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Healthcare Workers

A respiratory therapist volunteers on the COVID-19 front lines

Published May 13, 2020
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Bolstering the front lines. For the Health of America.

Meaghan Bryant leads a team of health coaches for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She is also a trained respiratory therapist, and is pursuing a Masters’ degree in Healthcare Management. When she learned her company was providing employees who are clinical professionals paid time off to enable them to volunteer their expertise caring for COVID-19 patients in hospitals, she said she “wouldn’t feel right” if she didn’t help. We spoke to Meaghan about her experience at a community hospital in upstate New York.

You’re volunteering at a community hospital. How has COVID-19 affected this small community?
The outbreak has swept across New York State. Here, the closest large hospital is a 30-40 minute drive away – too far when there is an urgent medical need. Small hospitals like this lack some of resources to combat a pandemic and so they need outside support. This hospital now requires nearly twice as many respiratory therapists like me on each shift. They’re already down staff who have gotten sick themselves.

What are your shifts like, and how do you manage the danger and the stress?
From intubating patients and managing their ventilator status, to managing multiple patients on high flow oxygen, to transitioning them off acute care, I’m focused on every action I can take to help a patient recover. When I go home, I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. I have to disinfect all of my clothing and everything I touch. But I wouldn’t feel right if I weren’t helping.
It’s true that there’s been little good news recently. But my fellow clinicians at the hospital, and the patients we care for, have become my extended family. My colleagues have delivered dinners and flowers, and listened to me when I’ve needed to talk after a long shift. They understand what I’m going through, as I understand what they’re going through.

Families are coping with so much loss right now. How do you help them through that?
Recently, I helped a patient say his goodbyes – one of the most heartbreaking moments of my volunteer experience so far. While there is no substitute for giving your family member a hug, our staff has used technology like iPads to connect patients with their loved ones. Perhaps because we have become a surrogate family, we do everything we can to make sure they can talk to their families and see their faces – whether it’s to share their progress, or, heart-breakingly, their final words. For a few patients, we have made video calls to each of their family members.

What is it like to see a patient recover?
Recently, an 84 year old patient who fought COVID-19 and won was going home, to see the wife he hadn’t seen in more than a month. When a COVID-19 patient discharges, we hear a “Code Rainbow” over the hospital sound system. And that’s a celebration for everyone. Doctors, nurses and staff line the hallways, smiling, singing along with the music, clapping.

As we continue to combat this pandemic, what keeps you going?
Right now, like many in the medical community, I am taking this day by day and it is hard to see the other side. But one of the beliefs I will carry with me forever is the power of our communities to lift us up and make us stronger. I see that on every shift, in all of my colleagues, in my community. This is just reminding me that we each have a role to play, and every helping hand can make a world of difference.

Learn more about what Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is doing to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is a licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally-owned Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.
 

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 36 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.