The first time Mike Bannon walked down the hall of the COVID-19 unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Hazleton wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE), he was a little uneasy. “This certainly wasn’t what I signed up for in health care,” says the senior certified athletic trainer at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN). “But in a short time, I realized something special was happening here.”
From care on the sidelines…
Bannon is one of over four dozen LVHN and Coordinated Health athletic trainers who typically work with athletes in school districts through the Lehigh Valley and northeast region. In a typical week, you’ll find Bannon working with athletes at Hazleton Area High School but due to the recent statewide surge in COVID-19 infections, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has stopped all interscholastic sports until Jan. 4. Rather than sitting at home waiting for the lockdown to be lifted, Bannon and other LVHN athletic trainers are working as temporary technical partners assisting overextended inpatient nursing units at LVH–Cedar Crest and LVH–Hazleton. Additionally, athletic trainers with Coordinated Health are supporting outpatient clinics and community employers with their COVID-19 related needs.
“Our senior leaders at LVHN asked if we could help out, and we’re more than happy to do whatever we can for any of our front-line workers,” says David Maxted, director of sports medicine programs at LVHN. “We began working with them last week, and we’ll be there until we go back to normal scheduling. We’re honored to take part in LVHN’s effort during this crisis.”Stephanie Gehman, athletic training team leader with Coordinated Health, part of Lehigh Valley Health Network, feels similarly. “We are so proud of the work our athletic trainers and performance coaches are doing in our communities. They have worked tirelessly during this time to aid in the COVID effort. Athletic trainers are versatile medical professionals and have quickly adapted to serve in the pandemic,” Gehman says.
To care on the front lines
On the hospital side, Maxted sent a list of his athletic trainers to the nursing scheduling departments, and most worked a unit shift beginning Dec. 15. The athletic trainers are supervised by the unit’s charge nurse and are freeing nurses from tasks such as taking patient vital signs, assisting with patient positioning (particularly “proning,” which is turning a COVID-19 patient over to help breathing), delivering food trays, answering call bells, and generally being there for whatever need arises. They are trained for specific tasks as needed.
“Several times I found myself just spending time with patients in their rooms, reassuring them as best I could,” says Bannon, who has been working a 3-11 p.m. shift on weekdays thus far. “Patients really appreciate you sitting with them as their families can’t because of COVID restrictions. Something like this may be a little out of the norm for an athletic trainer, but it’s really gratifying just to be able to be there for them.”
Pivoting to new roles
This experience is something Bannon won’t forget.
“I watch these nurses and technical partners in action, with all the hours they’ve been working, it’s like they never leave the hospital,” Bannon says. “I may have been uneasy at first, but seeing how strong they are and how they answer every need for these ill patients, it’s really inspiring.”
Stay informed about COVID-19. Visit LVHN.org/COVID19.