On the Front Lines of Healthcare: A Conversation with a Behavioral Health Nurse

April 20, 2020


Photograph of young woman in medical scrubs and mask.

This week, we asked Springstone Nurse Manager, Kara Markowski, BSN, RN, how her job has changed in light of our current healthcare crisis.

How did you choose a career in behavioral health nursing with all of the other nursing careers available?

I became an inpatient behavioral healthcare nurse over a decade ago fresh out of college and by accident. A temp agency sent me to my first assignment at a behavioral health hospital, and I knew that I was in a field where I could make a difference and help others, and so my career began.

How has your work changed due to the pandemic?

Like many, my job has changed significantly because of the current health crisis.  I have new responsibilities to my patients and my co-workers. First, we work hard to understand and follow the direction I am receiving from Springstone’s Coronavirus Committee, a special group of infectious disease nurses, doctors and other health professionals.  We are also keeping up with other federal, state, and local guidelines designed to help us flatten the curve while treating patients. My team’s response to implementing those directions needs to be fast and effective.

What specific steps are you taking to provide the highest level of behavioral health care while maintaining the highest level of safety in the facility? 

The definition of the “highest level of patient care” looks and means something different now. All employees complete a health screening, including having our temperatures taken at the facility when we report to work and prior to coming on the unit. Workers in all departments who present with symptoms are asked to go home because we have an even greater responsibility to our patients to help them be well both physically and mentally. Patient care team members and patients are wearing masks at all times to protect each other. Employees who are admitting new patients are conducting screens and following important protocols to protect our current patients and employees.

This is a stressful time for those with mental health or addiction issues but help is available.”

The new precautions we have in place, which include extra infection prevention efforts from our housekeeping team, are making everyone feel safer. My team added a COVID-19 education group for our patients that helps to educate them, keep them safe, and calm their fears. Last week, I worked with a patient who needed inpatient mental healthcare, but exhibited symptoms of the virus, so he had to be isolated from other patients. I spent time talking to him, while we were both masked, and I took him outside to get some fresh air and unwind a bit. We can all use a little extra care right now. He was able to get the inpatient mental health treatment he truly needed to stabilize him, and then he was able leave our facility after treatment to continue his care as an outpatient, joining one of our Partial Hospitalization programs using telemedicine while in his own home.

Overall, our patients have adapted to more frequent health screenings, wearing surgical masks, and visiting with their families on phones or tablets, and they understand and accept the need for increased protection. Our patients are grateful that we remain open to help them because mental health and addiction treatment is so important.

I recognize that staff members are equally concerned about exposure, but we are teaching them how to work safely. That’s why my efforts to educate our direct patient care workers will continue. I’m so proud of the important work our team does every day.

What would you say to anyone struggling right now with mental health or addiction issues who is also concerned about COVID-19 safety?

I would encourage anyone who may be confused or scared about getting treatment now to call us so their questions can be answered by a healthcare professional. We offer initial assessments over the phone or by video as an additional safety measure, and there is no obligation for the caller.

As a healthcare worker, my job is to help people in crisis even under challenging circumstances. This is a stressful time for those with mental health or addiction issues but help is available, and I urge people to make the call and let our team guide you to a care plan that is both therapeutic and safe.

I am caring for a patient now who has been with us before and needed our help to manage her worsening symptoms and medication. We had a good laugh together when she saw that I had drawn a big smile on my mask. She said our staff had been so kind during her last stay with us, and she was happy to be with us now when she needed us most. It’s our mission to change the lives of our patients in a positive way – especially now.

Learn more about our COVID-19 protocols here, including inpatient safety information and our online therapy options.