Year of the Nurse: The power of perseverance

April 28, 2021 Providence Health Team


A night, like no other. The first COVID-19 patient in United States was admitted to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash.

This is a story about the human condition, world-class care, and emotional connection between caregivers and, in this case, one patient in particular.

Caring for the first COVID-19 patient

In January 2020 the first COVID-19 patient in the United States was admitted to the Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash. Two nurses, Robin Addison and Andrea Leighty, share their experience in caring for this patient.

On that night, before going to bed, Leighty, a clinical nurse specialist, recalls receiving two notices from the Biocontainment and Specialty Evaluation Team (BEST) that was formed after the Ebola outbreak in 2015 to treat individuals who have been exposed to high consequence infectious diseases.

The information in her pager “looked different,” Leighty shared. In the back of her mind, she thought, "something is actually happening," and “this is what we are trained for.”

Similarly, Addison, an emergency nurse ­­and a clinical coordinator for the biocontainment team, was ready to unwind after a full day when she received the call that something serious was happening at BEST. Both Leighty and Addison returned to the hospital to open the biocontainment unit so they, and other caregivers could treat and care for the first COVID-19 patient documented in the United States.

In the Hear Me Now podcast, “Caring for the First COVID-19 Patient,” the nurses share their first-hand insights on what it takes to persevere in times of crisis and to do the right things in extraordinary circumstances, not only for patients but for themselves and others. Listen and read on for the highlights from the conversation with the nurses.

Patient treatment

Facing challenging and dangerous situations such as caring for people who have been exposed to infectious diseases takes preparation, from training and planning to following well-honed safety practices and procedures. Alertness is key, on a collective and individual level.

Nearly 10 years ago, Providence Medical Center in Everett, Wash., built a new tower specifically designed to provide specialized care for patients who have been exposed to infectious diseases. They implemented processes to follow, from admitting a patient into the hospital, to using the right equipment to avoid the spread of the disease.

Thanks to the preparations and experience of the Providence care team, the first COVID-19 patient recovered and went home, and (thankfully) no one else was infected. The right things were done, in extraordinary circumstances.

Adaptability & flexibility  

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. Addison and Leighty both agree that change can happen very quickly, and that adaptability and flexibility, while staying confident and following established procedures, are critical components that ensure the delivery of world-class care to every patient. Addison shares that even in times of ambiguity it’s about commitment, following systematic and personal principles, which “should not change regardless of what the underlying disease is.”

Building rapport

Both Addison and Leighty agree that establishing deep connections with patients is absolutely necessary and possible, even when the patient can only see your eyes. At Providence, all caregivers believe that meaningful connections can improve the quality of patient care and outcomes. Looking like a cosmonaut, using personal protective equipment (PPE), can be a challenge on its own, especially when trying to establish a bond. But even in these challenging situations, you can still have conversations, show empathy and hold a patient's hand (with gloves), to show them you're committed to offering genuine and compassionate care.

Honoring yourself

Self-care is always very important, especially during emergency situations. Addison and Leighty admit that they could have done more of it. As healthcare professionals, a nurse's primary objective is to serve those in need, often placing the needs of the patient(s) before their own. In the process, they can experience burnout– a staple mental health crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Managing the pandemic has been tiring for everyone, but there is no way out of it for healthcare workers. The primary reason for burnout is not just working long hours, and double shifts at times -- it is also caused by emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue. Addison and Leighty advise healthcare professionals to allocate time for self-care, trust their team, and find time to decompress.

About the “Hear Me Now” initiative                                            

Storytelling has been an important part of Providence’s culture for more than 160 years. A key element of this includes listening to patients, their loved ones, our caregivers and communities. The founding sisters used storytelling to spread the mission of service to all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Hear Me Now, a Providence storytelling program founded in June 2016 by Dr. Ira Byock and the Institute for Human Caring, carries on the tradition. Learn more.

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Related resources

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

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Maintain safety practices after getting the COVID-19 vaccine

How real-time data informs decision-making during COVID-19

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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