It is safe to say that this year’s Nurses Week is being observed during a time in healthcare unlike anything we have experienced.

Nurses in Maine and all over the world are putting others before themselves, and caring for people who have, or who may have, COVID-19. At the same time, in the face of this adversity, it is heartening to see the other side of this crisis—an outpouring of local and national recognition and appreciation for all healthcare workers and first responders. They are being collectively celebrated as heroes on the frontlines. And rightly so—they are working under challenging conditions that are truly unprecedented.

Given all that is happening and the critical role of nursing in the battle against COVID-19, it’s fitting that the American Nurses Association named 2020 the “Year of the Nurse.” And the timing couldn’t be more appropriate. We have seen nurses provide care in innovative ways and under conditions most have never seen before.

Our team at Northern Light Mercy Hospital quickly adapted to meet the needs of our community. To help ensure the health and safety of our patients, employees, and community, we changed how we provide care during this pandemic. These measures include reducing the number of visitors at our locations, opening offsite care locations, postponing elective procedures, and offering care by telehealth. We took these steps to reduce the spread of the virus and ensure that the people of our region continue to have access to care when they need it.

In the process, our nursing teams have learned to perform their jobs in different ways while always keeping the safety and dignity of our patients first. Nurses trained to work in new areas, took many phone calls from sick and worried patients, and graciously accepted positions greeting people at our doors, performing screenings, and providing education to clinicians, staff, and visitors. They have risen to the call to serve in every way they can, whatever that looks like, pulling together toward a common goal. I have been humbled to see it happen and see it work well for our patients.

Traditionally, we celebrate Nurses Week each May during the week of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. At Mercy, it is typically filled with festivities and education events, with the week of celebration capped off by a special award and recognition ceremony. This year is different, and we had to get creative by coming up with virtual and physically distant ways of celebrating.

The people who work at Mercy are truly what defines our organization. The events surrounding COVID-19 serve as an important reminder of our history, as our hospital was founded in response to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. While history has cruelly repeated itself, we continue to strive to provide the best care possible, to as many as possible, holding true to our mission, just like the Sisters of Mercy first did just over a century ago.

To nurses everywhere, we can’t thank you enough for your courage, dedication, and compassion. This is truly the year of the nurse.

Bette Neville is Vice President of Nursing and Patient Care Services at Northern Light Mercy Hospital.

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