Geary Community Hospital Director of Case Management and RN Melanie Griffin has worked at GCH for more than 20 years.
She started in mental healthcare and ended up in co-managing GCH’s intensive care unit and medical surgical unit.
Griffin started on the path that would lead her to GCH in May 1999.
She was attending KU as a pre-law major and couldn’t decide what she really wanted to do with her life. She took a job working with elderly psychiatric patients in Topeka so she could work while deciding what she wanted to do with her life and accidentally stumbled upon her true calling.
Griffin wound up in nursing school and eventually at the local hospital.
“I just I have a tendency to be a doer,” she said. “When the hospital needs help, I just step up and I do whatever I need to do.”
Griffin chose GCH when she moved back to Junction City.
“I grew up here in Junction,” she said. “This is my community. These are my family members, my friends and my neighbors.”
Griffin said she knows about half of the people who come to GCH for treatment — they’re friends and neighbors.
“This is our family,” she said. “I love this hospital.”
This is why, despite having multiple opportunities to leave and go somewhere else, she has stayed on at GCH.
“Right now, in healthcare, it’s kind of a crazy time so I probably receive several job offers a week,” Griffin said. “People are calling me for another job, but this in my home, this is my family and this is who I want to take care of.”
COVID-19 has left hospitals all over the state and the country slammed with patients, short on staff and ICU beds.
“You see patients that are just suffering,” Griffin said. “There’s not always a lot that we can do for them other than hold their hands when they die. And their family members can’t come in here — and it’s just sad, especially if you know that they’re unvaccinated and this can be prevented.”
Right now, the local hospital’s ICU is completely filled with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. All of those who have died at GCH since the vaccine became widely available to people older than 12 have been unvaccinated. GCH has had one fully vaccinated person through its doors needing treatment for COVID-19 and that person is no longer hospitalized, according to statistics released daily by GCH.
“My staff are tired,” Griffin said. “They’re burnt out, they’re exhausted. I’m having them work overtime.”
GCH staff are consistently having to work extra shifts and go above and beyond the call of duty to make things work at the hospital.
“People are tired and exhausted,” Griffin said.
Nurses at GCH work 12-hour shifts, sometimes six days a week — not the usual situation — as people leave the profession in droves for something less exhausting and dangerous.
“We’re running out of resources,” she said. “And there’s nowhere to ship patients to — it’s getting pretty bad. Yeah, it’s just emotionally and physically exhausting.”
Because there are so many COVID-19 patients taking up beds in ICUs across the country — including at GCH — there aren’t a lot of beds to house others who need ICU care, including patients with severe COVID-19 and those with other medical emergencies such as people who have been in car wrecks.
Griffin describes it as “a shell game” where hospital staff must figure out whois able to be safely moved from the ICU to make room for someone else. When someone is moved from an ICU bed, that bed is filled shortly after. Patients in need of ICU beds are held in the emergency room until an ICU bed becomes available, she said.
This can clog up the emergency room, according to Griffin, leaving staff with more patients than they know what to do with sometimes.
“We have to take care of them and we are stretched to our capacity,” she said.
According to Griffin, it leaves the staff feeling “frustrated, depressed, sad, angry.”
Mostly, she said, frustrated is the operative word, because there’s not enough time and resources to take care of everyone.
“We want to do all that we can do and we want to save these people,” Griffin said. “We want to take the best care of them that is possible.”
But she and her staff do their best, nonetheless.
“Sometimes you know that you’re going to spend all kinds of time and effort and resources on a patient and you know that there’s no way that they’re going to make it,” Griffin said. “But you still try. You’re going to give it your all.”
Griffin said this wave of COVID-19 is the worst GCH has seen so far — worse even than December 2020.
This time around, many young people have contracted the virus, grown extremely ill and even died. She said a number of people aged 25 to 50, sometimes with children still at home, have been hospitalized wth the virus in this wave.
Young people with no health problems have contracted the virus and died this time around.
When asked if young people who have died of the virus in this wave have had other complications, Griffin said “not always, no.”
The main thing everyone who has died of COVID-19 this time around has in common being being unvaccinated, she said.
“A lot of it could be prevented,” Griffin said. “That’s the sad part, that’s the worst part. A lot of these ICU admits could be prevented if people would get their vaccines. But freedom of choice is more important than — I guess — people’s lives. But their freedom of choice puts everyone else’s lives at risk. So more power to them I guess — I don’t know.”
But does Griffin see an end in sight?
“I have to say yes, just because if I didn’t, I don’t know that I could keep going,” she said. “I would like to say that I hope there’s an end in sight. Can’t really see it yet. But I know it’s out there. I have to have that hope. I have to have that hope — otherwise I couldn’t keep doing it.”