Maine Medical Center Staff Going the Extra Mile During Global Pandemic

Samantha Creech, Contributing Writer

    Maine Medical Center (MMC), the top-rated hospital in Maine located in Portland, is at the epicenter of the most coronavirus cases in the state and determined to give the best care to their patients during this crisis. MMC has thousands of staff members working around the clock for their COVID-19 patients. 

    Dr. August Valenti, epidemiologist and director of the Special Infectious Diseases Program at MMC, has been working tirelessly to prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infections and the spread of infectious diseases at the hospital. Valenti also works with public health agencies statewide and nationally to help identify and manage communicable diseases. 

    Valenti and his team at MMC are trained to care and manage patients with pathogens such as Ebola and COVID-19. “I am working with clinical and administrative leaders at [MMC] and its parent organization, MaineHealth, to develop policies and procedures related to protecting people who work and enter our hospitals from getting COVID-19,” said Valenti.

    Valenti has concerns during this ever-growing pandemic and even after things seem to return to normal. “My biggest worries are for victims of the disease and the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of this epidemic. I want to keep them and their families safe,” he said. “I am also concerned that the virus will be with us for a long time until we have a vaccine or proven therapies and that even as things begin to return to normal, sporadic cases will cause additional outbreaks.”

    Valenti strongly believes in the importance of social distancing and other precautions needed in order to decrease coronavirus numbers. “There is no doubt that social distancing has mitigated community spread of the virus here in Maine,” he said. 

    Kristin Clark, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), has had to change her role at MMC due to the suspension of all elective surgeries and procedures. Normally, Clark administers anesthesia for surgeries and other procedures, but due to surgery and procedures suspension, there’s not enough anesthesia work for the CRNA staff. “The [ICU has] more work than they can handle,” Clark said. “Our entire staff has been cross-trained to the ICU to help in the care of those patients, both COVID and otherwise.” 

    Marie Hodge, occupational therapist team leader, has continued her role in supervising her team and seeing patients. Since the overall volume of patients has decreased, she has also been focusing on the logistical work of COVID-19, which includes scheduling ICU training, giving medical staff personal protective equipment (PPE), and problem-solving issues involving workflow to COVID-19. “Usually we have ample time to prepare staff and plan for major changes, but changes occur here on a daily basis and we need to respond quickly,” said Hodge.

    Some of Hodge’s major concerns center around the wellbeing of her team and the other staff at MMC. “[Our staff] are stressed with the sheer [number] of changes to keep up on, the fear of contracting COVID-19 and they have personal stresses as well,” she said.

    Jennifer Cote, an occupational therapist at MMC, still works a lot with her patients despite the risks. Her role is to assure when a patient is discharged from MMC, that they can complete daily tasks on their own, and ensure they are cognitively intact. She primarily works in the ICU. 

    On a normal day, Cote spends a lot of her time with the patient’s and their families to go over after hospital care and guidance. Now, MMC does not allow any visitors so Cote and her colleagues have found difficulty in family teaching. They were given iPads to communicate with families, but it is not the same as in-person discussions. 

    Every day after work, Cote says she immediately showers and changes her clothes so she can remain healthy for her work. “My biggest worry is that I could bring this disease home to my family as a result of working here,” says Cote. “I can say that MMC is well-prepared and has all the appropriate PPE for staff. That gives me comfort.”