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In this article:
As a trained nurse and leader at Swedish, Kristy Carrington has had a front-row view of the challenges facing nurses during the pandemic.
Swedish nurses came together to help both patients and colleagues during some of the most difficult times of the crisis.
The pandemic helped publicize the burnout that nurses experience as caregivers as well as their importance to everyone’s health.
Kristy Carrington, MBA, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, the interim chief executive for Providence Swedish North Puget Sound, previously served as the chief nursing officer for the region and as First Hill’s director of acute care before that. Throughout the pandemic, Kristy has worked to implement nursing-sensitive operations and sought to be a sensitive and relational leader striving to make an impact on patients and fellow caregivers. For our series on two years of COVID-19, we spoke with Kristy about her memories from the beginning of the pandemic, the heroic role of our nurses and her hopes for the future of nursing.
Can you share with us a couple of your recollections from the beginning of the pandemic?
I don't think I could actually ever forget what it was like at the beginning of the pandemic. There are a couple things that stand out to me: One was navigating the uncertainty and ambiguity, because there was so much we didn't know. We didn't know a lot about the virus. We didn't know much about how easily it spread or what the long-lasting effects were — we just knew it was serious. And I think there was a tremendous amount of fear around that from the frontline all the way up to the leaders.
But then you pair that with the courage on display; the desire to fight the virus and to do the right thing were really inspirational. Caregivers were saying, "Okay, we’ve got to get out there and take care of each other and take care of the patients that are coming in," despite all this uncertainty and fear.
You can't really appreciate things like that at the time because you're just in the throes of it all. But when we got to a point where we started to feel like we were getting a handle on it, you could look back and say, "Wow, what we’ve gone through is pretty incredible and what we’ve accomplished will forever change health care."
The other thing I think about is that this hit us here in the state of Washington before it hit anybody else. We were really on the front end of it. And very quickly we became the innovators and the experts, learning through it and sharing with our colleagues out on the East Coast.
I had friends and colleagues calling from back east asking, "Okay, we're starting to see this. What did you guys do? Or how did you guys handle this? Or what are the processes you put in place?" It was scary but being at the forefront of it and being able to help our partners and our colleagues was rewarding.
Interim Chief Executive of Providence Swedish North Puget Sound Kristy Carrington
Tell us about Swedish nurses' roles in vaccine rollouts, vaccine clinics and how Swedish nurses helped bring the vaccines to our communities.
That was another proud moment during the pandemic, where we saw light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, that tunnel turned out to be much longer than we had imagined, but it was an inflection point in the pandemic with so much excitement and energy of [communities] and nursing staff coming together.
I have to say that everything that we've been able to accomplish through this pandemic is broader than just nursing, but I was especially proud of our nurses when we came together to support the vaccine clinics. In the first few days, maybe that first week of running our vaccine clinics for caregivers, people were jumping in and saying, "Hey, I want to help out." And we needed nurses to help vaccinate. So that was a moment where we really demonstrated caregivers taking care of caregivers. We were taking care of each other, which was so cool to see. It was very emotional for many people; it was really powerful.
And then at the community clinics, whether it was at Seattle University or Lumen Field, our nurses put in so many volunteer hours to get the community vaccinated. And of course, they were there at our mobile vaccination clinics, where we went out to some of our underserved communities to try to get the vaccine out into some areas where we knew they didn't have great access.
The desire to help is in nurses’ DNA. Nursing means you want to get out there and you want to do good for people in the community. We ultimately serve the overall mission of the organization, and our calling is to promote the health of our community, and during the pandemic that meant trying to offer the vaccine throughout our communities and really fight this pandemic.
Caring for a COVID-19 patient.
The careworn face of a nurse eventually became the image of the pandemic. What has that meant to you, particularly as a nurse leader, to see that change in our consciousness around the profession of nursing?
There's a sense of pride, because I am incredibly proud of being a nurse. I'm incredibly proud of the profession and the role that nurses play in patient care, and of course, in this pandemic. The pandemic highlighted the nursing profession, and the impacts nurses have on the outcomes of our patients. And on the other hand, [the pandemic put] a spotlight on the burnout that nurses had already been experiencing. While there is a lot of reward in the work nurses do, it’s important to recognize that nurses are tired. The work is physically, mentally and emotionally hard. This isn't a new phenomenon in nursing but the effects of the pandemic on patient care and staffing have definitely made it worse.
A caregiver from Swedish Issaquah dons personal protective equipment
How has COVID changed nursing?
In many ways, it’s made nursing more challenging because of the impacts it has had on the workforce and staffing. However, I think what we have seen is that it's inspired more people to enter the nursing profession because of the visibility it’s created amongst the public into what nurses do.
We have an aging population with a higher complexity of needs. Meanwhile, we have a massive nursing shortage. So, nursing will have to change. And while change is hard, I think there is also an opportunity to look at how we deliver care to patients while ensuring that we keep nurses working at the top of their scope and skillset — this minimizes the unnecessary administrative burdens that bog down the workload on nurses.
And while the pandemic highlighted some of the things that are making the work of our nurses challenging, it also highlighted the intrinsic reward you can get from making a difference in someone’s life. That’s what keeps people doing this job.
All of that said, I couldn't be prouder of the nurses at Swedish. It's been so hard these last couple years, but our nurses are so committed. They care about their patients, they care about the community, they care about the cause and what they're here for. And even when things are difficult, they still show up. That shows how important it is to our nurses that we're here to serve the community. We're here to serve each other.
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