Since the first COVID-19 case in Hardin County was announced March 20, nurses and staff with Hardin Memorial Hospital have had their hands full dealing with the virus.

On Wednesday, the hospital reported six positive cases being cared for in the facility. The one day highest number so far was 11 positive patients. On a typical day, the hospital reports to have between five and eight inpatient positive cases.

Registered nurse Kristie Polly is an Intensice Care Unit nurse who joined HMH in 2014. She’s been working in the ICU for two years.

“I cared for the first COVID-19 patient at Hardin Memorial Hos­pital,” Polly said. “I have tried to provide the very best care since March so I am a familiar face for at least five COVID-19 patients.”

Some of the patients have stayed in the hospital for as long as three weeks and Polly provides care for their entire stay.

The most difficult thing she’s faced with patients is their family cannot be with them during this challenging time.

“I can only imagine that struggle, but I want the community to know that everyone at HMH has gone above and beyond to step in if patients do not have family with them,” she said.

Polly tries to make sure patients have someone to talk to in order to ease the burden of being away from family.

“We also work hard to keep our patient’s family and loved ones informed of their progress or connect them virtually with iPads,” Polly said. “They have been very helpful for patient communication.”

In cases where people are alone, Polly said the staff has stepped into support and encourage patients.

“We don’t want people to be alone during a time like this,” she said.

There still are so many unknowns about the virus and that makes it even more difficult for everyone involved, Polly said.

As a regional hospital, Hardin Memorial treats patients from several counties. While data released may be for Hardin County residents, the hospital has COVID-19 patients from a wide area.

“We see patients from all over central Kentucky,” Polly said.

In the middle of the trials of COVID-19 there are things that gives her a feeling of joy, she said, such as community support.

“The community has been so awesome when it comes to supporting us, whether it be a meal, a card or word of encouragement,” Polly said.

She said seeing patients recover and return home also is rewarding.

“I have been fortunate to hear from the families of one of my earliest patients, who is back home after a really tough battle with COVID-19,” she said. “They called to tell me I made a difference and things like that help keep me going through the hard times.”

As a nurse on the front lines of COVID-19 care, she wants the community to continue to take precautions by wearing a mask, social distancing and hand washing.

“The precautions really are simple, but they will help keep you and your family safe,” Polly said. “I hope we can all stay positive and we can all get through this nice and smooth, and hopefully go into the next year with a better outlook.”

Nathan Ernst, Hardin Memorial Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit Manager, said in the beginning of the pandemic the focus was on adapting guidelines for personal rotective equipment, testing and treatment.

“As we’ve learned more about the virus over the past several months, we have been able to improve our treat­ment even more and know we are backed with appropriate PPE and support from our leaders,” Ernst said. “The team does an amazing job caring for our COVID patients, but also continues to provide exceptional care to patients impacted by other life-changing events, such as stroke, heart attack or sepsis (infection of the blood).”

He said nurses usually work three 12-hour shifts a week and during a shift in the ICU a nurse is assigned to two patients

But while each patient has an assigned nurse, there is an entire team providing care, Ernst said.

“Every morning, the intensivists, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, social workers, dietitians and more meet to discuss the patient and create that day’s care plan,” he said. “Our team has been absolutely amazing over the past several months, as we constantly adapt to change and implement new treatments to fight COVID-19.”

One of the unique aspects of COVID-19, Ernst said, is health care workers cannot get away from the stress that happens at work as easily as with other diseases because there are constant reminders of the virus.

“This can lead to long-term stress that we need to be mindful of and look for ways to care for ourselves so that we are able to continue to provide excellent care for others,” Ernst said.

He’s found patients can be anxious about being in the hospital because of the virus, but Ernst said Hardin Memorial has maintained a safe environment and has made many changes to continue to keep patients safe.

“From rigorous testing, use of personal protective equipment, daily screenings and even changes to our building HVAC systems to provide ventilation over and above the requirements from the CDC, HMH has continued to keep the safety of our patients and staff on the forefront,” he said.

Ernst said the team is grateful for the support and prayers from the community.

“We are honored to be able to provide care to our community during this pandemic and will continue to do everything possible to give the best care to your loved ones.”

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1740 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

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