Carla Cline’s goal was to turn the negative energy surrounding the pandemic into something positive, and according to leaders at AdventHealth Palm Coast, it worked.
Exhausted, overwhelmed staff at the hospital gathered outside the Emergency Department on Aug. 30 for a prayer and a hand-off: Cline delivered 450 $20 gift cards, purchased from local restaurants, along with thank you cards. The effort will continue until 1,000 cards are collected.
“It’s a blessing for us when our staff is appreciated,” said Ron Jimenez, hospital CEO. “Lately it becomes difficult just because they’ve seen so many folks critically ill and passing away, and that makes it very difficult for health care providers, when it doesn't seem like there’s an end to it.”
When a patient is in the hospital for many days, the nurses get to know them well.
“They almost become like a part of the family,” Jimenez said. “The passing of patient can be very tough on staff. If you’re having multiple of those in a short period of time, it can be very difficult.”
Wally De Aquino, chief operating officer for the hospital, was impressed with the large number of gift cards.
“It means the community cares,” he said.
Staff emotions are close to the surface. De Aquino said that a week ago a church group came to sing to the staff, and nurses “started crying because they were going through so much.”
As of Aug. 30, there were 77 patients being treated with COVID-19 at AdventHealth Palm Coast, which advertises a capacity of 99 beds but can convert space to accommodate more. Five people died at the hospital over the weekend, bringing the total of Flagler deaths to 164.
The Emergency Department typically has a staff of 30-40, but some have had to quarantine periodically. Being short-staffed at a time of high hospitalizations has led many staff members to work 60 hours per week, according to Mary Radcliff, director of emergency services for the past six years.
“They feel very overwhelmed some days,” she said. “You have all of your rooms full, and patients are in the hallways, and the nurses are wanting to do the best they can for every patient that comes in, and a lot of times, there’s three times the patients there is staff to take care of them. But they still do what they have to do without hesitation.”
Cline, the owner of Flagler Surf Art and Stuff and the website www.flaglersurf.com, said she has since heard of other people taking up the same idea for health care workers in Orlando, Brandon and Palatka. Many nurses have told her that the gift cards are “a bright spot.”
“This was a hope to wash over things for a moment with something good, instead of complaining and arguing and sadness,” she said. “There is so much negative going on, and you can’t really battle that with negative. It doesn’t work.”
— Jonathan Simmons contributed to this report.