Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19 – Chantelle Crowe

“There was a strong sense of us all working really hard together in Causeway Hospital as one big team.”

Chantelle Crowe has been a Deputy Ward Manager in the Acute Elder Care and Stroke Rehabilitation Unit in Causeway Hospital for almost three years and is one of the Northern Trust’s participants on the Nightingale Challenge.

In our series of weekly Northern Trust Nightingale Blogs, Chantelle reflects on her role and leadership skills during the Covid-19 pandemic – and how she had to step up.

She also highlights the importance of celebrating moments of success.


Chantelle Crowe, Deputy Ward ManagerDeveloping as a leader

2020 was declared the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife by the World Health Organisation and I was delighted to have been nominated onto the Northern Trust Nightingale Challenge Programme. But did I ever think I would be taking on this new leadership challenge and nursing through a pandemic? Honestly, I never thought I would have seen anything like this in my career and hopefully will not have to go through this again in my lifetime. But it has been really important to take some time to reflect on the year so far and acknowledge how I have developed as a leader and also acknowledge what we have achieved as a team during really uncertain and anxious times.

I started my nursing career as a staff nurse in a medical ward and admissions unit and have been working as a Deputy Ward Manager in the Acute Elder Care and Stroke Rehabilitation Unit in Causeway Hospital for almost three years now. At the beginning of the Nightingale Challenge, I was looking forward to the Northern Nightingales Programme and all the activities planned. I was eager to learn how I could develop my leadership skills and how to cope better with the challenges I am faced with in my job role and as a leader.

I have witnessed various leadership styles during my nursing career. Working on a multi-disciplinary led ward, we very much believe that collective leadership is key in achieving the best outcomes for our patients. An acknowledgement of this successful leadership strategy is that Causeway Stroke Services have excelled to a Level B in the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (a major national healthcare quality Improvement programme) and this has been made possible by effective work and communication across the whole of the multi-disciplinary team. Within each individual team I see the need for a compassionate manager. It is important for managers to see opinions and rationales from different perspectives. I feel that compassionate leaders are more approachable and supportive to all their staff members, and this was reaffirmed during my experience over the last few months.

Strong sense of team working

During the COVID-19 surge, our ward was identified for patients with COVID-19 requiring palliative care treatment and end of life care. This changed the dynamic of our ward with our patients requiring a higher level of care. Our workforce was also affected as some staff had to stay off to shield and, unfortunately, some of our staff contracted the virus and were off sick also. As a result, I had to step up my leadership skills, and for a period I had to act as ward manager. I really got my eyes opened to the workload which our ward manager has to contend with and the responsibility this job role involves, and it really made me appreciate the added extras she does behind the scene. As you can imagine, to begin with there were high levels of anxiety in our team regarding contracting COVID-19, and the impact this would have on our team workforce. I had to reassure the team and ensure they were receiving all the relevant information that was available to us as health care professionals. This included information on Personal Protective Equipment and ensuring the team felt safe and adequately protected. We also received great support from our lead nurses and the Infection Prevention and Control Link Nurses. I feel that there was also enhanced relationships and communication with Patient Flow and Emergency Department staff in order to co-ordinate the right patient to the right bed at the right time, and there was a strong sense of us all working really hard together in the Causeway Hospital as one big team.

To help out with the increased care our patients required, and due to the impact on our team workforce as a result of Covid, we had a number of staff redeployed to our ward during this time. This was an opportunity to create new networks and shared learning. My role involved ensuring these new staff members were well supported as many of them hadn’t worked in a ward setting in quite some time – but they all settled into ward life extremely well and we will always remain beyond grateful for their help at this time. It really meant a lot to receive positive feedback from these staff members with many of them commenting on how they enjoyed the experience of being on the ward, the new skills they learnt and the support which they received from all of us as a team.

As a Stroke and Frailty ward, our care is very much multi-disciplinary led. Our team of nurses have a vast experience in caring for patients at the end of life, however, the new dynamic of caring for patients with COVID-19, meant we had to increase our knowledge on the effects of this new virus and learn more about symptom management control. We quickly developed a supportive and resourceful network with our medical and nursing colleagues in palliative care.

Establishing relationships with our patients and their relatives is an important part of nursing care, and particularly end of life care. One of the things that really impacted our staff emotionally was that visiting was not permitted during this time. We had to quickly adapt to a new way of communicating with relatives rather than face to face. Our ward received a mobile phone in order for staff to make video calls between patients and relatives. This was so beneficial to all involved, and a lot of relatives commented on how this gave them peace of mind that their loved ones were being well cared for and it helped them to cope with the reality that they could not visit them. However, for some patients who have a cognitive impairment, it was often hard for them to understand and engage on digital platforms and we had to work around their needs to get the best out of these moments of connection with their loved ones.

Connection through shared worries

Both myself and my husband are key workers and during this pandemic, like many others, we were faced with childcare challenges. My childminder had her own challenges to deal with and this meant she had to decrease the days she could provide childminding for my family. I was juggling child care between family members and a childminder; this gave me such a huge sense of guilt that really impacted on me at times. I often worried that I could be carrying COVID-19 into my home and then my child could be carrying this onto those looking after her. As like many other parents, I was extremely anxious, but I gained support from those who I worked with as we shared our worries. I learnt that it’s really good to talk! We often might not find the answer but we develop a connection through our shared worries and it helps with distressing. I also think that parents who have children of school age and were expected to work and home school deserve a huge pat on the back!

I have felt hugely overwhelmed with the support of the public with the gifts that were sent to the ward for staff and patients, the generosity of shops for priority shopping and discounts and for the 10 weeks of Clap for Carers. Each and every little thing makes you feel appreciated and got us all through so much of this. I also received a few cards from friends and my minister (who was a tremendous support, always checking in with me). I placed the cards on my mantel piece; they were a much needed encouragement during the ‘bad days’. It might sound silly, but I really enjoyed the hot shower after finishing each shift. It allowed me time to reflect on the day and process all that happened. It gave me a sense of relief that I had made it safely through another shift and the welcome feeling of psychologically washing all my worries of the virus away down the plug hole, knowing that I would soon be home, on the sofa in my pyjamas with a nice cup of tea after a long day.

It’s also important to celebrate the moments of success. From over 700 entries in the whole of the UK, my ward has been short listed for an RCNi 2020 award, a happy ending to the first wave of COVID-19. I am so proud of each and every member of my team. I am inspired to be like our Ward Manager, Siobhan Blair, who has led us to this great achievement.

Chantelle Crowe, Deputy Ward Manager
Acute Elder Care and Stroke Rehabilitation Unit, Causeway Hospital, Coleraine

Chantelle is one of 27 nurses and midwives taking part in the Nightingale Challenge launched by Nursing Now – a programme of the Burdett Trust for Nursing to improve health globally in collaboration with the International Council of Nursing and the World Health Organisation.  The campaign encourages healthcare employers to support at least 20 nurses and midwives to develop their leadership skills during the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

@nhsctrust #NorthernNightingales
@NursingNow2020 #NursingNowNI #NightingaleChallenge

Other Northern Trust Nightingale Blogs

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Nursing Sister
Judith Shevlin, Community Mental Health Nurse
Denise O’Donnell, Acting Ward Manager, Covid-19 assessment ward

Eleni McCrea, Community Midwife, Whiteabbey Hospital
Stacey Barclay, Midwife, C2, Antrim Area Hospital
Vanessa Best, Community Mental Health Nurse, Oakview House
Kirsty Wallace, Staff Nurse, Antrim Area Hospital
Christine Beare, Staff Nurse, Neonatal, Antrim Area Hospital
Laura Smith, Midwife, Causeway Hospital, Coleraine

Mandy Young, Deputy Sister, Laurel House Chemotherapy Unit, Antrim
Nerell Browne, Practice Development Nurse, REaCH Team, Northern Trust

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

3rd September 2020

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