Hear from nurses inside a COVID-19 hospital unit

Sanford Health nurses take precautions, reassure patients 'they're not alone'

Several nurses wearing masks sit in a health care office in an illustration for a story about a COVID-19 unit

Nurses, doctors and other health care employees have been working tirelessly to care for COVID-19 patients at Sanford Health.

Inside the COVID-19 unit at Sanford Medical Center — Bismarck, in North Dakota, you can see lots of personal protective equipment ready for front line staff to use.

“You throw on your powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) and your hood and go into rooms and then decontaminating all of your equipment, it’s just a different process,” said Austin Mill, a registered nurse in Bismarck.

Mill and Kaleb Kirby are two of the many nurses who now spend their shifts working solely inside the COVID-19 unit in Bismarck.

Kirby was working his normal shift in the intensive care unit about a month ago when the first COVID patient was admitted to Sanford Health in Bismarck. Since then, he has spent every shift on the COVID floor.

“Taking a patient up here, you kind of feel like a pioneer, especially the first one because it’s never been done,” Kirby said.

‘You never expect it’

When Kirby and his fellow nurses went to nursing school, they knew they’d be taking care of patients. But they never imagined caring for patients in the middle of a pandemic.

“I never in a million years would’ve predicted something like this to happen,” said Natalie Monilaws, also a Sanford Health registered nurse in Bismarck. “I mean, it’s always kind of in the back of your mind that something like this could happen, but you never expect it.”

“Everyone probably gets a little nervous. I get a little nervous too,” Kirby said. “But I just adhere to the personal protective equipment protocol and hope to God I don’t get sick.”

By working in the COVID-19 unit, it’s possible these nurses could become carriers of the virus at some point. That is why they’re taking extra precautions when they go home to their families.

“I get home, I wash my hands right away, I take off my scrubs, I wash my hands again,” Monilaws said. “Then I go shower and instantly wash my scrubs.”

These nurses say the hardest part to witness during the pandemic is the visitor restrictions. None of the patients can have visitors in order to minimize the spread of the virus.

“Just to let them know that they’re not alone and we are here to help them, everyone is here to help them and we’re all in this together. It definitely feels very rewarding,” Monilaws said.

Sanford Health hospitals in Bismarck and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have dedicated floors for their COVID-19 patients. Sanford Health hospitals in Bemidji, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota, have facilities separate from their medical centers where COVID-19 patients are hospitalized.

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Coronavirus, Faces of Sanford Health, Health Care Heroes, Sioux Falls

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