Locals 2020: Frontlines: MRH’s Joan Hillewaert serves her community in tough times
Joan Hillewaert is a nurse in the COVID-19 unit at Memorial Regional Health hospital. A Craig native, She has worked for the hospital for 22 years. Hillewaert has an interesting career path, starting as an EMT before spending the last 10 years as a nurse.
Hillewaert who suffered from COVID, is working with patients as they try to recover from the respiratory disease. She said that she had mild symptoms for a few days, including a loss of smell, burning in her throat and her chest.
She and her colleagues at the hospital work 12-hour shifts since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Hillewaert’s days in the COVID unit are varied but they all begin with the same routine.
“You gotta put all your protective gear on, you get reports, you get a certain amount of patients, you have to monitor them and help them with whatever is happening with them,” she said. “Some patients are really struggling and you work hand in hand with respiratory therapy, the doctors, the social workers. All of these people are so important, so you kind of have to go patient by patient and work with each one of these therapists or whatever to hopefully make these patients better.”
Earlier this year when cases of COVID-19 were reaching historic levels around the country, Moffat County was seeing low numbers of cases. Whereas now, the cases have finally started to rise in Moffat County, something that Hillewaert attributes to the rural landscape. She also notes that illnesses always take a long time to come to rural areas like Craig because of the wide open landscape.
“We have good, clean air, we have good community support, we have loving neighbors and friends,” she said, “All those things that keep your spirits up and that helps in the long run. With anything, cold, flu etc…I think it takes longer to go to the rural area.”
As cases go up, Memorial Regional Health continues to face challenges with the number of beds available. Hillewaert, however, is confident her colleagues at the hospital will care in the best way possible for their community. “I trust that we have a good team working on it,” she said, “We have people getting supplies that we need. We have a lot of support from our leaders, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacy — all of those people are putting their best foot forward. So I feel like we probably will be OK.”
She continually credits everybody at the hospital from the administration to her colleagues in the COVID unit to the pharmacists and the people who bring them the materials.
“First thing in the morning, pharmacy brings all the medicine we need. Respiratory is a huge point, they have a monitor in their area and ours and they are able to see if we are having issues with breathing and stuff. So, I feel like that is a huge big deal, administration’s really helped a lot formulating this unit and making sure it runs smoothly.”
Death is always hard for those who are left behind. That is especially true in a small town like Craig, anytime let alone during a global pandemic. The death faced every day by those in the medical fields can be a very mentally and emotionally taxing experience.
“Especially growing up here, you meet so many people and it’s hard to see people suffering and hurting and that is the hardest part.” She said, “It has been hard because the families haven’t been able to be there, are not able to be there, supporting their loved ones. So, not only are you a nurse but you have to fill that gap and do the best you can helping them mentally. That is really hard, I feel for the family members, I feel for the patients.”
Joan Hillewaert does have advice for those in the community on how to protect themselves from the virus. She says, “I’m a believer in getting your vitamin D levels up, working on your immune systems, stay hydrated, get lots of rest, wash your hands, good cough hygiene, wash all that; fresh air, sunshine. A good positive attitude, don’t assume that if you get this you’re dead, live today, be happy, and enjoy your loved ones. I think whether it’s a disease that might kill you or you get hit by a car, you need to be happy.”
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