‘You chose to stay at UMMC, and that speaks volumes’Published on Monday, May 1, 2023By: Ruth CumminsSome of the 69 Adult Emergency Department employees who stayed on the job during the entire course of the pandemic attended an April 26 recognition ceremony.During the most terrifying and trying days of COVID-19, a small group of caregivers in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Adult Emergency Department didn’t retreat.From the minute UMMC received its first pandemic patient in March 2020 until the virus loosened its grip on the state, 69 employees giving direct treatment to all comers kept the faith, some of them working 10 to 12 shifts over a 14-day stretch.Sherry Riser, nurse manager in the Adult ED, thanks her frontline staff for their loyalty and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.“We lost a lot of staff, yet you chose to stay at UMMC, and that speaks volumes,” Sherry Riser, an Adult ED nurse manager, told that select group during a recognition ceremony April 26 in the School of Medicine.“But what I appreciate the most is the loyalty you had, not just to the organization, but to each other.”UMMC’s top leaders came together to express their appreciation and thanks to the Adult ED physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and technicians who gave their all to COVID patients for two-plus long years. Those who stayed through Jan. 1 of this year are “a very special group of people,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.In a time of overwhelming fear and uncertainty, “you personally had family affected,” Woodward said. “It was a tough, tough, tough time, but the people in this room are tough.Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs, hugs Dr. Jonah Gunalda, an emergency medicine physician.“You put the patient first.”Among those honored with a specially designed patch was Dr. Jonah Gunalda, associate professor of emergency medicine.“I went into medicine to help people, but I felt like I was spinning my wheels, not able to provide more than supportive care – oxygen, antibiotics, putting them on a breathing machine,” Gunalda said. “There were days I was tempted to feel like the work was meaningless, but then I had to remember the patients we were able to help.”He stayed the course, Gunalda said, “because when I said yes to this job, I said yes to a pandemic, and yes to the next pandemic. I take care of whatever walks in the door. I can’t cherry-pick.”Being able to meet the challenge head on, Gunalda said, “speaks to the resilience of the training for emergency medicine. We often have long days, long shifts, very sick patients. Any shift, pandemic or no pandemic, can be exhausting. A lot was being asked of us.Dr. Kendall McKenzie, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, expresses his appreciation for Adult ED frontline staff during an April 26 recognition ceremony.“We are called to put our heads down and grit our teeth and come to work and take care of our patients. It makes me really proud of our department, our staff and our trainees.”The ED team is led by Dr. Kendall McKenzie, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine and a military veteran who’s been deployed multiple times to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. He joined Riser and Woodward in calling up each honoree to receive the patch designed by Riser and another ED nurse leader, Laura Watrous. The patch is blue, white, red and yellow and is embellished with icons representing resilience, excellence and courage.“From a military perspective, I want you to recognize the significance of a patch,” McKenzie told them. “There are patches that are earned, and this one is earned. It shows you are part of a very small group of individuals.”Clinical pharmacist Stephanie Tesseneer, right, receives a commemorative patch from Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs, during a ceremony to recognize Adult ED staff who stayed on the job for the duration of the pandemic.Like the physicians and nurses around her, clinical pharmacist Stephanie Tesseneer made the best decisions she could with the limited – and frequently changing – knowledge of the COVID-19 virus in its earliest days.In the Emergency Department and as supervisor of all ICU pharmacists, Tesseneer helped keep the front line up to date on the most recent and effective drugs to combat the virus. And although she could have left for a pharmacy job that wouldn’t put her in the midst of COVID patients, she stayed for the long run.“It would have felt like abandoning my team to leave,” said Tesseneer, a UMMC employee for 16 years, a decade of that in the ED. “At the time, that was where I was most needed. That’s why I’m an ICU and ED pharmacist.”Read about the personal stories of some of the Adult Emergency Department staff here.