PORTSMOUTH - The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched hospitals and medical staff to the limits, but two special women at Portsmouth Regional Hospital say they have never considered doing anything else - even now.
A spokesperson for the Portsmouth hospital said Chief Nursing Officer Michelle Dodd, RN, and Associate Chief Nursing Officer Megan Gray, RN, are nurse leaders of like mind and heart. And, when it comes to nursing during a pandemic, they are all in, each and every day.
"Patient-centered and focused on the well-being and support of their staff, one can often find Michelle and Megan serving right beside their nurses at bedsides and staffing huddles morning to overnights, as well as on weekends," said the hospital's former communication director Lynn Robbins. "Michelle and Megan have even volunteered to work extra shifts and be directly involved in patient care during COVID-19 alongside the nurses they manage."
Dodd is responsible for all levels of nursing practice and patient care at the hospital. She oversees hiring and training, and career development.
"We have excellent nurses here," Dodd said. "I help assure they maintain their credits, meet continuing education requirements and look at their career opportunities."
Dodd said she began her career at HCA, the parent company of Portsmouth Regional Hospital, more than 20 years ago. She came from a division position, vice president of nursing operations that supported 18 hospitals across four states.
"While there, I joined the rescue squad in North Virginia," she said. "I joined as a volunteer because I wanted to be a part of the community. I loved it so much, I decided to turn my career toward nursing. I learned I had a passion for this career and I always had a love of education."
Educating and mentoring new nurses is one of Dodd's passions.
Gray said her career choice was sealed when she was 13 and took a babysitter course at a local hospital.
"I loved kids and I knew caring for them was my calling," she said. "I went to nursing school in Connecticut and then did my master's and Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) at the University of New Hampshire. I stayed here because I love it here. My grandfather had open heart surgery here. Both of my babies were born here."
As associate chief nursing officer, Gray said she mentors and supports the nursing team at PRH.
"Seventy-five percent of the workforce here are nurses," she said.
Both nurses acknowledge that the pandemic created a challenge like no other for health care workers.
"A key piece of our operations is our relationship with the nurses," said Dodd. "We understand the struggle, the pressure everyone is under. We will help any way we can to relieve their burden. In late August, all our leaders, administrators were deployed to work side by side with the staff wherever we are needed. We can be unit secretaries, patient attendees and even ER front desk staff. We are here for our nurses."
Dodd said morale is her greatest concern right now.
"They are tired," she said. "It has been a long 18 months. We help them keep focused on why we are all here. We are doing resiliency training and are validating their concerns. There is a staffing shortage in health care worldwide, and we are all competing for the same resources. We want our nurses to know we value them so much."
"Michelle and Megan both share a love of learning and professional development – both hold doctorates - and this affects their leadership style when it comes to the nursing teams they lead and mentor," Robbins said. "Learning opportunities abound for nurses who want to achieve certifications, accreditations, degrees and more. While leading their nursing teams at an unprecedented time in health care, they are also helping to bring on 51 new nurses through the HCA StaRN program as well as onboard ongoing classes of LNAs through the PRH LNA Training program using the American Red Cross model. Many of these LNA grads plan to continue their education as nurses or other health care professionals."
"What we are all going through during this pandemic serves to remind me that I am in the right place," Dodd said. "When I am side by side with one of my nurses, holding a patient's hand, a person who is scared, it's a strong reminder that we as nurses have a gift to share."
Gray has been working shifts in the very busy emergency room, at the triage desk.
"The connections we make, the chance to say we got you, it's going to be OK, those moments are priceless," Gray said. "I love to let them know I will take care of them."