COVID-19: Talking with a trained healthcare professional

A different perspective. Debra Amick is the Vice President of Quality Improvement and oversees the quality care of patients. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was buried in her work to ensure everyone was receiving quality care.

Used with permission from Debra Amick

A different perspective. Debra Amick is the Vice President of Quality Improvement and oversees the quality care of patients. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was buried in her work to ensure everyone was receiving quality care.

Brooke Eldridge, Opinions and Arts and Entertainment Editor

In the midst of a pandemic, people have all felt a little uncertain about the state of our country. From limited social interactions to consistent hand washing and periods of mask-wearing, it’s been a stressful and sudden change to everyday life. Everyone has heard different things about COVID-19; is it not as dangerous as the media portrays it or does it causes life-long health impacts? But what do we know from the people who are working in the hospitals that first-hand witness the impact of COVID-19?

Debra Amick, the Vice President of Quality Improvement at Northside Hospital Health System, has first-hand seen the effects of the coronavirus at the hospital. Her job encompasses leading multiple departments, overseeing compliance with various regulatory bodies (the joint commission, centers for Medicare and Medicaid, state and federal guidelines), helping with various process improvements for the organization that affects clinical outcomes, overseeing clinical quality data, overseeing all physicians and their quality data, and internal quality improvement databases. Because of the high demand for involvement her job title places her in, she has been actively involved in the dealing of COVID-19. 

“We had to do a lot of training of staff,” Amick goes into what the process of training was like near the beginning of the pandemic. “We did a lot of simulations where we would simulate and do drills on caring for COVID-19 patients and if we have to do compressions and intubate, where you put someone who has COVID-19 on a ventilator, how are we going to keep everyone safe?”

With the stress of managing the quality of care Northside provided, Debra Amick became buried in her work. She had to ensure that her hospital used the most efficient protocols and provided the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and care to limit the risk of the virus spreading to the frontline staff and to also support their COVID patients to the best of their ability. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of work that had to be done very quickly to ensure that we had the right infection prevention protocols in place for staff, physicians, visitors, and patients,” said Amick.

As the VP of Quality Improvement, Amick’s job kept her on her toes as she and her team made certain that there were enough equipment and supplies for patients, monitor patient outcomes, and tweak protocols if new information was published that could improve the quality of care given.

“For the frontline staff, so the nurses and so forth (respiratory therapists, physicians) when they were working with any kind of patient, but especially COVID-19 patients, they had to take a lot of extra measures, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to make sure that they didn’t personally get infected and that they didn’t spread it to other patients.”

Not only do the frontline staff have to be extremely cautious with patients, but the emotional toll that affects them has been a growing concern for Debra and the rest of Northside Hospital. Working tireless hours and providing the best care imaginable for it to not always end up being enough to save someone can be mentally deteriorating and can cause a decline in mental health. Because of this, Northside has provided behavioral health support, groups, crisis hotlines, and free counseling for frontline staff to support them through these rough times.

With cases starting to rise again in Forsyth County and across the country, it’s important to acknowledge the skeptics of COVID-19. From someone who has years of experience and who is currently headfirst in the pandemic and its effects, “it’s important to continue taking this virus seriously,” Amick explains.

“This is a virus that attacks many different parts of the body,” Amick explains how symptoms started with a shortlist, everything from diarrhea and nausea to more traditional symptoms like shortness of breath. “It affects different people in different ways and of course a lot of people don’t have any symptoms and that’s what makes it hard, but what we’ve also seen is that when it affects people badly, it affects their heart, their blood clotting system, their lungs, and their inflammatory response. It can be a very aggressive and very serious virus. Definitely much more than the flu.”

Despite the growing research and reported damage COVID-19 can do to the body, there are still people who believe the virus is a hoax and who refuse to follow CDC guidelines. This could be a direct cause of the rising cases and increased closure of schools and stores.

While this could be a cause of the rising numbers, Amick says she thinks people are starting to wear masks more and stores have started mandating masks in order to enter, which she says is helping. However, it’s still important to stay cautious and utilize all protocols to keep numbers down.

“People have to be very vigilant at even people that they know, being careful and wearing masks and social distancing, those are really, right now, proven by healthcare workers who’ve been directly in contact with COVID patients who have not gotten COVID because they’re wearing appropriate protective equipment and washing their hands and all the things you hear really do work. Letting your guard down is a sure-fire way to whether or not you get it and have symptoms but you could pass it to someone who could get symptoms.”

From the stresses of the pandemic it can be difficult to find things to do that enrich life, but Amick reassures people that we can get through this as long as we remain vigilant.

“It’s very important to focus on things that we can do safely, and appreciate that we realize that we’re very strong, we’re a very strong country, we’ve gotten through things before, we haven’t dealt with anything like this in over a hundred years, but we will get through this and we can even be stronger.”

With the emotional toll this pandemic has caused so many people, it’s imperative to find things that bring us joy while also maintaining safety measures to return to normal.

As citizens, we have to be selfless during these difficult times and look out for other people who may be vulnerable to this virus. Safety should be the biggest priority and listening to healthcare workers is equally as important to fully understand the destruction of the coronavirus. As a country, we’re strong and we can get through this, but we have to listen to the professionals and doctors who have been seeing and experiencing what’s been happening to people firsthand.