That’s what Laurel DuPont felt when she found out she failed a routine temperature screen and started exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Laurel is CEO of Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital, which at the time of her COVID diagnosis, had only been open for five months. As with many other health care facilities at the beginning of the pandemic, her inpatient rehabilitation hospital was grappling with a number of questions, first and foremost how to maintain the safety of its patients and employees.
“How could I have gotten COVID-19?”
“We had built a very strong culture in those short five months, but now that would be put to the test,” said Laurel. “Would we truly live the values that we preached? Were we, a new employer in the area, going to have the ability to provide the necessary PPE while the nationwide supply was dwindling?”
Laurel and her team strove to maintain open channels of communication, sending daily emails and holding weekly town halls, and they set up enhanced sanitization protocols to take on the challenge of the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases.
“And then it got a lot more personal,” said Laurel. “It started with a cough. Nothing deep. Just a cough. Maybe a little chest tightness, but I could explain that away with the cough.”
Then the symptoms worsened. She contacted her doctor and was tested the same day. That test, as expected, was positive.
Time seemed to stop.
Her first thought was “How could I have gotten COVID-19?”
Running through all the possible scenarios, she was in a unique position of having to think about not only the personal implications and how to protect her family but also what this would mean for her as CEO of an inpatient rehabilitation hospital.
“Now being in a very different place – not just as a leader who had to bring my team through this, but as a patient – all of the news and data were scary. I couldn’t run from it. I had to lead through it.”
That initial fear then turned into action.
“I couldn't run from it. I had to lead through it.”
“My strategic brain kicked on and said, ‘Now, what do I do from here?”
Fulfilling her obligations as CEO, she immediately informed her employees. “We had already implemented full-time masking and distancing and – again – the process had worked. No one else became ill. We had kept each other safe. That built trust.”
Her focus quickly shifted to her family, including her husband and three kids, and her own personal healthy and recovery, with the next six weeks presenting a myriad of symptoms and a fever that wouldn’t break. For the first three weeks, just walking from the bed to the bathroom was a challenge. After five weeks of separation from her family, she was able to reintegrate. Progress was slow. Everyday tasks at home were difficult and led to shortness of breath.
“Whatever happens to you happens, but the difference is taking the next step, even if the next step is sitting on the edge of the bed by yourself.”
“It took me six weeks to stop running a fever. I still have symptoms. I still have not completely recovered,” Laurel said, and after that six-week period of acute infection and partial recovery, her functional recovery began to plateau.
She contacted friends, her employees and professionals she knew operating in facilities partnered with Northshore, which is part of Select Medical, to ask for advice.
“Together, with everyone’s different level of expertise, I was on a path to build my endurance and improve my function back to my previous level.”
After her experience and speaking from her unique, dichotomous perspective as both a patient and medical rehabilitation leader, Laurel said, “I have a special place in my heart for any COVID recovery patient who can make it to us, and to watch them go from that rolling in day to watching them walking down the hall with therapy. It’s just such a unique and beneficial part of the continuum.”
With the interdisciplinary, patient-focused approach offered by inpatient medical rehabilitation playing an increasingly important role in COVID-19 recovery, Laurel underscores the immense benefits of this type of care, saying, “There is nowhere better to get as much functional recovery in such a short period of time than inpatient rehab.”
“As the CEO to step back and watch every single person giving their part and how they integrate from OT to PT to speech therapy to nursing to the physicians to the case managers, and all of these people fighting for this patient in the same direction, it truly warms my heart.”
“There is nowhere better to get as much functional recovery in such a short period of time than inpatient rehab.”
In a year characterized by seemingly insurmountable odds, rapidly changing circumstances and great uncertainty, Laurel lives by a simple mantra: “One doesn’t drown by falling into the river but by staying submerged in it.”
For her, that means “You just can’t give up. Just keep going. Whatever happens to you happens, but the difference is taking the next step, even if the next step is sitting on the edge of the bed by yourself.”
And although this year has brought fear and even vulnerability into our lives, from personal experience Laurel remains confident in not only her and her team’s ability but humanity’s ability to “deal with the COVID situation stronger together.”
Learn more about Northshore Rehabilitation Hospital and its role as an essential step in the continuum of care.
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