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Front-line fighters

Area nurses helping wage local war vs. COVID-19
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
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Lauren Walters (left) and Katie Smith suit up before heading to the tent outside Green Clinic to collect a sample from a patient testing for the coronavirus.

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Lauren Walters collects a sample while conducting a coronavirus test.

“What’s your temperature today?” “Do you understand self-monitoring?” “Have you talked with your doctor?”

Becky Murphy admits to hearing these questions in her head long after she leaves work at Green Clinic these days. That’s because as a nurse, she spends a large part of her day asking these questions to potential COVID-19 patients.

“We are constantly being challenged due to how we have to practice medicine now,” Murphy said. “I have never been in anything like this.”

A nurse since graduating in 1984, Murphy has spent the last 30 of those years at Green Clinic in Ruston. As director of nursing for the clinic, her days typically revolved around ensuring nurse staffing to meet the needs of patients throughout clinic departments, training for those nurses, and handling hiring.

That all changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“Uncertainty was the biggest change right off the bat,” Murphy said. “Suddenly I was meeting with Homeland Security and the Louisiana Department of Health, then trying to communicate everything I was being told with staff. That in itself was a real challenge because we have so many departments. There was the need to constantly check on staff, order medicines and supplies, and do whatever it took to make sure we could all handle the crisis.”

Murphy said the ongoing uncertainty and changes in the testing process were huge adjustments.

“So much changed with the way we tested,” she said. “And sometimes we had multiple changes within a day. One minute a patient is presenting to nurses and we’re asking questions and before we know it, we’re going directly to symptoms and physicians making the evaluations and sending patients to nurses for the test.”

At this point, the clinic moved to erecting a tent at the front entrance, limiting facility access with only critical or emergency cases allowed in. For Murphy, this became life on the frontline as nurses began going to patients’ cars to limit the exposure to staff as well as the patients who have to be in the clinic. Joining the nurses in the fight against COVID-19 are lab technicians.

“Patients call, a nurse will gear up with a lab tech and go out to the tent, look for the car as described by the patient, and administer the test,” Murphy said. “Tammy Singleton, our lab director, has done a tremendous job in training a lot of lab techs to handle the tests because of their excellent skill set. And they have done an amazing job.”

Murphy thanked many throughout the community who have helped by providing supplies and gear. She also thank state Epidemiology Department has been incredible, providing answers when she doesn’t have them, basically becoming a lifesaver in so many ways because nobody has all the answers and everybody is looking for help. She said such a situation has only added to the challenges.

“At the end of the day, every nerve is on edge,” Murphy said. “We find ourselves compulsively aware of soap and water and intentional in washing clothes and taking baths immediately. There is that fear we may be taking something home to loved ones.”

That being said, Murphy is quick to note how she has marveled at everyone’s ability to adapt and do it quickly. She also indicates how impressed she has been with patients in general as she said the majority have been very understanding and cooperative. It’s that calm that prompts words of wisdom as she looks ahead.

“Don’t panic and don’t let fear overtake you. Use the relationship you have with your physician and use that communication to guide you. We are here to help,” she said.