Two local UCHealth employees have been recognized for going above and beyond to care for their patients and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Karen Flynn, lab manager at UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs, and TJ Nunley, an EMT at UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park, were recognized among more than 50 health care workers across the state as “hospital superheroes” by the Colorado Hospital Association and American Sentinel University, the hospital association said Monday.
Each honoree was chosen for demonstrating “courage, a strong moral code, a great sense of responsibility, a fighting spirit and mental toughness” during the pandemic, a news release from the Colorado Hospital Association said.
At the onset of COVID-19’s spread in the Pikes Peak region this spring, operations changed a lot for Nunley and the small team he works with — made up of just three nurses, one doctor and one EMT — at UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital. Overnight, each had more responsibility, he said.
“There was one point where some of us just had to sit at the doors and screen people” for symptoms of COVID-19, said Nunley, who has worked for UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital for five years, and prior to that worked with the Ute Pass Regional Health Service District. “Your job changes, and everyone around you, their jobs changed too. As an EMT, I help the nurses with their jobs, so when I’m called somewhere else, I have to leave the nurses. That makes their job harder.”
Flynn was also on the front lines of the region’s initial coronavirus response, helping establish UCHealth’s three COVID-19 testing sites in Colorado Springs. She leads a team of about 25 lab technicians who administer hundreds of nasal swabs each day; the swabs are then sent to area laboratories to test for the sometimes deadly disease. Additionally, Flynn has arranged for numerous COVID-19 collections for Colorado Springs’ at-risk populations throughout the pandemic.
At UCHealth’s testing sites, Flynn’s team serves anywhere from 500 to 800 people a day — numbers that once were shocking and are now normal, she said. To support her team, Flynn leads new staffing groups and ensures they’re safe, keeps them motivated, works with other groups across the UCHealth system to identify and share best practices and coordinates the transfer of swabs from testing sites to the labs.
“It’s a lot of logistics, figuring out workflow and even watching traffic patterns to make sure it all gets there,” Flynn said.
As essential workers, Nunley said he and the rest of his team are dealing with the added stress of ensuring they remain healthy and don’t infect their families.
“But you support each other,” he said. “If one of the nurses needs to go into a COVID patient room, you have to gown up and put all that (personal protective) equipment on. It’s hot and it’s not fun, but you support each other. You do it anyway.”
Both honorees said recognition was also due to their respective teams.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” Flynn said. “I’m just so proud of this team and what they’ve been able to do. They’re doing the hard work and I’m here to support it.
“This has been an incredible effort for me personally, but I think it’s been both exciting and difficult. This recognition means a lot to me and I hope it will translate to my team so we can continue to persevere … in this journey.”
Her recognition is well-deserved, said UCHealth Memorial Hospital Laboratory Services Director Robert Welch in a written statement.
“Karen has put the needs of our patients and the needs of the community ahead of her own since March, and it is rewarding to see her get this recognition. She does it all with a smile on her face and while consistently recognizing her team and keeping morale high,” he said.
Nunley called the award “an honor,” adding, “It floors me, because the characteristics this award talks about I recognize in everyone on the team. It’s easy for me to shine because of the people I work with.”
The credit he gives to his team is indicative of his “team player” mentality, UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department Manager Brittany Jett said.
“He makes everyone’s work environment a better place, and he embodies the values and vision of UCHealth, along with our mission to improve lives,” she said.
“My drive to start in (emergency medical services) and become an EMT is truly to help people,” said Nunley, who is studying to become a nurse. “That’s the payoff. We love to serve.”
As part of their recognition, each honoree will receive a special gift from the Colorado Hospital Association and program sponsors American Sentinel University, Aya Healthcare and Corvel. Colorado Hospital Association will host a virtual appreciation event for the honorees early next year, it announced.
To see a full list of honorees, visit cha.com/colorado-hospital-superheroes.
This content was originally published here.