Nurses and Hospital Staff Rally for COVID-19

Celebrating National Nurses Week at Endless Mountains Health Systems on May 6 were (top, from left) Jeanine Johnson, Social Services; Eileen Craige, Nurse Manger Surgical Services; Lauren Thomas, Nurse Manager Emergency Department; Kristi Byham, Nurse Manager Medical Surgical Unit; and Mary Mushala, Chief Nurse Officer/Patient Safety Officer. Tyler Memorial CEO Ann Marie Stevens (far left) helps to prepare a cart of celebratory snacks with (continuing from left) med techs Karen Sherman and Michael Truscott, and chief quality officer Brenna Coolbaugh.

Courtesy Endless Mountains Media Services

2020 is the International Year of the Nurse, and nurses have perhaps never been more crucial and appreciated than during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They are the shining stars on the front line of their respective medical teams and have stepped up to deal with a situation that few of them could have previously imagined.

In the Endless Mountains region of Northeast Pennsylvania, the nursing staffs of Tyler Memorial Hospital in Tunkhannock and Endless Mountains Health Systems (EMHS) in Montrose suddenly found themselves participants in new COVID-19 task forces that started meeting for daily briefings as they learned together the challenges they might confront and the best ways to deal with them.

We just continued to prepare for the worst and hoped for the best,” said Kathy Savo (above), a medical surgical nurse at Tyler with 50 years experience. “We have been working closer together as a team and coaching each other and taking more time to make sure all of our protection is in place.”

Other key figures coordinating efforts of 45 nurses at Tyler include Judy Ragukas, chief nursing officer; Margaret Rogers, director of surgical services; and Erica Wilbur, manager of medical surgical services and interim director of the emergency department.

The nursing staff at EMHS totals about 80, including 46 RN’s led by Mary Mushala, chief nurse and patient safety officer; Kristi Byham, nurse manager and medical surgical unit RN; and Connie Keifer, medical surgical unit and emergency department RN. Together they have 100 years of experience as nurses.

Communication and teamwork are the key,” Keifer maintains, adding that it is complicated keeping up with ever changing recommendations from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH). Ragukas concurred that communications meetings address almost daily changes in protocol and adherence to both CDC and DOH guidelines.

Fortunately, neither hospital has been overwhelmed with COVID patients, but staff members know that the tide could change during such an unpredictable pandemic. Supplies have held up to the needs of both facilities, Keifer and Wilbur noted, but Wilbur conceded that there were some anxious moments in the beginning ensuring that stock was adequate.

Continuous education is tantamount to helping everyone who must be in the hospitals feel safe. “We have conducted drills to prepare for any increased volumes of patients in our emergency room and in-patient beds,” Ragukas related.

Masks are provided to every employee at EMHS on a daily basis, Mushala explained. Staff members are screened for COVID symptoms when they arrive for work each day, as are patients and others entering the facility. At Tyler, Rogers noted, there have been modifications in the operating rooms, including more time between each use. Wilbur admits that one of the most difficult changes is not allowing guests at the hospital.

That is hard for family and loved ones who can’t visit,” she stated. Consequently, hospital staff learn to lean more on each other and pass the power of those relationships on to everyone else.

I think we are caring for patients with even more compassion,” Savo remarked.

We are a big family trying to get each other through it,” said Byham. “Staff is updated. They feel safe, and they are not afraid to come to work.”

Personnel at both medical facilities paused on May 6 to celebrate the beginning of National Nurses Week, which overlapped the beginning of National Hospital Week, observed through May 16. Mushala finds it fitting that those events coincide with the International Year of the Nurse at such a critical moment in history. Nurses at both hospitals expressed their pride in their respective nursing teams during this time of uncertainty.

Renee Tyler (above), an RN at EMHS, displays her nursing school graduation photo from 1978.

In the midst of dealing with the uncertainties of the COVID-19 health crisis, hospital staff like Tyler Memorial’s Ann Stone (above, left) and Ann Marie Stevens have helped other staff members mark National Nurses Week, National Hospital Week and the International Year of the Nurse.

Betsy Groover (above), is an RN at Endless Mountains Health Systems.

A surprise parade of first responders through the Tyler parking to mark National Nurses Week lot prompted a happy dance among RN’s Erin Wiernusz (above, front), Erica Wilbur (back, left) and Margaret Rogers.


  1. Thank you to all our medical staff at EMHS, especially the nurses, who are always on the front lines. Every interaction I’ve had there with the nurses has been met with compassion, professionalism and efficiency. If I ever have to go to the ER, I hope Renee Tyler is there; she is the best! My prayers and gratitude to you all.

  2. Thank you to these very special people who, in a time of confusion and uncertainty, offer encouragement, kindness, and unparalleled compassion. You are truly the ones who will get us all through this. Thank you!

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