SILVERDALE — In big blue letters slung over the parking garage railing at St. Michael Medical Center, Kelsay Irby and her daughter, Mecca, had a simple message for hospital workers there.
“KEEP UP THE FIGHT HEROES,” their letters, posted Tuesday, read.
Beset by a staffing shortage and a surge of patients suffering from COVID-19, staff at St. Michael, which includes the county’s emergency room and trauma center, is beyond stressed, Irby said.
She would know. She’s been an ER nurse at St. Michael since January 2020, mere weeks before the global pandemic began.
“We’re seeing more and more and more sick people with less and less and less resources,” she said in an interview with the Kitsap Sun.
The sign, however, didn’t last long. Officials at the hospital asked Irby and her daughter to take it down and told her she’d need a permit to hang one. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which manages the hospital, said in a statement that its policy “is to review and approve all signs before they can be posted and any sign that does not go through this process, even if we fully support the message, will be taken down, as was the case in this instance.”
“We cannot thank our dedicated, selfless, and talented team members enough for the exceptional care they continue to provide during these unprecedented times,” officials said.
Irby wishes she could’ve kept the sign posted. But she also hopes for something else: that those seeking care for less serious health problems would choose another venue, such as urgent care facilities around Kitsap, than the emergency room to seek help.
“We’re constantly understaffed,” she said. “But to make matters worse, we have a lot of people that come to the ER that are not emergency patients. Even those coming in to get a COVID test. Those people just bog the department down.”
It was her daughter, Mecca, 16, who noticed in Irby’s fatigue of working in the ER each day, the opportunity to “do something nice” for her and her coworkers. So they made the sign in an effort to reinforce the staff’s resolve.
“Some of us are trying to be creative in the ways we support each other,” she said.
The St. Michael emergency room was moved to Silverdale from the longtime Harrison Medical Center campus in East Bremerton in December 2020. Irby said the transition to a new facility had its share of growing pains.
“It was a move to a new house, and everybody has a different idea what drawer the spatula should go in,” she said.
But she spoke highly of her colleagues and the emergency room’s leadership, which she said was pulling shifts on the front lines to help ease the strain of the staffing shortage. It’s been even tougher to watch as so many unvaccinated residents fill the hospital, she noted — people who could’ve likely avoided hospitalization if they’d taken one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“My coworkers are amazing people,” she said. “But we’re overwhelmed, burned out, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.”
This story has been corrected to reflect the correct phrase posted at the parking garage.
Josh Farley is a reporter covering the military and health care for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-9227, [email protected] or on Twitter at @joshfarley.