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Phoebe Frontline Workers Cope with Latest COVID Surge


“He’s one of my favorites,” Anna Grace Fulmer said with a glean in her shield-covered eyes as she walked out of a patient’s room in one of the COVID-19 intensive care units at Phoebe North.  “He’s so sweet,” she said, the glean now masked by welling tears. 

She came to know and admire the man through conversations during his early days in the ICU.  Now, he is unconscious and intubated and connected to no fewer than a dozen IV drips.  Now, Fulmer realizes, she may never get a chance to talk to him again.  She and six colleagues just finished carefully turning the patient to a prone position.  He will lie on his belly for the next 16 hours, in hopes that will help his ravaged lungs take in just a little more oxygen.

“It really does feel like a war,” Fulmer said of this latest surge, fueled by a more virulent strain of the coronavirus.  “This has been the worst surge I’ve worked through.  We’re fighting to get them oxygen like we haven’t seen before.  It feels like we’re fighting the battle with weapons that just aren’t working.  We’re trying everything.”

Fulmer is a travelling ICU nurse from Covington, GA who came to Phoebe in April 2020 and hasn’t left.  “I’ve just stayed and stayed,” she said.  “This has been the best team I’ve ever worked with.  We’ve come together and built a brotherhood.”

“You won’t find a harder working nurse than Anna Grace,” said Shaun Hall, RN, Phoebe’s clinical supervisor overseeing the ICU staff at Phoebe North that’s made up primarily of contract workers.  “We have some great nurses here.”

Hall says there’s no way Phoebe could have expanded its north campus to serve the majority of its COVID patients and kept those units operating for 17 months without the hundreds of traveling nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and physicians who have come to Albany.  He hopes the community understands and appreciates their service.  “They have traveled from their families to give to our community.  I don’t know that you could quantify what they’ve done.  It’s honestly beyond comprehension,” Hall said.

Laura James, an ICU nurse for 17 years, is one of those who traveled from her family in Jacksonville, FL.  She arrived at Phoebe in the earliest days of the pandemic, and – except for a month-long break – has basically been here ever since.  “The people are great, and the organization is really helpful,” she said.  “As a traveler, you worry about what you’re getting yourself into when you go somewhere new, but this organization has been great from day one.  They really care about their staff.”

James and Fulmer agree this latest surge has been especially tough on the team in the ICU, as they care for younger and sicker patients and people who likely would not have needed critical care, if only they had been vaccinated.  It’s hard, too, because the universal outpouring of support that overwhelmed healthcare workers when the pandemic began has waned, as the pandemic has become politicized and the public has become ever more divided. 

“In the middle of the politics, there are so many hurting people who are fighting this illness,” Fulmer said.  “This shouldn’t drive us toward separation.  It should drive us toward loving each other more.  Everyone just needs some extra grace and compassion.”

Despite the challenges, these two travelling nurses feel right at home in Albany and are committed to keeping up the fight against COVID here.  “You need to enjoy coming to work every day, and I love it here,” James said.  “When you leave at the end of the day, and you feel good about yourself, that’s what counts in the end.”