GREENSBORO, N.C. — When the coronavirus moved across the ocean to attack Americans, Cone Health knew it had to get ready for that tidal wave of contagion in a fraction of their normal preparation time.
“We hoped that we were planning for a huge party and nobody’s coming but we knew that it was critical for our community that we be prepared,” said Waqiah Ellis, one of the veteran nurses and nurse supervisors at Cone Health.
They were fortunate in that they had just moved their pregnancy care from Women’s Hospital on Green Valley Road, where most babies in Greensboro had been born for 30 years, to their main campus on North Elm. That left Cone with a ready-made, perfect building for a COVID-dedicated hospital.
Those whom they began to treat there seemed to fit certain patterns – they were largely the elderly and people with significant health issues before they contracted the virus.
“This virus attacks the vulnerable and attacks their lungs in a way that causes them to become critically ill,” said Dr. Brent McQuaid, Cone Health’s medical director. “Not in everyone, but in those it chooses to attack, it’s very severe.”
Not everyone, of course, survives the disease.
“It is very tough when you can’t send them home to their families because your ultimate goal is to make someone better. When you can’t do that it makes me sad,” nurse Cameron Howard said.
For Howard – like the other nurses at Cone Health – what they do more than a job, it’s a calling.
“I went into health care because I wanted to be an advocate for people who couldn’t advocate for themselves and with COVID, especially, we really get to be advocates for our patients. Their family members aren’t here. It’s such an isolating disease,” said Amanda Payne, another nurse at the hospital.
The nurses then have to become patients’ surrogate family, at the hospital.
“I look like an astronaut coming at you but if you need a hand to hold, you can hold my hand,” said Kelly Duffy, a nurse at the hospital.
They’re learning more about COVID-19 all the time, including how much of the damage people who survive have comes not from the virus but their own body’s response to it.
“We believe that’s where a lot of the damage comes from,” McQuaid said. “So, the virus comes in, starts to attack the body and the immune system’s response can be devastating, sometimes and lead to a lot of damage to the lungs and other organs.”
Meet the people who are doing the hard work on the front lines with this look inside Cone Health’s dedicated COVID hospital.