Cynthia Kaplan, CIC, MPH, BSN, RN

Location: Alpharetta, GA

Title: Epidemiologist

Company/Organization: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

First Certified: June 2018

Covid 19 Week “One” for the Infection Prevention Team

from the perspective of an IP at a Large Inner- City Hospital

Only last summer, I stood in long lines, shoulder to shoulder, with other tourists to see the Sistine Chapel in Rome. My, oh my, how different things are now! When COVID was first rearing its ugly head, there were pictures of the Pope walking down a barren Roman street with one other person midday- unheard of in normal circumstances- everyone isolating themselves from the dreaded COVID-19.

These times are challenging. They can bring the best and the worst out in people. When it comes to our hospital though, I can truly say I’ve seen the best. I’m a Nurse Epidemiologist, so one can imagine the amount of added work our team has had to embrace.

I immediately asked myself how to best get organized and be a blessing to the organization and to my team- I know that I saw the same conviction in my coworkers. LK, at an affiliate location, went on call the week before Public Health started COVID-19 testing-when it was still “Corona” testing.  The amount of calls she got skyrocketed-never complained once! I know that AP sat beside her and picked up all the work LK couldn’t do because she was on the phone non-stop!  Even our intern stepped up to cover us all. DH went on call the week that COVID 19 testing started. We share an office area. I sat in disbelief in my office as her “call” phone began to ring off the hook!

I was impressed hearing her calm tone as she addressed every problem professionally, reflecting peace and reassurance. In short, her phone exploded, but she didn’t! As her office mate, I helped as much as I could covering her in every other aspect. We both put our heads together with our whole team, and we worked trying to solve all these new challenges. We have several years of experience and some on our team went through SARs, MERS and Ebola, and all of those IPs are certified and very knowledgeable. I was very thankful for that as I’ve been certified for three years and have never been in a pandemic. Looking back to that first week, it felt like ground zero because everyone at our hospital went into extreme problem- solving mode. All the while RM and CR, leaders from our team, were working tirelessly with targeted planning for the hospital. Swim Lanes were formed along with many other plans to keep us all safe, especially our precious patients and families. Our Executive Team is praiseworthy, and we felt cared for by them. We knew our hospital was in amazing hands!

As Public Health began testing with DH on call that week, everyone on our team-even KH, sick at home, stepped up to follow up with calls that were multiplying at a fast rate to help DH as they were coming in faster than the speed of light. Halfway into the week, I took over call cutting DH’s week short- no human could withstand the amount of calls she was getting without collapsing! I was able to step in and take call for a few days until my official turn would roll around end of March. Eventually, our wonderful director changed call so it wouldn’t be so overwhelming working so many days in a row.  In between time, the meetings began multiple times a day for leaders and daily for our team, but of course we were a part of all of it. We were all things COVID-19!

Dr. L and Dr. S, our ID docs, became my new best friends while I was on call. They carefully reviewed case by case making recommendations, considering all of the most current CDC recommendations- which was no easy task because, as any IP team member knows, everything was changing daily, if not hourly at times. They both were very kind, professional and knowledgeable. As an example, I was on the phone with Dr. G, the lab director, who was explaining Covid testing to me while I listened nervously, for I could hear 3 or 4 calls coming in on my phone going straight to voicemail at the same time!   You would listen to your voicemail while other calls were coming in and going to voicemail! It was tough to keep up, but we all did our very best. I couldn’t tell you exact numbers, but those two days, when all of our messaging was getting out and leaders were pow- wowing, and each day was fluid with new changes- I bet I got over 300 calls that first day! I became the queen of delegation and thankful for those old nursing skills that helped me delegate. Also, TT and LN, on our team, reached out and picked up the slack with calls I received. I was actually making lists of numbers for them to call back so that nothing would be missed. Everyone could now feel the full impact of the situation. My Director, CR, and my Senior Quality Director, RM, checked in with me and called me at home to make sure I ate and was getting enough sleep. They took care of all of us like that while carrying their own burdens. Honestly, our whole team stepped up and we were lucky to have each other. Our hygienists were picking up the slack for us in the front lines as we formulated and carried out our battle plans!

This little story was a glimpse of our department’s first week in COVID world from a hospital IP’s perspective. Each day, I prayed for all of us staff, patients, visitors and families and still do. I have seen first- hand everyone pulling together in a spirit of peace, cooperation and love- being mindful of others’ worries, concerns, and burdens. My heart, especially, goes out to those who’ve lost loved ones in this pandemic as all of our thoughts do. We have worked hard together to keep each other healthy and COVID-free.  We’ve all had to make sacrifices at home, with family, with our children, with our jobs, but guess what- despite all of that, our team thankfully stepped up, and we’re so blessed. I’m thankful to be part of Infection Prevention at our hospital. As my sweet mother used to say: “This too shall pass” & “Please wash your hands!”