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Bethesda nurse details work/life caring for sickest COVID-19 patients

A critical care nurse in the state's only dedicated COVID-19 facility says he has many reasons to be thankful. Here's why.

ST PAUL, Minn. — When M Health Fairview Converted Bethesda Hospital into a dedicated COVID-19 facility in late March, Patrick Stith decided to transfer from nearby St Joseph's Hospital, in order to work as a nurse in the ICU.

Weeks later, he says the work is hard, but not overwhelming. He thanks all of Minnesota for that.

"Right now, what I'm seeing, I do not feel like it's doomsday," Stith said. "We're very thankful for what Minnesotans have been able to do in staying home and reducing contacts because many of us are waiting for a spike."

Stith says one of the hardest parts of the job so far has been helping families navigate decisions as a growing number of patients are put on ventilators.

"It's hard trying to give some encouragement to families and trying to bring families into the know about what's going on with their loved ones when they can't physically be there," Stith said. "It's been very emotional work."

But he is grateful the ventilators and beds are still available. Last week, M Health Fairview finished converting a second ICU unit inside Bethesda. It also changed its PPE policy so that all staff working with COVID-19 patients wear N-95 respirators. But because the masks are in limited supply, staff members use them in a five day rotation.

Patrick Stith: "On day one we get one mask and on day two we get another. At the end, on day six, we start over with the first mask in order to conserve PPE."

Kent Erdahl: "How does that feel? That's obviously something that you probably couldn't have even imagined doing just three months ago."

Stith: "It's certainly something that would have been discouraged three months ago. But I think I'm happy that we have the masks at all because I think there are a lot of places that they don't."

Erdahl: "From a personal perspective, have you been feeling okay?

Stith: "I have been feeling okay. I don't know anyone that I'm working with right now who has felt ill, so that's encouraging as well."

Erdahl: "To be safe, you've been staying at a hotel?"

Stith: "Yes. I didn't know about this when I signed up to work at Bethesda, but one of the things that they're offering is hotel accommodations. It gives me some peace of mind, staying away from my husband, but at the same time, I signed up for three months over here. It's a long time that we would have to go."

Erdahl: "I don't want it to go without saying, so thank you for what you're doing."

Stith: "You're very welcome. I think it's encouraging how many people have been reaching out to us as healthcare workers, but I think, more importantly, at the end of a day, I do have a job. If you're looking to support someone through buying food or send an encouraging message that, we should be looking at those people who really are struggling at home to pay the rent and provide food for their families."

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.