They work at the center of a COVID-19 storm. We are talking about the more than 5,000 people who work for Columbus’ two largest hospital systems — Piedmont Columbus Regional and St. Francis Emory Healthcare.

This week, WRBL News 3 will take you inside that storm with exclusive interviews with seven people working at both hospitals.

Their world’s have changed dramatically.

At the center of the storm — at least with the people we talked to — there is a surprising calm. But also an acknowledgment of just how difficult this task is.

Jack Rodgers is the interim director of emergency services at Piedmont Columbus Regional. He has 15 years in emergency nursing, 28 as a paramedic He has worked at both hospitals.

“We are fighting something we know nothing about,” Rodgers said. “… We’ve got nothing to compare this to. The last time something like this happened was more than three generations ago.”

Brandon Dawson joined St. Francis as the medical director of the Emergency Department on March 1st. Before he could figure out where the bathrooms were he was having to fight — and adapt.

“March 1st was my first day at St. Francis,” Dawson said. “I just moved to town. The second week of March was thrown into this very quickly. We have changed everything we do, by screening employees, screening visitors. Then not allowing visitors.”

Sarah Thornton leads a team of nurses on Piedmont’s 10-C. That’s where many of the COVID cases are. In addition to the virus, there is uncertainty.

“Things have been a lot more unpredictable over the last two months,” Thornton said. “Just trying to prepare for a worst-case scenario, and we really don’t know what that is.”

Fresh out of nursing school, less than a year as an RN, yet Aleshia Thomason approaches this by the book — even though she knows it’s being written as they go.

“You are putting on your PPE and you are taking it off.,” Thomason said. “We do it and we do it correctly because when we do it correctly, we not only protect the patients and ourselves, we’re protecting our coworkers. We are protecting the community.”

Melinda Chase runs the Piedmont lab. What took days now is being done in hours.

“Now, we are having to do things much more rapidly,” she said. “And it’s at the forefront of our brains to make sure we get everything out the same way we would prior to COVID-19.”

With the additional stress and uncertainty, mental health professionals are now taking care of those who are taking care of us.

Brittany Luther is the executive director of The Bradley Center, which is part of the St. Francis-Emory Healthcare system. Luther has seen what she calls the “undeniable strength of the people who are here every day.”

“I think it’s easy to watch nurses at the bedside because we do rounds in the hospital and the emergency room and we see how positive they are with the patients,” Luther said. “We see how bright, cheerful, and supportive they are of each other and their patients. But then we get to see the other side, where they are having those real fears, anxieties, and emotions. But the strength to be able to put themselves aside and to focus on the health and wellbeing of our patients and community is absolutely impressive.”

It is what it is and the people we talked to are not going to stop fighting. Patrica Ingram, the head of chaplain services at St. Francis-Emory, now understands why she is in the ministry.

“I have learned that in this true calling to ministry — in this calling — God knew far better than I did that this is where I needed to be,” Ingram said. “That I am stronger than I thought I was.

She keeps hearing the words of her late mother.

“This week, I am missing my mother, who has been gone one year,” Ingram said. “And she said to me, ‘You are going to be OK. Life gets hard sometimes. Take a breath, keep moving.’ That’s what I tell others. Take a breath, keep moving.”

COMING TUESDAY: Talking to nurses working on the COVID-19 floors at Piedmont Columbus Regional and St. Francis-Emory Healthcare