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Hospitals turn to non-traditional, retired staff for COVID help

Faced with an exhausting COVID-19 surge, Novant Health launched a program to bring additional, willing staff to the pandemic frontlines.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches Carolina hospitals thin, healthcare providers are turning to staff who are not usually manning bedsides or vaccine syringes.

Some are even bringing in nurses out of retirement to help meet the growing need.

Sherrie McGovern is one of those nurses choosing to step outside her normal duties and help with pandemic-related duties.

"I really felt a passion to get involved," said McGovern, who has decades of experience as a pediatric nurse, but more recently has been working as a clinical nurse educator.

"Most of the time, I am teaching and I'm onboarding new hires," said McGovern.

Credit: WCNC
Sherrie McGovern is a clinical nurse educator who is now administering the COVID-19 vaccine at Novant Health in Charlotte.

However, lately, she has been helping with the important process of vaccinating her teammates at Novant Health in Charlotte.

"There was a need for vaccinators, and it was a very exciting thought for me," said McGovern.

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McGovern is one of more than 2,000 Novant Health employees across North Carolina who asked to be moved to the frontlines of the pandemic, either to the bedside, the vaccination lines, or other support roles.

All this is coordinated through a program called "Operation All In," which the hospital system started last month, amid the start the most recent, and unprecedented, COVID-19 patient surge.

"Nurses were very stressed and stretched thin. So, they needed the help at the bedside," said Charlie Colbert, one of the main coordinators with the program.

Colbert credits the program with helping the hospital system manage the growing need, taking clinical and non-clinical help, and even help from those who have left the medical field.

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"We are bringing in retired nurses to help with the relief," said Colbert.

Relief is much needed in the Carolinas, where patient counts are regularly hitting new highs, and the trends show more are likely coming.

"It has been very scary to see the numbers rise, especially here in Mecklenburg County... seeing so many of our community members in our ICUs and seeing ventilator rates go up," said McGovern.

However, McGovern also sees hope, and is glad to have a hand in administering it with every vaccine shot.

"You can see that the teams are tired. They're waiting for that turn, that turnaround," said McGovern.