On the frontlines

Student healthcare workers and families navigate COVID-19.

Senior Taylor Hughes continues her work at Windemere during the coronavirus pandemic. —Courtesy Taylor Hughes

While Islanders adapt to life at home during stay-at-home orders, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) healthcare workers face the challenges of balancing their responsibility to serve on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic while also protecting their families from the virus.

Among the more than 600 employees at MVH, many are parents and classmates of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students. Because of the inherent risk of COVID-19 exposure in a hospital setting, families with students or parents working at the hospital face additional challenges in order to protect themselves from the virus. 

As a Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA), senior Taylor Hughes has been working at the hospital for three months and is continuing her work at Windemere alongside the elderly even during this crisis. “Due to not being at school, I have actually spent more time in the hospital,” she said. “I have developed bonds [with the patients] and am very happy to be having the opportunity to work more.”  

New procedures have been implemented throughout the hospital in order to prevent and detect a potential spread of the virus. “We as employees have to do a mandatory temperature check before going on the unit,” Taylor said, “and we are also given a mask to wear all day at work. The residents are also given a mandatory temperature check throughout the day to make sure everyone is healthy.”

MVH has shifted away from being open to all patients around the clock to being open only for emergencies and important procedures to minimize the flow of people in and out of the building. “The hospital has changed drastically,” Taylor said. “I can see they are doing a great job of minimizing the [number of] people that come in, and they are encouraging people to stay out so we can stop the spread.”

Prior to the new COVID-19 measures, junior Molly Menton was taking part in the school’s work-study program as a nurse’s assistant in the maternity ward at MVH, but her mentorship has been postponed indefinitely due to the presence of the virus on the Island and the stricter guidelines being set for working personnel.

“This work study was a big part of my getting into nursing programs at colleges,” said Molly. “I lost a lot of experience in the hospital seeing the real-life pregnancies.” 

While Molly may not be able to get back into the hospital anytime soon, she hopes to continue her work study once this crisis comes to an end, be it this summer or next school year.

Students whose parents are continuing to work at the hospital with patients are making sure to be extra cautious when coming home at the end of the day. 

Junior Leo Neville, whose mom works as a registered nurse in the maternity ward and operating room, said, “[My mom] pretty much has the same hours, but when she comes home she has to take off all her clothes, wash them, and put on a robe before she comes in the house.”

Students try to give their parents space to clean themselves up before interaction. Junior Nate Porterfield, whose father is the director of Food and Nutrition at MVH, said, “He is definitely a lot more stressed than usual, but he’s taking massive amounts of precautions. He is being very sanitary, and my mom says to give him space as soon as he gets home so he can clean himself up.” 

While some students and healthcare workers may be worried about the hospital’s ability to mitigate the virus, Kimberly Crocker, the Infection Preventionist, assures the hospital is doing  everything they can and is fully capable of responding to the outbreak and the community’s needs. “The hospital has very strong leadership and staff who are committed to serving and protecting the Island community,” she said. “Over the past several weeks the hospital has been responding to the outbreak by expanding services, connecting with other Island stakeholders, and listening to the community’s needs.” 

Despite many people’s concern of the spread of COVID-19 throughout the hospital, MVH has the support of its employees, such as Taylor, who put their faith in hospital workers’ ability to keep the virus under control. “It’s scary to be so close to the virus,” she said, “but they are doing all they can to keep everyone healthy.”