Not the Cruise Anyone Signed Up For

Kathy Van Dusen used this doffing station while deployed to a quarantine center for cruise ship passengers set up at an air base in California in March 2020.
Kathy Van Dusen used this doffing station while deployed to a quarantine center for cruise ship passengers set up at a Marine Corps base in California in March 2020.

Kathy Van Dusen
Kathy Van Dusen

The first recorded COVID-19 death in California was a 75-year-old cruise ship passenger.

But he was not the only COVID-19 victim aboard the Grand Princess when it departed for a 15-day cruise to Hawaii on Feb. 21, 2020.

By early March, the luxury cruise ship was headed to Oakland, California, for a mandatory 14-day quarantine for its 3,500 passengers.

Emergency nurse Kathy Van Dusen was deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar with a National Disaster Medical System team to run one of four quarantine centers for the passengers. She volunteered to lead a five-member team caring for 250 passengers confined to a hastily vacated base hotel surrounded by fencing and armed guards, no staff and virtually no supplies.

While the hotel’s front desk was equipped with computers, Van Dusen and her team were not allowed to use them.

“After 20 years as an ED nurse, I knew we could make it work,” said Van Dusen, California ENA State Council president and a clinical practice specialist at the American Association for Critical-Care Nurses. “As a charge nurse, you develop leadership skills. The most important one is knowing that you will be given opportunities, but you must take that first step and volunteer.”

As part of yesterday’s Live Program at Emergency Nursing 2021, Van Dusen explored the leadership skills needed to launch a COVID-19 quarantine operation during Pandemic At Sea—Not The Cruise I Signed Up For.

Multiple nurses in the audience also had connections to the quarantined passengers of the Grand Princess.

Mindy Elayda, president of ENA’s Sacramento Chapter, indicated the Northern California medical center where she works treated one of the passengers. Wendy Wheeler, a critical care transport nurse from Connecticut, was on the air medical team that took them to the quarantine centers.

“Our teams worked hard and together to help as best we could,” Wheeler said in the live chat.

Many people don’t realize how tired and frustrated the passengers were when they were let off the ship, she noted.

Van Dusen’s initial challenge was organization. Her team was running a hotel with 250 guests, and none of them had any hotel experience. Locked out of the hotel computer system, they organized operations around four problem-area clipboards: missing luggage, missing medications, maintenance problems and tracking guests.

“With age comes health problems and multiple medications, and these passengers had nothing more than the clothes on their backs and their carry-on luggage — and most didn’t have medications in their carry-ons,” she said. “Their luggage was scattered across quarantine centers in Northern California, Texas and Georgia.”

Missing luggage and medications were only the beginning. There was no provision for meal service and too little toilet paper for the next 24 hours, much less 14 days.

“There was plenty to complain about, but the leader sets the tone for the team,” Van Dusen said. “Dwelling on the negative doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Being a transformational leader does.”

That means encouraging, motivating and empowering the team. One team member was a former police officer with lock-picking skills and tools. When he volunteered to open locked storage rooms to search for supplies, Van Dusen made a quick decision.

Decision-making is a process, she said. One must identify alternatives, evaluate them, weigh the potential costs and benefits, then pick an option.

“You won’t always be right,” Van Dusen cautioned. “You won’t always have the information you need — or the resources.”

Gaining access to the storage rooms proved to be the right choice. Opening the unlocked doors revealed a treasure trove of toilet paper and the other needed supplies.

“If you want to be a leader, step in and lead,” Van Dusen said. “Become a transformation leader who uses sound decision-making. Develop emotional intelligence and recognize the emotional impact of what you do on the people you service, on your team and on yourself.”

EN21 session recordings will be available for on-demand viewing on the virtual meeting platform through Jan. 31.