Home Away From Home

Els Dignitti, RN-BC, Jennifer Kelliher, RN and Marielle Drew, BSN, RN
Els Dignitti, RN-BC, Jennifer Kelliher, RN and Marielle Drew, BSN, RN

Nurses at Cheshire Medical Center show their resourcefulness each and every day, responding to changing scenarios and adapting to new situations to provide the highest quality care for patients. But the surge of COVID-positive inpatients requiring intensive care in January 2022 demanded even more flexibility, as 30 Cheshire nurses were reassigned to other areas of the hospital to help fill staffing gaps and keep patients safe. These reassigned nurses rose to their new challenges with enthusiasm, and many discovered unexpected benefits in these professional pivots.

“It was a very stressful time for everyone in our organization,” says Marielle Drew, BSN, RN, the nurse manager of Specialty Medicine, who was reassigned to an overflow Intensive Care Unit specifically created for acute COVID surge patients. “Many ambulatory medicine nurses were called upon to help during the surge. I had the opportunity to work with nurses from all around the organization, including Family Medicine, Surgical Services, post-anesthesia care, and other areas. It was truly a very unique opportunity, and I saw many nurses completely change their schedules and responsibilities to help.”

Els Dignitti, RN-BC, had been a care coordinator at the Family Medicine Clinic in Walpole for two years. She joined in the team effort by transferring to inpatient rehabilitation for three months as part of a Cheshire “staff match” program in response to COVID-related staffing shortages. She also became part of the Cheshire COVID phone line team, working on Saturdays to answer questions and schedule patients for COVID testing. Els even volunteered to work with the state vaccine effort, both at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and Krif Road in Keene.

I wanted to be part of the solution, to be an active part of the COVID prevention task force.

Els Dignitti, RN-BC

“I volunteered and was sent to Inpatient Rehab, as I did not have the hands-on experience to go to an ICU—my background is in psychiatry,” says Els. “Contrary to my own expectations, I loved it from day one. I learned a lot, and I met many amazing people. After I returned to the Walpole Clinic in February, I realized I missed working bedside and started working at inpatient rehab as an ‘official’ staff nurse starting in March.”

Marielle also made a professional shift after being reassigned during COVID and now works an additional per diem position in the ICU. “I would most likely have not met some incredible nurses if I was not reallocated,” she says. “I learned more in those eight-plus weeks than I think I have learned in the five years I have been a nurse. The ICU nurses and nurse assistants were more than willing to teach us ‘buddies’ as much as they could.”

Jennifer Kelliher, RN, had barely started working at Cheshire, as a float pool nurse for Family Medicine, when the surge hit last winter. She pivoted right away when she was asked to be a “nurse buddy” in the ICU, thanks to her valuable previous experience on a ventilator unit in a large academic center in Massachusetts.

“I just wanted to help,” says Jenn, who worked the night shift with COVID inpatients. “In any way I could, I wanted to help the staff and patients. I met an incredible group of people. I am thankful for their kindness and the work they do.”

Whether nursing staff found new professional horizons during their COVID surge reassignments or just gained some new experiences and skills, many found a renewed appreciation for the diverse and dedicated team at Cheshire and the quality of care they provide. Despite workforce shortages and the difficulties of navigating the pandemic over the past two years, the Medical Center has come out stronger and more resilient than ever, thanks to the flexibility demonstrated by staff.

“The incredible teamwork that was displayed while being reallocated truly provides an example of what it should be like to work in health care,” says Marielle. “I never felt alone and always felt supported—I still do.”

Jenn says that her favorite thing about working at Cheshire is the staff. “ALL of the staff. They truly care about the people in the community.”

Els adds, “I love being part of the local health care community. I am proud to play an active role in keeping this a healthy place to live, and very much enjoy working here.”

For more about nursing at Cheshire Medical Center, visit cheshiremed.org/nursing