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Mary Washington Healthcare on Pandemic: “We Must Do This Together”

Mary Washington Healthcare workers

With community’s help, Mary Washington Hospital rose to the pandemic challenge

As the world came to grips with the severity of the novel coronavirus in February and March of 2020, so much was unknown.

But as it became clear that the Fredericksburg region needed to prepare for rising cases of COVID-19, Anita Shell, DNP, RN, CENP,knew the unit she leads at Mary Washington Hospital would play a major role in coordinating needed care.

Shell, who is the director of the Medical Surgical Care Center at Mary Washington Hospital, knew that the renal respiratory unit she oversees would be caring for many COVID-19 patients.

“Everything was unknown,” Shell remembers, “But we knew we needed to work together to ensure we had good clinical practice guidelines. We had to ensure that our staff was put in a position to be successful in caring for this vulnerable population.”

All Eyes on the Hospital

The COVID-19 pandemic put Fredericksburg’s locally owned, not-for-profit health system in the forefront of public discussions of how the community should respond to a new and highly contagious respiratory virus that changed life as people knew it across the globe.

Through open letters to the community, live town hall meetings and other venues, Mary Washington Healthcare CEO Mike McDermott urged community members to stay home, socially distance, wash hands, wear masks and take other practical measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“We must do this together,” he urged in a March 23 letter.

The community heeded that advice.

Individuals, schools, businesses, churches and groups from all over the Fredericksburg region immediately began looking for ways to help support the area’s healthcare workers.

Help Pours In

“Food started rolling in,” recalls Meri Jones, who at the time worked as executive assistant for Mary Washington Healthcare’s chief human resources officer.

“We had food donations daily, multiple times a day,” Jones said. “The community support we had was huge.”

She and others in the executive office coordinated to log and track each donation, and ensure it got to workers across all of Mary Washington Healthcare’s locations in the Fredericksburg region.

“We were able to take it in and make it work,” she said. “Everybody got a little treat at least once.”

A major challenge brought by the pandemic during the spring and summer of 2020 was supplying healthcare workers with sufficient personal protective equipment.

In April, Mary Washington Healthcare challenged the community to donate 5,000 hand-made masks to keep workers safe as cases surged.

“Our community was amazing and went above and beyond—we got more than 10,000 masks,” Jones said.

The hospital’s supply chain team worked to distribute the masks, coordinating with teams at Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital, the Outpatient and Emergency Center at Lee’s Hill and other locations.

Mary Washington collected enough masks that the healthcare system was able to distribute some to outside community groups, including the Rappahannock Regional Jail.

Early in the pandemic, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery donated hundreds of bottles of hand sanitizer to be used wherever they were needed.

Mary Washington’s Innovation Council brainstormed the best way to distribute the sanitizer, and once volunteers and Project Search student interns were allowed back into the hospital in August, they helped fill and label 10-milliliter bottles with this locally made sanitizer for distribution at hospital entrances.

Supporting Healthcare Workers

As the pandemic shut down schools and led individuals to sequester in their homes, healthcare workers still needed support as they came to work every day.

“They were taking care of the patients,” Shell said. “We had to make sure we took care of them.”

Jones and her colleagues sent out surveys to gauge the need for childcare among employees.

Shell said it was important to make sure nurses and other workers had some form of work-life balance and could talk about their own fears of catching or spreading the virus.

As the 2020-21 school year opened to 100% virtual learning across the Fredericksburg region, Mary Washington Healthcare’s childcare facility, Kids’ Station, stepped up to help families with school-age childcare and the needs of virtual learners.

In September, Kids’ Station teachers set up virtual learning stations to provide daily support for the various needs of more than 20 kindergarten through fifth-grade children within the center, which serves healthcare workers and other members of the community.

A Mission to Care

For Mary Washington Healthcare employees, 2020 was defined not by fear but by pride.

“We pride ourselves on caring for our community, and we did that,” Shell said. “This pandemic has stretched us outside of our comfort zone. We have taken on new things, and we have learned from it.”

Jones was impressed at how the entire organization banded together as a family would to respond to the crisis.

“COVID-19 has drastically changed our world in many, many ways,” she said. “It’s times like these that you see that we are all in this together.

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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