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Safe colleagues mean a safer community

Trusting your healthcare system is important during ordinary times, but infinitely more so during a global pandemic. 

From screening all hospital entrants to repurposing and reusing personal protective equipment, or PPE, Northern Arizona Healthcare is diligently working to ensure the safety of our front line workers – many of whom say they feel safer at work than at the grocery store. In fact, early on, the organization began taking the same kinds of cutting-edge precautions bigger hospitals only took later on in the pandemic. 

“I would say we’re top-notch,” said Tyffany Laurano, Northern Arizona Healthcare’s chief nursing officer. “What our team has done to be able to ensure PPE for our colleagues at all times is one of the most amazing feats I believe we have accomplished in a very long time.” 

Kerry Cassens, director of Employee Health and Leave programs at Northern Arizona Healthcare, said protecting colleagues during COVID-19 has been a unique challenge in her more than 35 years of providing employee health and safety. 

“Our focus is helping the organization maintain a work environment that is safe for colleagues, so that colleagues feel safe and are safe in the work that they do,” she said. “If we keep our healthcare workers protected from illness, they can care for the patients in our community.”  

A big part of that safety is an adequate volume of PPE. Bill Petersen, system director for Supply Chain Management, is in charge of the purchase of all medical supplies – including that precious PPE. He observed the national shortage and began to plan and brainstorm how to maintain an appropriate supply of N95 masks, surgical masks, eye protection and isolation gowns. 

Because of the high numbers of COVID-19 patients – Flagstaff Medical Center was in the top 8 percent of all hospitals in the nation – Petersen had to think outside the box and seek alternative PPE sources and vendors. 

“We looked around the country and saw nurses wearing garbage bags and ponchos, having to use a single N95 mask for a week, and we committed that we were not going to be one of those organizations,” he said. 

One essential source of PPE: The Flagstaff and Cottonwood communities themselves. Volunteers used various materials to create surgical masks and isolation gowns – including the blue wrap used to sterilize instrument trays in the operating room. This material, which is usually thrown away – along with 2,000 pounds of general waste each day – was transformed into a life-protecting resource. 

“A sincere, from the heart thank you to all the community partners who have helped us make masks and isolation gowns. They are true heroes in our efforts to keep our nurses safe as they care for our COVID-19 patients,” Petersen said. 

Cassens calls Petersen a tremendous partner. “He and his team worked tirelessly right beside us,” she said. “We have been at work every day with passion, compassion and care for front-line colleagues; which makes me feel amazed and grateful about working for Northern Arizona Healthcare. 

“It really takes a village to get through this, and everyone has done their part during this tough time,” she said.