York College Nursing grad works the COVID-19 front line at WellSpan York Hospital
Phoebe Schmehl ’17 is used to the unexpected. After working nearly three years as an RN in the emergency room at WellSpan York Hospital, the native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, says she’s learned to be adaptive to what patients need when she goes to work. That training and mindset helped when her world shifted after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Schmehl stayed in York after her graduation from York College of Pennsylvania because she fell in love with working at WellSpan, she says. She worked as a nursing assistant when she was a college student and accepted her current job in the ER upon graduation. “I knew the ER was the place for me,” she says. “It’s fast-paced, and I can work with patients who have ailments ranging from a sprained ankle to pregnancy to geriatric needs.”
A new workflow
When COVID-19 hit southcentral Pennsylvania, Schmehl was put to the task of helping York Hospital’s response. The hospital was one of the first facilities to open outdoor screening tents. Schmehl helped develop the workflow that nurses and other medical providers would follow when it came to treating potential COVID-19 patients who came to the hospital.
The outdoor tents allowed WellSpan to avoid cross-contamination while screening patients. Schmehl’s workflow procedures included following CDC guidelines for creating cold, warm, and hot zones. A cold zone indicates an area where there is no exposure to the virus. In a warm zone, specimens for testing might be handed off to a runner so that it can be taken to a lab. In a hot zone, there is direct contact with a patient who has, or is suspected of having COVID-19. Each zone has requirements for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other procedures that must be followed.
While the ER can be a stressful place to work, the addition of COVID-19 has made stress especially high, Schmehl says. When she goes into work, she doesn’t know if she’ll be working in the screening tent or on the regular ER floor. No matter where she’s working, extra precautions have to be taken because of the possibility that anyone could have the coronavirus, she says.
Schmehl and others at the hospital not only take extra precautions, but the hospital has provided a scrub swap program, where care teams can change in and out of scrubs provided by the hospital that are professionally laundered, decreasing the risk of the illness following them home. Schmehl has found solace in sharing her experience with her boyfriend, also a medic in York, but she misses her family in Allentown. “I used to visit at least once a month, but I haven’t seen them for some time now,” she says. “I don’t want to risk exposing them to anything I might be in contact with at work.”
Support from the York County community and her teammates at York Hospital have helped Schmehl get through the stressful, long days. “There are a lot of people cheering us on, and that gets me through it,” she says. “I can’t fully express what that means to me.”