Doctors and nurses are having to make gut-wrenching decisions.

Choices they never saw coming before COVID-19 changed the game — and the rules.

Piedmont Columbus Regional interim director of emergency services had to make one of those choices recently.

“A large group of family standing out the front door to the Emergency Department waiting room, knowing they had a family member who was not going to survive what had happened to them,” Rodgers said.

He was tasked with having to tell the family that they could not all go inside the hospital to say goodbye. More than a quarter of a century as an EMT and emergency nurse did not prepare him for that situation.

“… Having to force that family to make a decision, which two of you are going to go, because we can’t let the whole crowd in,” Rodgers said. “That goes against every grain of what we are. We are facilitators, we are caregivers.”

Rodgers said it was easily one of the most difficult things he has had to do, but it was what he had to do amid the spread of COVID-19.

“That was horrible,” he said. “You feel absolutely horrible. You think you are a terrible person because you didn’t allow the family to go back and spend the last minutes of a loved one’s life with them. … Very tough decision to make. But was it the right decision? Yes, I think it was.”

Situations like that add to the stress and the questions those working the walls of the hospitals ask. St. Francis-Emory chaplain manager Patricia Ingram has heard all of the questions from those who work inside the hospitals.

“Here inside, the staff and patients are concerned that nothing is normal anymore,” she said. “People are thinking about every little thing they do. How do I go to the grocery store? How do I contact my parents? How do I get help because I have never felt this way before? Am I going to die? Is God real? All of that comes up.”

And it is important address that inhouse. Both St. Francis and Piedmont have set up ways for those who work there to get the mental health counseling and support they need.

Sometimes it’s done through group video settings. Brittany Luther is executive director The Bradley Center, which is part of the St. Francis-Emory system. They have put a focus on taking care of those who work in the hospital.

“We have a new piece of work we do here at the hospital. We have a team support group that we operate every day,” Luther said. “… A place to talk about what’s going on for them. … Helping  our colleagues look for a different way to take care of themselves and take care of other people.”

Inside the Fight Against COVID-19: A six-part series

  1. A different fight: This COVID-19 battle has forced healthcare workers and institutions to do things differently. And it has stretched them.
  2. On the front lines: The fight against COVID-19 is not an easy one, as spaces are converted to accommodate more patients and hospital staff face 12-hour shifts day after day.
  3. Reluctant heroes: Not many people would put nurses, doctors and lab techs on a list of heroes, but the COVID-19 crisis has elevated those on the front lines to that status.