Spirits were high at Yuma Regional Medical Center Friday as staff prepared to send patient Alfonso Porchas-Silva on his way home under code Yuma Strong, the hospital’s new overhead code for discharges of COVID-19 patients.

“There’s so much wrapped up in what’s going on with COVID-19,” said Erin Brandt, director of patient experience and care advocacy. “We often hear the numbers about how many infections we have in the county and how many unfortunate deaths that we’ve had — this is really a way to paint the picture of the positive (side). And I think it’s not only fantastic for our patients, it’s fantastic for our staff.”

According to Brandt, when a COVID-19 patient is preparing to be transported out of the hospital, staff now have the ability to call a code Yuma Strong over the intercom system, indicating that in 15 minutes a patient will be passing through the lobby on their way out the door and toward home. So when Porchas-Silva prepared to be discharged Friday evening, staff gathered around to cheer him on and celebrate the reunion unfolding as his family got to embrace him for the first time since his admission to YRMC weeks ago.

“Everyone needs to hear these stories of hope and it’s important for staff to be able to communicate how happy we are for these patients as they have been on this journey, we’ve been holding their hand through this fight (and) we are there with them as they get to leave our facility as well,” said Brandt. “It was probably one of the most touching moments I have had in the job that I have right now. (Porchas Silva) had a long stay with us and...even though we are absolutely encouraging (families) to use virtual visits and to communicate via phones and other things, it’s not quite the same as human touch, so getting to see that moment between the family was what brought tears to so many of our eyes.”

According to intensive care unit (ICU) nurse Rachel Turman, who was among those who cared for Porchas Silva during his stay, there’s nothing bittersweet about it — it’s all just sweet.

“I was honored to witness and be a part of his care,” said Turman. “Watching him overcome all the obstacles that he did in his battle against COVID-19 and win, it was amazing. Not everybody gets to walk out, and seeing him get to walk out and go live his life is a feeling beyond words. He had a whole team fighting to save his life — good doctors and nurses, respiratory therapists, nurse assistants. I do not wish to ever see him again in my unit, I wish him all good things in life.”

According to Turman, sending Porchas Silva on his way Friday evening was a beautifully rewarding experience, as working in the ICU has been especially difficult in recent days while nurses continue fighting to nurse patients back to health and start them on the road to recovery.

“These patients are spending a lot of time intubated and at any moment they can go downhill, and weeks later they’re still intubated and you’re spending days and days and days fighting to save their life,” Turman said. You get your days off and you come back to the hospital and they’re still here, still fighting for their life. It’s been really difficult, physically and emotionally exhausting. I just hope everybody continues doing their part in preventing the spread. Even though we have an amazing team, we can’t win this battle on our own.”

Amanda Sharpensteen, a nurse in the hospital’s COVID-19 unit, shares a similar testimonial.

“There’s a lot of people that you have (as patients) that are really, really sick and requiring really long hospital stays, and when you get to discharge them home it’s such a positive thing,” she said. “You finally get that good feeling, the reason why you’re going through the stress. It’s nice having these codes to signify that patients are going home a lot better. A lot of the nurses needed that little boost, that hope, that reason you show up for work every day. Many of us cried, because it was just so happy to see.”

Collectively, YRMC staff express gratitude for the support they’ve received from the community in recent months, drawing inspiration from the circulating hashtag #YumaStrong as they continue manning the frontlines of COVID-19 locally.

“We’ve been inspired by our community because of the enormous show of support that we’ve had over the last two months,” Brandt said. “We’ve seen the hashtag and it’s not just us using it, it’s the community using it, and I think it just demonstrates the real spirit of Yuma.”

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