The Healthcare Executive Forum (HEF) of Western New York is very proud to recognize and award the following amazing individual as a “WNY Frontline Hero.”
Kim Winde: More Than a Triage Nurse
“We are really full-on triage nurses,” explains Kim Winde, sharing that after years as Admissions Director dealing with the already difficult task of figuring out how best to admit patients in distress ‘by phone’ to Western New York’s top mental health facility, BryLin Behavioral Health System, that she now also has to ascertain if they also pose a COVID risk. “We need to do a quick, but thorough, phone triage to see if they can safely come here on their own, often involving crisis services when they can’t—posing additional risks to others during the pandemic,” says Kim.
At a time when events like those in Rochester, NY and across the country are sparking a national debate on how best to handle those facing various states of mental challenges, especially during COVID, Kim Winde and her team are at the funnel’s end, taking in patients from all over WNY facing a broad array of mental health issues. This includes patients sent directly from all the area hospitals which are often not equipped to help. Kim admits, “I can’t always rely on patients to get to BryLin safely on their own.” Then, even when they do, it is not always easy to have them have their temperature checked, have them answer basic COVID check questions, and make sure staff and others in their hospital can remain safely protected from the virus. She therefore had to act fast at the beginning of the pandemic to reach out to all her caregiver partners across many different systems to find ways to smoothly assess and transfer patients with minimum risk. As an 11-year veteran leading BryLin’s Admissions team, and a registered nurse who oversees 8 other nurses and 5 administrative staff, Kim is the right person at the perfect time. She has elevated her game and risen to the challenge of keeping everyone in Western New York that much safer by creating systems to minimize risk for behavioral health patients and getting them the help they need, ultimately minimizing opportunities for spread.
“We are not an emergency room, but basically we are almost acting like that now, taking calls from patients directly, other hospitals, doctors offices, crisis services and many other organizations,” says Kim. “We do our best to treat each patient as an individual, quickly screening them, and getting them the help they need by putting them in front of our physicians.” Kim says patients can be in various states, making it hard to assess if they might have been recently exposed to COVID. “We have those that have overdosed, those dealing with depression, and others just finding it difficult to communicate; but if they can’t answer our questions about COVID exposure, we can’t really admit them, so we have to find ways to help them answer,” noted Kim.
With the help of BryLin physicians and her staff, Kim was proud to introduce a comprehensive quick COVID phone and fax tool that she could send to other facilities to help teach them to effectively screen and assist patients, keeping her BryLin family safe. “We don’t have emergency rooms or formal medical isolation areas at BryLin, so it’s hard to keep everyone separated. That’s why we needed to have better triage from the beginning. If we can’t get the information we need from our patients, we have to direct them first to special isolation areas in other facilities’ emergency rooms, and then work carefully to support those staff to help the behavioral health patients, which is a change for us,” says Kim.
One thing that has made a big emotional impact on Kim and all staff at BryLin during the pandemic has been the skyrocketing numbers of young adults and children they have been seeing.
“The biggest hardship for me and my coworkers is keeping up our resiliency through all this,…we all have families, so keeping ‘balance’ has been the biggest struggle.”
“The biggest hardship for me and my coworkers is keeping up our resiliency through all this,” says Kim. “We all have families, so keeping ‘balance’ has been the biggest struggle.” Kim explains that she normally works the daytime shift, but decided to work evenings to be with her kids at home. She says her staff has been flexible as well, pulling together to balance everyone’s specific family situations. “What has made me the proudest is how everyone has been so flexible and resilient,” says Kim. “Keeping people safe has given us all reassurance. For my kids, seeing that mom is ‘OK,’ I have watched them become more resilient too.”
It has also been hard for Kim to change her routine of 11 years, in the face of COVID. “I am a big planner. I meet deadlines, I am organized, but since the pandemic, I have learned that I can actually change quickly to get through when I am faced with a big challenge like this for which you can’t plan. I have gained confidence in myself,” says Kim. “Without planning, I am amazed at how I have been able to still think on-the-fly and overcome challenges.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, BryLin had to shut out visitors, which Kim says was difficult because visitation had always been fairly wide open to encourage patients to be with friends and family. She explained that all throughout the pandemic, there were people that wanted and needed to be with their loved ones. Kim says that when it seemed the state would give the OK, she arranged to meet with all the hospital’s directors and everyone key to the process, quickly forming a screening tool with a safety-conscious rigorous process for visitors that is akin to patient screening. “Now that we recently just implemented visiting hours, having face-to-face visitation has definitely helped our patients so much. Adapting to the situation, we are now screening visitors as intensely as we do our patients, putting them in our systems and protocols, keeping everyone safe. So that has helped our patients and their families to feel better, especially our young patients, to have their loved ones come visit. That is definitely a big deal,” says Kim. She noted that for many of the kids, it is their first hospitalization, and in the beginning it was so hard to have to tell them, “You can’t see your parents or family at all.”
“I am very conscious of how they are feeling. I am constantly checking in and asking ‘How do you feel? Are you feeling lonely?’…it really hits homE”
Through this process, Kim believes she has learned much about her own children. She says, “Now I am very conscious of how they are feeling. I am constantly checking in and asking ‘How do you feel? Are you feeling lonely?’” Kim realizes this must also be the case with everyone on her team and at the hospital, people that are extremely attuned to how people are feeling. She senses how difficult it must be for BryLin staff to focus on patients during work, while often not having time or the same amount of focus on their own family members. “For all my staff, it really hits home,” Kim says.
When asked what she would say to healthcare leaders in Western New York facing the challenges of COVID, Kim says, “Nobody can do this alone, it really takes a team.” When asked to give a message to others on the front line throughout the area facing similar challenges, Kim says that there are many people that have jobs which put them much closer to the COVID virus than her, and that they are the real heroes. Kim says, “They are looking COVID in the eye. To them, I would say a big thank you…thank you! We really need to let them know how thankful we all are.”