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Memories of hardship, hope for the future mark transition of COVID unit


YNHH held a remembrance service June 3 on NP 15, before restoring the hospital’s longest-running COVID-only unit to its original function as a Surgical Oncology unit. Keith Churchwell, MD, YNHH president, and Ena Williams, RN, YNHH chief nursing officer, were among those who honored the patients and their families, along with the physicians and employees on NP 15 and throughout YNHHS.

In spring 2020, Alyssa Nargi and her fellow respiratory therapists “ran into the fire” as COVID-19 cases surged at Yale New Haven Hospital. 

They spent much of the next 15 months on North Pavilion 15, a Surgical Oncology unit that had been converted into one of the hospital’s COVID-only units. The respiratory therapists joined other staff in an exhausting battle against an unknown disease that initially had no proven treatments.

“It was probably the hardest I’ve worked in the 22 years I’ve been here,” Nargi said. “But I was glad to help during the crisis.”

On June 3, she joined dozens of other staff and physicians for a bittersweet service to mark another step forward in Yale New Haven’s COVID journey: the transition of the hospital’s longest-running COVID-only unit back into a Surgical Oncology unit. COVID patients are now cared for on different units throughout the hospital.

Keith Churchwell, MD, YNHH president, said it was important to commemorate the amazing work done on NP 15 and throughout the hospital and health system. The pandemic has proven that even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, “we are capable of extraordinary things,” he said. 

The COVID response remembrance service included a moment of silence for the patients who died, and the families who couldn’t be with them during their last moments. Leaders also talked about staff members’ struggles and their strength.

“You have given of yourselves selflessly,” said Ena Williams, RN, YNHH chief nursing officer. “Sometimes, I am sure it felt as if there was nothing left to give; but you dug deeper, and even when there still seemed as if there was nothing after that first digging, you found more.”

“How do we put into words what has transpired here in the last 15 months?” the Rev. Nicholas Sollom, hospital chaplain, asked in his remarks. “There are no words to capture what for so many of us has been the worst time of our lives.”

But, he reminded those gathered, “We are resilient. We are strong. Together we move forward.” 

After the service, Anthony Harris and Jarrell Mitchell, Environmental Services associates, were happy to welcome Surgical Oncology patients back to NP 15. While Surgical Oncology patients and many staff members moved to other units during COVID, Harris and Mitchell stayed on NP 15. 

“This is great, for the patients and staff,” Harris said. “It feels like we have a grip on COVID. It’s a sense of relief.”