Navigating COVID-19 on the Telemetry Unit

Submitted to Dorchester Banner/Shore Health
From left are Ashley Schreppel and Katie Parker, who are both nurses on the telemetry unit at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton.

EASTON — In celebration of May as Health Care Heroes Month, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is telling the inspiring stories of dedicated team members. Two of those team members serving on the telemetry unit at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, but, at more than 36 weeks pregnant, they also are just a few short weeks away from welcoming new additions to their families.

As telemetry nurses, Ashley Schreppel and Katie Parker are experienced in caring for seriously ill patients who require constant monitoring. When COVID-19 became a concern in the United States and there was little information about the rate and ease of contagion, Schreppel and Parker naturally were concerned for the lives of their unborn children. However, their desire to be nurses, care for their patients and show up to work every day, is just as strong as the day they began their nursing careers.

A nurse since 2008, Schreppel joined the UM SRH nursing team in 2017. While she began her career as an intensive care unit nurse, she says the telemetry unit became her home as she worked her way up from bedside staff nurse to charge nurse. Today, Schreppel is the daytime clinical nurse coordinator on the telemetry unit — a role she accepted in December 2019.
“Shortly after I transitioned into this role, COVID-19 began to affect communities throughout the world,” Schreppel said. “Today, it’s on our doorstep. But we are managing this with the same commitment and grace with which we manage all challenges in our lives, whether it is taking on new leadership roles or taking care of ourselves during a pandemic or getting ready to have a baby.”

She says working on the front lines can certainly be scary whether you are pregnant or not. However, when faced with the nursing care challenges posed by the pandemic, many nurses pause to remember why they wanted to become nurses in the first place.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Schreppel says. “When I started my career, I realized quickly how rewarding being of service to others can be. Of course the front line can be a scary place sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to go through this storm with any other team of nurses than the heroes I get to work with here at Shore every day.”
Schreppel says the support of her fellow nurses on telemetry and her managers has been incredible, and she realizes the important role she plays in keeping her team safe and informed.

“I work with some amazing nurses,” Schreppel says. “I have done my very best to make sure they have the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19. It’s my responsibility to make sure they feel protected and have the personal protective equipment (PPE) required to keep themselves safe from exposure. I have committed myself to making sure every single person on my unit feels supported.”
Parker has been a nurse on the telemetry unit for nearly six years and a nurse since 2014. She said she wanted to work as a nurse on the Eastern Shore because she wanted to give back to the community she was born and raised in.

“I love that, in casual conversation with my patients, I can connect with them and their lives outside of their hospital stay, all because of the relatively small community our hospital serves,” Parker says.
Due to their pregnancies, Parker and Schreppel both are exempt from caring for COVID-positive patients or those who are suspected of having the virus.
“I feel so fortunate to work for a hospital system that has protected me as a pregnant woman working the floor,” Parker says.

But that exemption brings other concerns. “Being ‘exempt’ from providing direct care means I feel like I am burdening others by increasing their work load, even though I know it’s for the most precious reason,” says Parker. “I am so appreciative of my co-workers, who are truly the ones on the front line, caring for these patients day in and day out.”
Jessica Fluharty, director of Critical Care and Emergency Services for UM SRH, says it’s normal to feel that way if a person is exempt from direct care due to health reasons, but Parker and Schreppel play a vital role in caring for non-COVID-19 patients.

“Not everyone showing up to the hospital is here because of COVID-19,” Fluharty said. “People are still in need of care for a number of reasons and Katie and Ashley are helping our team who are focusing on COVID-positive patients to be able to concentrate fully on those patients because Katie and Ashley are delivering such amazing care to other patients on the telemetry unit.”
As charge nurse on the telemetry unit, another crucial role Parker fulfills is keeping staff up to date on policy and procedure changes, which can change rapidly during the COVID pandemic.

“Making sure my team is fully and accurately informed means we can provide our patients with the safest and most effective care,” she says.
“Katie and Ashley are two of the best nurses I have had the pleasure to work with,” Fluharty said. “Their dedication to the telemetry unit is unprecedented. They both are leaders on their floor and they both go above and beyond for their patients and their staff each and every single day. Even in tough times like these, they are still coming to work to care for our community, while building their own family at home.”