Better Together: Saluting the Heroes of the Special Isolation Unit

By Adrea Beatty

On March 15, Julie North, MSN, RN, CPN, clinical manager of the Specialty Resource Unit, and Van Romer, RN, educator, Specialty Resource Unit, were helping get everything ready to launch the Special Isolation Unit (SIU). The story of the SIU is a story of agility, problem-solving—and most of all, selfless teamwork.

“It occurred to us to throw together half a page of guidelines to make things easier for our staff,” said North. “And now it’s just a few weeks later, and we’ve worked through nearly 15 pages of it! That is how many things we’ve quickly figured out together. It’s really amazing.”

The story of the SIU is a story of agility, problem-solving—and most of all, selfless teamwork.

Some of the members of the Special Isolation Unit (l-r): Rachel Thompson, health unit coordinator; Kristen Kellogg, RN; Kylee Denker, RN; Joanna Matheny, RN; Kristina Taylor, RN; and John Pfeffer, RTT, respiratory therapist.

The area, which has become the SIU, used to be an Interim Placement Unit (IPU), an area used for patient overflow for when census is high and bed spaces are tight. But before the area could become the SIU, senior leadership had to figure how to transform the unit and how quickly they could do it. To make that happen, Christy White, MD, associate chief of staff-inpatient, facilitated and reported conversations every day with senior leadership. And she’s done that every day, seven days a week since they started transforming the area.

“Christy has been such a wiz on this stuff, and she has so much on her plate,” said Lori Puthoff, BSN, MSN, RN, clinical director for SRU, Managers of Patient Services, and flow coordinators. “So much happens behind the scenes to make the hands-on work possible.”

One of the first things the team addressed was ensuring that the unit was negative pressure in order to help contain potentially infectious particles. Initially, only one of the rooms on IPU fit that requirement, but the unit had the capability to turn all the rooms into negative pressure isolation.

Along with the technical challenge of transforming the entire unit to negative pressure and smoke-testing it to ensure a complete seal, it was also a logistical challenge, because the unit had to be completely vacated of patients for this to happen. “That’s quite a feat when you’re just over census,” said Puthoff.

The next hurdle to address was Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), what to wear and when to wear it. The SIU team spent hours working with Infection Control and Occupational Health and Safety to identify the proper protocols. Sara Cooper, manager of operations, was instrumental in making this happen. She worked with everyone to ensure that all the correct PPE was there for the people who needed it.

“Sara has been such a great partner,” said Puthoff. “If you want it done, this woman gets it done.”

Then, the team quickly pulled together videos and posters and provided training for super-users to help ensure everyone was wearing the correct PPE. Within days, more than 60 staff members had volunteered to become super-users.

Truly, the success of the launch of the SIU can be attributed to the agile team of dedicated employees who have stepped up and brought it to life in a very short period of time.

“Within a few days of getting a team together, we scheduled a conference call,” said North. “We had at least 40 or 50 people on the call—and it’s because they all wanted to be there, get on the same page and do the right thing. Everyone has been adaptable and flexible. It’s really been a team effort.”

Who Is Part of the Special Isolation Unit?

The SIU is an organizational operation with an operational excellence structure. Leadership MD Clinical Director: Karen Jerardi, MD RN Clinical Director: Lori Puthoff , BSN, MSN, RN RT Clinical Director: Angela Saunders, MS, RRT-NPS Associate Chief of Staff: Christy White, MD Senior Leadership: Jerry Schwartz and Bill Lecher, DNP, MBA, RN Nursing Leadership: Specialty Resource Unit Nursing Team Clinical Director and Manager/Educator Team: Lori Puthoff, BSN, MSN, RN SIU Leaders: Julie North, MSN, RN, CPN, (manager) and Guy Beck, MSN, RN (educator) Other managers: Brett Nolan, Mary Shinkle, RN; Brad Wolfe, MSN, CPN; Katie Brady. Educator: Van Romer, RN Family Relations: Dawn Nebrig, MSW, LISW Organizing information: Stephanie Cronin, RN, and Chris Mucha Team: SRU RNs, SRU CSTs, Hospital Med (Red Team) physicians, Pulmonary Physicians), PICU physicians, PICU RNs, RTs (TCC and RRU)

Looking Out for Each Other

The team has taken everything in stride, working closely together to provide optimal care to patients while also ensuring they were keeping one another as safe as possible. “Their willingness to come back the next day, ready to take on anything that comes their way, is admirable,” said North. For Karen Jerardi, MD, clinical director, the unity and camaraderie of the SIU has felt like a sort of homecoming. “We’ve always been a flexible group without a clear set of designated patients,” she said. “Here in SIU, we have found our nursing and RT partners in this adventure together.”

This seamless teamwork and work ethic positively influence the patient experience as well. “I have had several patients on the

SIU for COVID evaluation and want to call out the staff’s outstanding care, professionalism and compassionate support of patients,” said John Perentesis, MD, FAAP. “They convey excellence and reassurance.” “I have multiple texts from colleagues about how spectacular the nurses in the SIU have been. Nothing but compliments,” said White. The team has worked through growing pains with a collective goal to make this the best possible experience for patients, families, and their peers. “It truly is an honor to work with this amazing crew,” said North.

“There are so many people who have made the whole experience positive. I am so proud to work here.” –Julie North, MSN, RN, CPN

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