Voices From the Front Lines: Jennifer Hess, RN, Infection Preventionist, LVH–Pocono
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.
Jennifer Hess has been an infection preventionist at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for seven years. After beginning her career in health care as a nurse in medical-surgical oncology and surgical intensive care, she took a job as director of clinical services for Easton Home Health & Hospice Services, where she spent four years before joining LVHN. She had the desire to get into health care from a young age and credits her parents for giving her a strong sense of kindness, empathy and determination.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
My day starts early. I prioritize my goals down to the core function of my job – prevention. What does it mean to create and sustain a safe environment for my colleagues and patients? How will I promote current guidelines and best practices to empower my work family to execute their roles safely and efficiently today? How do I balance this while also keeping my family at home safe?
As the Infection Prevention Coordinator, I am responsible for ensuring all health care professionals are educated on best practices in relation to personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention. I work with various departments of the hospital to ensure supplies are available, facility controls are in place, and government agencies receive required data.
In the beginning, I could sense the fear in my co-workers. Under masked faces and PPE, fear brimmed in their eyes. Today is much different. Now, as I do rounds on the floor, I sense hope. I see confidence and a well-bonded family emerging from trial.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
This pandemic has deeply impacted my life, personally and professionally. The way we provide patient care has changed. Procedures and practices have evolved daily, if not hourly. Professionally, I am humbled. The updates I have shared with team members have become the new standards. I am amazed at the people I work with. My colleagues’ abilities to adapt during such unprecedented times give me more confidence in my own role. We worked long hours to educate and prepare ourselves for this pandemic. I can’t help but feel a great sense of accomplishment watching our team work hard to succeed in the wake of so many challenges.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
The front-line staff has been the most inspiring. They have overcome adversity through bravery, determination and ingenuity, all while continuing to provide exceptional patient care. Working side by side with some of the best health care workers in this organization is humbling and invigorating. I love what I do, but I love it more because of this team. They are truly heroes, and I am proud to work with such a gifted group of people. Their dedication, perseverance and courage are extraordinary and are evident in all they do.
The LVH–Pocono Leadership team, especially President Elizabeth Wise, Susheer Gandotra, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist, and Jonathan Goldner, DO, Associate Chief Medical Officer, have been instrumental in providing exceptional leadership, support and clarity during this unprecedented time.
A defining moment was when our first patient was not only successfully removed from mechanical ventilation and extubated but discharged to home. All the preparations, adaptations and implementations culminated in this moment. This was a moment of celebration for every single member of this organization. We all played a part.
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
I think we learn the most about ourselves while under trial, and this pandemic has been challenging. I have learned, above everything, that hope is critical for humans. If we do not have hope, we essentially lose our sense of purpose and motivation to fight. Through constant infection prevention education, communication and calm answers, I’ve recognized that I am a hope-giver. I have the power to change someone’s day by just empowering them to do their job safely.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
Before I leave the hospital, I wash my hands. I sanitize again once I am in my car, and again when I park in my garage. My shoes are stored in the garage. My clothes from the day go straight to the washer, and then I shower. I then go out to meet my children, who’ve been waiting for mommy, and get the biggest hugs and kisses. My husband and children are my anchors. They are most important to me and the reason I press forward. I am so blessed to have them and their constant support.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
To my fellow colleagues: You are amazing. You are the true heroes of this pandemic, and I am honored to work alongside you. I promise to do my best to keep you and your families safe. What you do every minute of every hour is nothing short of spectacular, and you have my utmost respect. Thank you for what you do. You are my health care heroes.
To the community: COVID-19 is here and its impact is real. The virus affects people differently. Some may get a mild illness, while others are ventilated and not surviving. COVID-19 does not discriminate, and we are doing our best to make sense of this disease and provide the best treatments.
Please continue to:
Practice social distancing (6 feet of space)
Hand hygiene: Wash hands well for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap
Wear face masks while in public
Do not minimize your role in this. Some of us fight by staying home. Some fight by standing on the front lines. Some fight by supporting others by delivering groceries to neighbors, showing up to work, and sending encouraging notes and meals. We are in this together. Stay strong in your role because it supports us all. We will get to the other side of this, and I want you and your family safe when we get there.
Find more inspiring stories from the front lines and beyond at LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.