By Katie Mulkerin
Being a pediatric nurse during a pandemic brings new precautions as the nurse’s care for neonates and children up to adolescence.
For children, a visit to the pediatrician can be scary. During a pandemic, pediatric nurses are in a position to alleviate that fear for both kids and their parents.
COVID-19 notoriously targets folks of old age and those with compromised immune systems.
According to the CDC, 22% of coronavirus cases are made up of children under the age of 18. The CDC also determined that the virus is not as severe for children when they get it as it is for adults. But for parents, any contact with healthcare workers—even for a child’s wellness visit—can be stressful.
With annual physicals being cancelled and skeleton shifts being implemented, it is a confusing time for pediatric nurses as well. If sick children are infected with COVID, the adult nurses and doctors are the ones caring for them.
Bedford Pediatrics is one of many pediatric medical practices that are being cautious in navigating the pandemic. Casey DePlacido, a Licensed Practical Nurse, just began working full work weeks about a month ago after working reduced hours.
“There’s probably less than 30 employees and right now with the coronavirus going on,” DePlacido said. “We are seeing only healthy babies in the morning and our sick kids in the afternoon.”
With fewer patients and more telehealth sessions, DePlacido’s hours were cut in half. She typically works four days a week, and during the peak of COVID-19 she was working Wednesday every week and every other Friday. While at work, she and the rest of the medical staff gear up in full personal protective equipment. “We wear the goggles, a gown, the mask and gloves,” she said.
With sick patients in and out all day, nurses have to be extra vigilant about sanitizing the rooms where they see patients. “We don’t want anybody going in and out of the room for three hours,” she said. “We have to wait and then we do an extra wipe down and clean to make sure if there was anything in there that we got it all.”
DePlacido arrives to work each morning where she gets her temperature checked along with her employees. She then logs her temperature to record that she does not have a fever. If anyone has any symptoms or sickness they are not allowed to come to work.
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For children, who see all these extra precautions because of the pandemic, it can be confusing and scary. “The kids don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “They look at us a little crazy cause everyone’s got these masks on.”
DePlacido has been meeting newborns, even before most of their family sees them for the first time. “We’ve been seeing some new parents with newborn babies and nobody gets to meet these little babies, and it’s really sad for their families.”
Some parents at Bedford Pediatrics have been overly cautious, she said. Most will ask her to wash her hands or sanitize additional times. She accommodates their requests because she wants them to feel comfortable.
Twice DePlacido has tested negative for COVID-19. Being a 22-year-old woman, she said she is not so much worried about herself contracting the coronavirus, but she is worried about spreading it to her parents whom she lives with.
“It’s really scary. Every time I go to work it’s a chance that I could be infected and then bring it home to my parents,” she said. “My parents are at the age where they’re both high-risk people. So, that also brings another fear to it.”
For children with special needs, the coronavirus can be even scarier. For Joni Hill, a licensed practical nurse who had been working at New England Pediatric Care for nearly five years, the pandemic offers an enormous challenge.
“Our patients here are nonverbal,” she said, adding that sometimes change can be especially difficult for them. “We have had to move some of their rooms around to make room for a potential outbreak,” she said. Her patients may have new roommates or be on a completely different floor, Hill said “Their emotions were all over the place because it may have been a new environment and maybe even a different routine.”
“I love working with children and seeing them smile every day, they keep you on your toes and every day brings new challenges, but I enjoy the fast pace and I learn something new at work almost every day.”
Also because of COVID-19 a lot of people have been taking leave from work, so my hours have increased and my patient to nurse ratio has increased.” After a few months of adjusting, Hill said their spirits seem to be lifting.
It’s extra important to make connections with the children she treats by being observant and learning their personalities because they can’t verbalize their feelings, she said. But with such close contact to patients, Hill said that contracting COVID-19 cans be a concern for nurses who work with patients with special needs.
But medical personnel have been careful about following COVID-19 protocol at work. “My facility had been lucky enough to have had zero cases during this pandemic and that includes workers and residents,” she said. “It goes to show that everyone who works here really cares about the health of our kids.”