WELLSBORO — Four essential workers at UPMC Wellsboro feel they are well prepared to handle situations during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a phone interview, employees from environmental services, nursing and respiratory therapy talked about how they worked through the pandemic.

All said they had to adapt to change, but felt safe, well-prepared and able to navigate the changing environment.

Lorene West, a housekeeper for 19 years, said her daughter asked her to stop working in the emergency department.

“But I put her mind at rest,” said West. “I’m doing exactly what I was told to do and I feel safe.”

Tim Harding, also with environmental services, said there was a little fear as the pandemic began. As he observed how UPMC established safety protocols and staff followed them, “I feel actually safer here than I would outside” the hospital walls, said Harding.

Safety protocols continued to evolve throughout the issues and training was ongoing, said nurse Deb Cuda. Preparations began before self-quarantining started. The biggest change may have been how hospital staff worked to meet the emotional needs of patients when visitors were prohibited.

“You don’t realize how lonely that is until the person you want sitting beside you can’t be there,” Cuda said, adding nurses brought a cupcake and balloons to a patient who celebrated a 96th birthday in the hospital.

Patient care also evolved, said respiratory therapy supervisor Jack Kliniewski. For example, at the start of the pandemic, the procedure was to intubate coronavirus patients immediately, placing an tube through the mouth and then into the airway so the patient could be placed on a ventilator.

“Now that is not the case,” Kliniewski said.

Instead, patients are housed in a negative air-flow room and non-invasive therapies are used, which improved outcomes without the extreme measures.

The coronavirus emphasized the need to be careful and follow protocol, said employees.

“This is no different than any other disease or illness,” Cuda said. “Take the precautions that are in place, wear your personal protective equipment. Take your uniform off when you get home and make sure you wash it. Get a shower before interacting with your family. All those things are things you should be doing every day and not right at this moment.”

Plus it’s OK to ask for a little extra help.

“I pray every morning before I go in the door to keep us safe,” said West. “You have to have faith.”

Everyone in the interview spoke about how moved they were by the community support parade on April 9.

“It was fantastic,” said Kliniewski. “The staff continually talk about how the town came together and showed us their appreciation for us and us of them. We were really moved by it.”

When the coronavirus runs its course, each person will take something away from the event.

“In emergency management, I see a need to revamp the process from the federal level all the way across the board to be better prepared,” Kliniewski said. “In the fall there may be a resurgence. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

All four employees felt the hospital was prepared to handle the pandemic.

“Our generation has never seen this before,” Cuda said. “The last was the Spanish flu. Here we are 100 years later and we’ve come a long way. We had the ability to be prepared better as we are rural and we learned a lot. As we start to see progressions in new technology, it will keep us safer in the long run.”

It took a village — or an entire hospital — of people working together to be effective, said Harding.

“We’re all different departments, but we’re all one team,” he said. “We work with nurses, nurses work with us. Everything went super smooth.”