Home of the Brave

In April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to place increasing demands on health care workers and first responders around the nation, University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) CEO Mohan Suntha, MD, launched a campaign to encourage community appreciation for the dedication of more than 26,000 UMMS team members serving the health care needs of Maryland residents.

Announcing the theme of “Home of the Brave,” Mohan commended all employees of the health care system for their innovation, teamwork and unwavering commitment to the patients, community and each other. “As health care professionals, we are most comfortable behind the scenes going about our day-to-day work ensuring our patients are treated, healed and comforted,” he wrote. “We aren’t used to being called heroes. We are simply doing what we were called to do, and it is that mission-driven spirit that will turn the tide. Your bravery will make the difference.”

University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UM SRH) is proud to share stories of just a few of its many, brave health care heroes working under the challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide safe and effective care to individuals and families in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

At far right is Chris Di Fatta, Shore Regional Health’s Materials Management director. He is shown with a room full of PPE supplies and members of his department, including Shirley Morris (left), Clarence “Dusty” Freeman, Steve Cephas, Tammy Shores and Ronni Colbert. Not shown are: Gale Chambers, Jeff Johnson, Brian “Keith” Gray, Andrew Robinson, Kenny Manokey and Jaleesa Gardener.

A major challenge for hospitals and health care systems fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is maintaining adequate stocks of sanitation supplies and physical protection equipment (PPE) needed to ensure that all members of the health care team can provide safe and effective care. For UM Shore Regional Health’s Materials Management Director Chris DiFatta, it’s a fast-moving and complex task, tracking the current “burn rates” of various sanitation supplies, gloves, gowns and three different types of masks used by health care team members in Shore’s hospitals in Cambridge, Chestertown and Easton and the Emergency Center in Queenstown, and by those in outpatient facilities and medical practices throughout the five county region. Demand rises or falls with the number of patients needing care and with the prevalence of infectious disease among those patients. For Chris, daily tasks include looking ahead and estimating how a potential surge or change in inpatient and outpatient volumes will affect the supplies on hand, identifying new sources, ordering more supplies as needed, and inspecting incoming shipments for quality, as well as calculating and reporting the number of days’ supply is available for each item.

“Chris and his staff are doing a phenomenal job under the extraordinarily demanding and extended circumstances brought on by this pandemic,” says William Huffner, MD, senior Vice President, Medical Affairs and chief medical officer. “His diligence has been key to maintaining the safety of our patients, our providers and front-line staff, and we are all grateful for his excellent work.”

Laurie Wade, Sterile Processing Manager, UM Shore Medical Center at Easton

Laurie Wade, Sterile Processing manager at Shore Medical Center at Easton, participated on conference calls with sterile processing leaders throughout University of Maryland Medical System discussing the sterilization reprocessing of N95 masks to help conserve supplies in UM Shore Regional Health hospitals. From there, she independently researched reprocessing guidelines from the mask manufacturers and the Food and Drug Administration and reported back to hospital leaders. Based on her work, the decision was made to move needed equipment from Shore Medical Pavilion at Queenstown to the Easton hospital where the masks could be reprocessed for use by staff working Surgical Services, Intensive Care and Telemetry.

“Laurie’s initiative and follow-through were instrumental in enabling us to implement a fast and workable strategy for conserving our N95 masks,” says Penny Pink, director, Surgical and Ambulatory Services for University of Maryland Shore Regional Health (UM SRH). “She’s a great example of our many ‘Health Care Heroes’ who are working behind the scenes to help us provide safe and effective patient care during COVID-19.”

Sam Joseph, Environmental Services tech, UM Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown.

Sam Joseph is a member of the Environmental Services team at UM Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown. Mary Alice Vanhoy, who manages the Emergency Center, describes Sam as the Center’s “hero in the shadows.” As she explains, “Sam is always there, not just attending to his own duties, but taking the iniative to interact supportively with patients and all members of the care team. He’s always watching, keeping an eye out for things that need to be done and then doing them without being asked – whether it’s cleaning a room, moving boxes or equipment, or alerting other team members about a patient care concern. We never have to worry when our hero in the shadows is here.”

Rita Holley (left) is shown dropping off donations at the Neighborhood Service Center, Inc. (NSC), in Easton, with NSC staff members Alicia Parker and Janie Foster.

The UM Shore Regional Health nursing team organized a food drive to help children, seniors and all those suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19. “Over the past few months, our hospitals have received countless donations of meals, face masks, hand sanitizer, care packages, encouraging signs and more, so the Nursing and Patient Care Services team wanted to do something special for the community in return,” explained Rita Holley, director of Shore Home Care Services. “So many people are hurting right now, and collecting healthy food and supplies for vulnerable community members is another way that we can help.”

The donations were distributed to the Lutheran Mission Society and the Humane Society of Dorchester County in Cambridge, Samaritan House in Denton, the Neighborhood Service Center in Easton, Caroline County Humane Society in Ridgely, Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Stevensville and Queen Anne’s County Animal Services in Queenstown. In addition to the food drive, UM SRH recently made a donation of $5,000 to the Maryland Food Bank-Eastern Shore that benefited communities in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties.

Members of the UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown’s Perioperative Services team are Sarah Busick (left), Dawn Ford, Sissy Demby, Louise Dove, Kristy Moss, Lisa Cleary, Terry Dulin, Suzie Miller, Vicky Downes, Darlene Spencer, Amy Loder, Oriane Bowers, Peggy Roca, Courtney Hessian and Lisa Milton.

In March, when UM Shore Regional Health suspended elective surgeries to focus on preparations for COVID-positive patients, several care teams from the three hospitals were deployed to other units and tasks where they could be of the greatest help. This was especially true for Perioperative Services, which includes Pre-anesthesia Testing, Same Day Surgery, Operating Room, Post-Anesthesia Care Unit and Sterile Processing. Perioperative Services team members – who normally take care of surgical patients from their arrival to discharge – quickly began assisting on COVID inpatient units, in Emergency Departments and other areas. In many cases, this not only meant new duties but wider responsibility, as emergency surgeries were still taking place.

The Perioperative team has worked as “nurse extenders” on inpatient units and in Emergency Departments, assisting with the care of COVID patients and patients on non-COVID units. They also perform COVID-19 testing on patients scheduled for necessary surgeries. Sterile Processing team members also assisted by taking staff temperatures upon arrival for work. “The whole team stepped up to new challenges,” says Peggy Roca, manager, Perioperative Services at UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown. “I call them our Perioperative Angels because as the days and weeks progressed, I saw them get pulled in several different directions, shining wherever they went.”

Dr. Steven White is shown outside the Emergency Department at UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester.

As medical director, Emergency Department at UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester and also Dorchester County Emergency Medical Services, Steven White, MD, is well-known and highly regarded in his home community. And, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, his expertise and experience are appreciated more than ever by all those working in the hospital’s Emergency Department. Certified in pediatric emergency care, Steven provided key input during the process of developing guidelines for the care of pediatric patients diagnosed with COVID-19. He also played a central role in training Shore Medical Group providers who volunteered to be called in to assist in emergency care in the event of a surge in COVID-19 patient volumes.”

“Dr. White is an amazing leader for our emergency team,” says AnnMarie Hernandez, interim nurse manager, Dorchester Emergency Department. “He welcomes input from everyone on the care team, and is extremely respectful of patients and their family members. He really cares about the people in this community – even when he is not scheduled to be on site, if he hears we have a challenging case such as a child with coronavirus symptoms, he doesn’t hesitate to come in to help out. He is a health care hero that all of us in the Emergency Department, and the community, can count on.”

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Allison Rogers



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