COVID Chronicles: A view inside the Emergency Department

Welcome to the COVID Chronicles. These are the behind the scenes stories from Kittitas Valley Healthcare staff at various points in time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dede’s COVID Chronicles interview is from May 21, 2020

When Kittitas County received its first positive case of COVID-19, Dede Utley, Director of Emergency Services, felt helpless. Dede was across the country in Washington D.C. for a conference on the opioid crisis and all she wanted was to be here with her staff to help relieve some of the stress.

“I’m so proud of what we have done,” Dede said. “The hospital and Incident Command did a great job with surge planning. It was a huge adaptation with all the information changing rapidly, especially when we were getting conflicting messaging. Our Quality Department and Incident Command was able to get the right information out to our staff.”

Dede explained that her staff embraced and engaged with the planning, they all had input and worked through problem solving solutions. There was a lot of preparation done planning for the Triage Tent which was put up in front of the hospital for weeks. The tent was set up as a screening point for patients where it would help dictate which path they were able to take inside the hospital for treatment, based on their symptoms and possible exposure. Thankfully the tent has yet to be used and has been taken down, but it can quickly be put back up if needed.

The Emergency Department has to plan for the unexpected; they have patients from birth to 100-years-old, acute care patients, and chronic illnesses. Every day is different. She wants patients to know that KVH is still here for them.

“We are going to continue to take care of you,” Dede said. “We don’t want people to ignore symptoms of a stroke or a heart attack.”

Sarah Anderson, a charge nurse in the Emergency Department agrees. “The most rewarding part of my job is being available in a time of need,” she said. “There’s beauty in the equal access to care in the Emergency Department. We are available to people no matter how major or minor the emergency. And, that holds true during a pandemic; we’re here for you.”

Early on KVH had to make the decision to restrict visitors at the hospital for the safety of their patients and staff. Which has been really hard on patients not being able to have their loved ones with them while in the Emergency Department and the staff recognizes it. They’ve been calling patients’ family members and even going outside to the parking lot to give family and friends updates.

Dede explained, “I think it’s just really important that the community know we understand, if you can’t be at the bedside, we’re going to do the best to provide the care and let your loved one know that they’re not alone.”

She says relationships between the staff have strengthened throughout the pandemic. And she’s very thankful in her current role that she can take care of her staff, so they can take care of our community.

Dede has had this quote taped on her computer for 15 years, as reminder of why she is a nurse. “No matter how far away from the bedside my management duties take me, I am centered by knowing that my work ultimately is for the patients in our emergency department, and for the people in our community.”

“Our community is amazingly strong and everyone has really come together,” Dede said. “I am proud and lucky to have found Ellensburg. I’m thankful for the path that lead me here.”