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Comforting COVID-19 patients requires a special type of touch.

When patients are scared or loved ones are worried, Patti Ford never hesitates to comfort someone with a hug. That’s what “huggers” like her do, she says. But when treating COVID-19 patients, the respiratory therapist at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital knows that kind of solace now must come in a different form.

“The human touch can do a lot to help someone heal,” says Patti, who’s been in the field for 37 years. “So, I’m challenged to find ways to bring that same level of comfort when isolation is so prevalent.”

Through the added layers of protection that are part of the coronavirus protocol, she takes the extra time to let her patients know she cares. Even with two pairs of gloves and a plastic shield covering her face, she sees a sense of relief in someone’s eyes when they can feel her hand grasping theirs.

New ways to communicate

The communication aspect can be tough with older patients or those who are hard of hearing, she says. With a face mask, they can’t read her lips. With loud machinery in the room, it can be challenging to hear her voice. But she’s taking the opportunity to work a little more meticulously and be a little more patient as she completes her tasks.

While COVID-19 patients cannot have visitors, Patti says, the hospital bought extra computer tablets so they can help patients set up FaceTime or Zoom calls with their families. 

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“Our nurses are fielding family calls around the clock,” Patti says. “People just want to know how their parent, grandparent, spouse, or child are doing. We used to be able to communicate that in-person. Now, we’re making sure they get to see a friendly face, even if it’s not the most ideal way to do it.”

READ: Pennsylvania Insurers Agree to Pay for COVID-19 Testing, Treatment

Working as one

Today more than ever, Patti says, she sees her WellSpan family of care providers living the “working as one” mantra from the organization’s mission statement.

There’s no more calling a nursing assistant to change bedding if Patti is already in personal protective equipment and can do the job. Occupational and physical therapists are also working as runners on her unit, transporting labs or getting other necessities. She’s also grateful for the housekeepers who have answered the increased demand to keep spaces safe and sanitary.

“I’m ready to get back to the days when we can give that hug or hold a hand without gloves,” Patti says. “But I know that in the meantime we’re doing the best we can, and we’ve come together in a way that we’ll change how we work and support one another long after this period.”

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