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Hospital frontline staff’s plea to avoid return to worst of pandemic

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The CEO of a hospital almost overwhelmed by COVID-19 last April has warned that we cannot allow patients, their families and frontline workers to be put through the worst of pandemic again.

Speaking on the release of a short documentary charting how staff at the 89 bed St. John’s Hospital in Limerick coped with 80 of its 300 frontline staff in quarantine last April as the worst of the pandemic hit, CEO of the hospital Emer Martin said that everything possible must be done to avoid the trauma of last spring.

Ms Martin said that the frontline heroes at her hospital worked through unprecedented challenges during the worst weeks of the pandemic to not only maintain high care standards but also facilitate the saddest of goodbyes between patients and their loved ones.

She also expressed concerns that unless the public responds to the Level Five measures introduced, there’s not just a grave risk of having a very restricted Christmas but a return to the worst days of COVID.

“Right now, we are on something of a tight-rope across the country and it could go either way. If we don’t adhere to the measures, we could be turning back the clock to last April and May in terms of the impact on life. We know what that looks like and it’s dreadful. We would never want to see our staff here go through that again or patients and their families.”

Clinical Nurse Manager at St. John’s Hospital Emer McLaughlin recalled, “There was one particular week that we did feel overwhelmed. This was completely different. I could feel this tightness in my chest. And it was the week of Easter. It just I felt that we were like a sinking ship. And I had never felt that before. If one patient tested positive here, then all the close contacts of all staff, of all disciplines that had looked after that patient, then they all had to go and self-isolate, which meant we had phenomenal levels of staff in self-isolation for 14 days.

“I think we probably would have sunk at one or two stages only for the support that we got from other areas in the hospital. So, while we looked after the patients, the hospital in general looked after us. That epitomises the St. John’s and the way the hospital operates.”

Recently retired Director of Nursing at St. John’s Margaret Finn, who postponed her retirement to help the fight against COVID in the spring, also summed up the emotional roller coaster that the period was. “It’s been the worst of times. And then again, it’s been the best of times because we have seen such bravery in that staff had stayed on, worked long hours, supported patients, didn’t walk away, even though at times it was very frightening.

“The saddest of scenes were witnessed here. The families saying their goodbyes, these goodbyes will never be undone. It was a dreadful time. As a society, we can’t afford to go back there. It’s in our own hands. but knowing St. John’s, if we have to go back there again, we will.”

Stuart Holly is the editor and co-founder of The Clare Echo. A native of Ennis, Stuart studied at St Flannan's College before obtaining a journalism degree in Dublin. After interning at The Evening Herald, he landed his first job with The Irish Daily Mail, Stuart worked in newspaper production with the Independent Group and in Auckland, New Zealand before a lengthy spell as a pun-spewing sub-editor at the Irish Daily Star. In 2015, Stuart returned to The Banner County where he took up employment as a news reporter with The Clare People.

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