“There is a lot of attention around our work right now, but this is what [health care workers] do every day. … There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than doing this job.”
Naomi Diggs, MD, '04
Seattle University students, graduates, faculty and staff are fostering a culture of care for others as we navigate daily challenges brought on by COVID-19. Each of the stories that follow highlights a Seattle U student or alum engaged in uncommon good to blanket our community with care.
Care for the Marginalized
While everyone is susceptible to the novel coronavirus, some people are more vulnerable than others. This includes those living on the margins, the homeless and those suffering with substance-related problems.
Ben Duchin, RN, ’22, is a second-year Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student specializing in psychiatric mental health. He hopes to work with people struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“Society communicates to people dealing with addiction that they are not valued, especially if they are also dealing with homelessness and legal issues,” he says. “I want to meet these people where they are and help them to feel they can open up and share their experience without being judged.”
Duchin works at Neighborcare Health in Seattle, a health care organization serving families and individuals who have difficulty accessing care. He is on the Health & Homelessness Outreach Team and cares for patients dealing with chronic addiction and trauma.
Regarding the spread of COVID-19 among high-risk patients, Duchin says, “We primarily focus on encouraging behaviors that keep people safe and mitigate harm, knowing it may not be perfect.”
For example, Duchin’s team will recommend strategies to heroin addicts to minimize their contact with people.
“We work with doctors who specialize in addiction and prescribe Suboxone, a replacement therapy for opioid addicts that prevents withdrawal. They can prescribe the medication remotely and the patient can pick it up at a pharmacy and avoid mingling with other users.”
“Still,” Duchin continues, “I’ve learned you can’t force people to do what you believe is best for them. In a perfect world, we’d have all our patients quarantining at home. But that’s not the reality. We have to meet our patients where they are.”
Care on the Frontlines
Naomi Diggs, MD, ’04, ’20, is a physician and leader at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle where she is part of the coordinated COVID-19 response team. She leads a large team of physicians who care for acutely ill patients across Swedish hospital campuses in the Puget Sound area. Her days are long, fast-paced, unpredictable and exhausting. She could be working with an infectious disease expert to determine treatment algorithms, collaborating with critical care colleagues to staff a surge in patients, communicating with her team about PPE inventory and supplies, caring for patients or sitting down and talking with a team member who is fearful or upset.
How do health care workers on the frontlines stay grounded and energized in the hectic and stressful hospital environment during a pandemic surge?
“Returning to the inner mission that drives us to be nurses, health care workers or physicians is key,” Diggs says. “People don’t go into health care to make widgets. There is a lot of attention around our work right now, but this is what we do every day. Health care workers go into settings and take care of the ill and the suffering. There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than doing this job.”
Care for the Soul
Rev. Leah Klug, MDiv, BCC, ’08, is a Palliative Care Spiritual Care Provider with the Swedish Medical Group. Hospital chaplaincy is not a place where Klug ever envisioned herself, but a desire to extend God’s grace to people of all faith backgrounds and an enlightening experience during an internship at Harborview Medical Center revealed this to be her true calling.
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed Klug’s daily work. Rather than in-person counseling she connects families with patients via FaceTime or conference call, as hospital regulations prohibit visitors unless a patient is at end-of-life. She supports the health care workers who are caring for COVID-19 patients and dons PPE gear to be present with a patient at end-of-life, offering final prayers, final sacrament or a blessing.
The Palliative Care Team also attends to each patient’s humanity.
The “Getting to Know You” poster is a protocol the team uses to enable its members to talk about and connect with each patient under their care as a person.
Klug collects information for the poster from a patient’s family and writes it on a poster board. This may include what the patient likes to be called, their faith background, favorite movies and music, special interests, pets’ names, things they like to joke about and more. The poster is hung on the patient’s door for doctors and nurses to see before they enter their room.
“The nurses realize this is important stuff and will sometimes scribble additional notes on a poster,” Klug says. “For example, [the patient’s] family loves him very much. Please tell him they love him.”
Klug’s team places photos of family members in a patient’s room, pets or whatever brings them joy. They will play a patient’s favorite music or put one of their favorite DVDs on the TV even if the person is intubated and can’t see it. “We always imagine the person may be able to hear us,” Klug says. “We want the family to know we are here to surround their loved one with the love they feel for them,” she says.
Klug credits her education at Seattle U’s School of Theology & Ministry (STM) with providing her an excellent foundation for her work as a health care chaplain.
“STM exposed me to the richness and diversity of faith traditions present in an ecumenical environment,” she says. “The Jesuit character of my education provided me a much broader foundation for seeing the divine than what I had known. And the Ignatian spirituality in particular has been a touchstone to which I return when the work is hard.”
KEEP READING>> Discover more stories of our community’s everyday efforts that bring hope amid COVID-19 in The Newsroom.