and we left all that to be at the hospital and to provide for the community.”

Over the course of those six days, a patient came into the hospital who was in bad shape. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and, at a certain point, it became clear that she needed to be moved to a larger healthcare facility. Under normal circumstances, the team would call in a helicopter right away. In a hurricane, they didn’t have that option.

So Stumbo and his team dedicated all the resources they could to stabilize her condition until the hurricane passed. As soon as the storm broke, they sent for a helicopter, which landed at the hospital a short time later.

“I remember being out there when the chopper took her. I remember high-fiving everyone as they flew away. The sun was parting the clouds. It was like a movie,” Stumbo recalled. “It felt like we finally helped her.”

And helping people is all Stumbo has ever wanted to do.

It started when he became an EMT in his early 20s, after a friend had a diabetic seizure right in front of him. Seeing that made him feel helpless, and he hated it.

“I don’t like not knowing what to do,” Stumbo said.

So, he learned. Being an EMT taught him how to respond in a crisis, how to help. Then, when he met his wife, a nurse, she encouraged him to do more. She told him he’d make a great nurse, and he listened. Stumbo got his LPN, his RN, his BSN, and now he’s one month away from receiving his master’s degree in nursing.

“I do feel like nurses are the backbone of healthcare. We’re there for people in their worst moments. These are not experiences those people necessarily want to remember, but we get letters all the time thanking us,” Stumbo said. “It’s been challenging, but we feel a sense of duty. My dad will ask me sometimes how I do what I do, and I tell him, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ That’s the attitude that nurses have. We need to step up because we’re willing to be that person.”

Since Stumbo joined Brunswick Medical Center five years ago, he’s had to step up a lot. He’s the youngest house supervisor on staff by more than a decade — a promotion that he considers one of the highlights of his career. But more than that, the past few years have brought some of the most significant challenges the young hospital has ever faced.

Hurricane Florence was one of them. The COVID-19 pandemic is another.

“I was there during several early cases when we suspected COVID-19. It was a very scary time for everyone. We had great backup from our leadership, but no one knew how serious this situation was going to be,” Stumbo said. “When all this was really starting to ramp up, I went to every department and asked if they needed anything. I looked them all in the eye and told them, ‘Whatever happens, we’re going to figure it out.’”

House supervisors are the engine of the hospital, Stumbo said. They ensure everyone and everything stays on track. A big part of that involves making sure team members have a place to turn when they have questions or need assurance.

“I spend a lot of time consoling people,” Stumbo said. “Everything is changing every day, but we’re all in this together. And we really have become a more cohesive unit for the whole facility. It’s amazing to see how we’ve all adapted.”

He’s also been amazed at how different members of his team have risen to the challenge, Stumbo said.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, a man came to the emergency room at Brunswick Medical Center in cardiac arrest. Stumbo and his team didn’t know if he had tested positive for the virus. They just knew he needed help.

“This was very early on, when we were still figuring everything out, and there was no hesitation. Everyone jumped in. We fell right back into our practices of helping, even though at the same time we were taking a huge risk compared to what we were taking two weeks before,” Stumbo said. “The charge nurse risked his life to try and save that patient, and we see that every day with our people. They just care, and that’s the biggest thing that we’ll take away from this. Leaders are made in moments like this.”

Stumbo, too, is among those leading the charge. He’s on the front lines every day, so when he comes home to his wife and four dogs, he leaves his clothes on the front porch and heads straight to the shower. To protect others, he tries not to go anywhere except work and home. And he hasn’t seen his parents or his grandmother, all of whom live nearby, in a month.

He acknowledges that it’s hard, but at the same time, he doesn’t complain. He loves what he does, no matter how difficult the job can be.

“Helping people is all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” he said. “This job gives me an opportunity to make a difference, and I can see it every day.”

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as “Year of the Nurse” in celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. We are proud to celebrate and recognize our Novant Health nursing team members this year, and always, for the remarkable care they deliver to our patients and their loved ones every day.

Nurses like Rob Stumbo need our support more now than ever.

You can make a difference, too, by contributing to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), which was established to help nurses and other team members on the front lines of the pandemic with rent assistance, child care services and more.

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