CHEYENNE — When Laramie County Community College Nursing Program Director Karen Bowen received an intense call at 10 a.m. on a Thursday, she never expected within the hour she’d be directing nursing students to the hospital as a support team.
“It was an unprecedented situation,” she said.
At the end of November, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center experienced a three-day patient surge so high it required outside help. The conditions of the pandemic, nursing shortages and emergency room patient influxes have led to an overwhelming environment for health workers over the past year, but this was the first time a call had to be made to LCCC.
Nursing students helped board, take vitals, bathe, transport and prepare patients for discharge outside of their normal clinical duties to provide relief to CRMC staff. Because they were not on assignment for clinical rotations and did not have a clinical instructor for each student, they could not pass medications, perform treatments or perform other normal responsibilities.
But Bowen said the services they could provide allowed nurses to board and discharge patients faster, as well as focus on the treatment portion.
“I’m just so grateful for the collaboration between our hospital and LCCC,” said CRMC Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Clinical Services Tracy Garcia. “It was just definitely a godsend that day.”
The morning they were rushed into the hospital, there were 28 patients waiting for inpatient beds. They could not be admitted yet as a result of the 35 to 45 patients with COVID-19 being treated, according to Garcia.
This has been the average of coronavirus patients over the past few months. She said she has never seen an overflow of patients to the emergency department of this magnitude in the years she has worked at the local hospital.
Students had to work Thursday, Friday and even the following Monday to manage the quantity.
Angelica Garcia, a fourth-semester nursing student, was one of those called into action. With her prior clinical involvement at the hospital, she felt prepared to perform, but she said not everyone felt the same way.
Garcia said some of her peers were hesitant because they had only been scheduled for a Zoom class when they received the request. Nevertheless, they came together and were more than willing to support the hospital.
“I’d say about half of our cohort doesn’t really have a lot of hands-on experience,” she said. “... Going in and doing hands-on patient care for them was a little, like, I would say scary for them.”
She also explained how the role they were expected to play in the emergency situation was different from their expected future. Instead of coming to the hospital with nursing obligations, she took on the responsibilities of a certified medical assistant.
She said it was good to see how a nurse’s aid impacts nursing care. And without the extra support of patient care, she said nurses would fall behind. It was a new perspective.
Bowen, the director of the nursing program she attends, said she was also grateful students got a chance to understand the fast-paced working environment during the pandemic.
They also gained insight into the infectious disease process, chain of command and mobilizing a response. She said in health care there are continuing discussions about how a response works within a catastrophe or emergency, but those are often hypotheticals.
She said in this particular case, students were actually able to physically participate.
Cheyenne Regional’s chief nursing officer said she was highly impressed with the performance of LCCC’s students and knows now she can depend on them for a quick and quality response if there are future surges. She wouldn’t hesitate to call them.
Bowen said she would jump at any chance to help in the future, and it was an opportunity to lock arms and take care of the community together.
“It’s definitely a two-way relationship that we enjoy with our clinical partners like CRMC,” she said.