Gina Copeland

Gina Copeland,R.N., has been the emergency care manager at Southeast Georgia Health System for two years.(Provided photo)

The emergency care center at Southeast Georgia Health System is a fast-paced work environment — that much is reflected by the quick cadence of R.N., and manager, Gina Copeland’s speech.

Copeland has been at SGHS for nine years with two years in her current position, which requires her to be trained to handle patients at any and every stage of their illness or injury, in addition to support for her nursing staff.

“We utilize our nursing knowledge to have some quick thinking and attention to detail,” Copeland said. “Routinely, we’d see on average about 145-160 patients in a 24-hour period, working with patients of all ages who have varying illnesses, diseases or injuries.”

Of course, in a spring plagued by the novel coronavirus, Copeland took on additional responsibility in overseeing her staff through a global pandemic.

A majority of Copeland’s day was suddenly dedicated to ensuring her team had the proper personal protective equipment for any interaction, ranging from an N-95 mask and face-shield to a full-body zip-up suit.

The need to provide proper PPE extended to patients to protect them from any possible infection carried by healthcare workers as well as they spend much of their day within close contact of carriers — many of which are completely asymptomatic. Masks are worn by both staff and patient in every encounter.

Copeland said her staff has been resilient rolling with the changing guidelines, and she’s grateful for their ability to do so. She’s demonstrated her gratitude by encouraging the staff to maintain an appropriate level of work/life balance throughout the pandemic.

“If they want time off, we’ve given them time away,” Copeland said. “We had a couple people who took an extended paid time off because they had the hours to do so, and they just wanted to take this time away to take care of things they needed to do at the house.”

With four children at home, including one that was in daycare, Copeland and her husband know the importance of that time off.

Copeland also has children in seventh, ninth and 12th grades, and the ability to step away from the job at times has helped her family overcome a foreign situation.

“We worked it out between he and I, that I take time off, and then he can take time off,” Copeland said. “That’s been a positive in our life that we have jobs willing to let us take time away from our jobs to help take care of our kids, to help oversee their home-schooling and making sure they’re getting their projects and assignments done and turned in.”

But at SGHS, Copeland must act as an information pipeline for her staff, keeping them updated on any changing policies and the results of any suspected COVID patients they may have come in contact with.

Although Copeland hasn’t personally worked with any patients that tested positive for COVID-19, she says her staff has been fairly upbeat when they’ve received the news, confident they were properly protected.

“The overall experience from my staff, just in general because I’m in charge of giving them that information, has been well-received,” Copeland said. “They felt like they had been provided the equipment they needed to protect themselves, and were given that on a daily basis, so they weren’t afraid to see any patients, knowing the potential may be they were positive when they saw them.

“So when they get the phone call that says, ‘Hey, you treated a patient that was positive, were you wearing your PPE?’ ‘Oh, yes, ma’am. I’ve been wearing it every day.’ They’ve been relieved they have the proper equipment to take care of those patients, and also relieved they got the results given to them to know there was a confirmation of a positive or a negative.”

The community has also chipped in to take as much stress off healthcare workers as they could during a time of need. A variety of local businesses, organizations and residents have donated meals and other supplies.

“I even told my husband, the food’s been great, but I need to self-isolate from the table,” Copeland joked. “Because the gyms have been closed and my scrubs are getting tight.”

After about three weeks after being shutdown in a statewide order, Gov. Brian Kemp gave the green light for businesses like gyms, bowling alleys, barbers, and nail salons to reopen under certain guidelines April 24 with restaurant dining rooms following a few days later. Although it hasn’t affected her work in the emergency care center, SGHS has also recently resumed elective surgeries.

Copeland isn’t too concerned about a surge as a result of loosening restrictions, but she believes it’s important to be mindful of practicing social distancing when possible.

“Yes, worried about it in a sense of, if people don’t continue to maintain some social distancing, and practice some self-isolation in certain positive ways,” Copeland said. “Do I think the beaches opening up is a great idea? Yes. Go to the beach. Get some sunshine. Be out in the open air, in your family pods with the people you’ve been enclosed at home with. Obviously, don’t co-mingle with others; practice that social distancing. But just continue to cover your mouth, wash your hands, protect yourself.”

According to the Coastal Health District, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Glynn County climbed from 85 to 112 from Monday to Friday — it had previously taken 20 days for the number of positive cases to increase by the same amount.

But if the community remains as adaptable and resilient in dealing with changing conditions as Copeland and her staff at SGHS, it could turn out to just be a bump on the road back to normalcy.

“I would just like to say thank you to the community for their support, and all of the positive responses that we’ve had to the changes in the ER and just the Health System in general during this time,” Copeland said.

Today’s Frontline Heroes is sponsored by Southeast Georgia Health System. Visit their website at www.sghs.org.com

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