'Lives in our hands:' Cape Fear Chief Nursing Officer talks preparations for COVID-19 in Cumberland County

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Cape Fear Health, like other health systems across the nation, remains on high alert amid its first patient testing positive for COVID-19 Monday.

ABC11 had the opportunity to discuss the current coronavirus pandemic with Cape Fear Health Chief Nursing Officer Susan Dees.

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Dees oversees more than 1,000 nurses at their main medical center, where she's worked for nearly 30 years.

In that time, the longtime nurse said they've seen many viruses come through their doors; but none of them have brought the amount of fear that they're seeing now.

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"Not knowing exactly what it is and how it's spreading and what we can do to stop it. Every day is something different," Dees said.

Dees said the ever-evolving information on COVID-19 creates a lot of uncertainty on how to correctly approach the situation.

"We have peoples's lives in our hands every day."

For three weeks, Dees and other Cape Fear Health leaders have been holding daily meetings, making sure they're up-to-date on the latest CDC guidelines and have every precaution in place to protect their staff and patients.

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"We knew it was coming; we just didn't know when it was coming," Dees said.

The health system confirmed its first patient Monday, giving medical personnel the chance to practice what they've been preaching.

"Now, it's here. Let's roll on and continue to do what we're going to do, because we're going to care for every patient," Dees said.

According to Cumberland County, there have been five total COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday evening.

The Chief Nursing Officer said their first diagnosed patient gave officials a foundation to approach future cases, along with having a better understanding of what symptoms to look for in individuals.

Now, the health system awaits future cases, while also making sure its team has the necessary protective equipment.

In recent days, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center has received thousands of N-95 mask donations.

Members of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church donated 3,000 masks on Tuesday afternoon, providing CDC certified protection to staff.

Dees said it's about protecting the nurses that are on the front line, treating these people with the virus.

"They are one of our greatest commodity. I mean, we have to make sure that they're here and they're coming. Every day, they come in and give it their all," Dees said.
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