Nurse and volunteer Kim Daly brings hope and help to patients in makeshift COVID-19 hospital

May 5, 2020

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On June 2, Boston Hope was able to proudly discharge its last COVID-19 patients with a celebratory clap out and close its doors.

“The patients and staff were high-fiving and cheering on their way out and that is not how they came in a month ago,” Kim says. “We treated approximately 750 patients over those 12 weeks, and not one patient died. Those numbers could have been drastically different, but a lot of very dedicated people stepped up to help. It reminds you that there are always people willing to help and do what’s right — and that’s the best part of humanity.”

Moving forward, patients who test positive will be treated at local area hospitals. The Boston Hope field hospital will remain prepared for operation if necessary.

In response to the pandemic, Merck has changed its volunteer policy to support employees like Kim with nursing and other medical backgrounds. Recognizing the need for additional health care professionals, including doctors, nurses and medical laboratory technicians, to assist in regions where COVID-19 is spreading, on March 21 the company deployed a new program to enable our medically trained employees to volunteer their time to aid their communities while maintaining their base pay.

Kim is a charge nurse at Boston Hope Medical Center, located in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center

It’s been 16 years since Kim Daly worked as a practicing nurse, but watching the news and hearing devastating stories about the COVID-19 pandemic called her back to the hospital. In April, Kim, regional medical director, vaccine implementation and scientific engagement, returned to nursing at Boston Hope hospital as part of Merck’s COVID-19 medical volunteer program.

Kim, who is a licensed registered nurse and nurse practitioner, says she was somewhat worried about jumping back into inpatient work but immediately realized: “It’s a lot like riding a bike. You definitely don’t lose the skills.” Kim helped inaugurate Boston Hope hospital; she started working there the day after the Massachusetts National Guard opened the hospital on April 10 and quickly became charge nurse for her “pod” of 40 recovering COVID-19 patients. She works 12-hour shifts putting in IVs, administering EKGs, identifying appropriate services for patients, managing policies and more.

Hope wall

“I put out little fires all over the place and act as a point person,” she says. “No shift is like the last.” She walks as many as 10 miles a day in Boston Hope, located in Boston Convention & Exhibition Center – a venue that typically houses large-scale events like medical congresses and Comic-Con.

Today, Boston Hope is home to 1,000 beds for recovering COVID-19 patients and the local homeless, who need a safe space amid the pandemic. The COVID-19 patients are mostly not highly acute cases, but they cannot yet return home due to various risks factors such as comorbidities or living with immunocompromised family members.

Flexibility is key at Boston Hope. Kim manages nurses who come from a wide variety of backgrounds – including school nurses and another pharmaceutical professional – and they all bring different skillsets that need to be well-matched. Though Kim says the hospital is well-resourced, she still has moments when she does not have all of the resources to manage a particular situation.

Kim Daly at work
Kim Daly at work

“You have to be creative and resourceful,” she explains. She shares an example of a patient who was suffering from alcohol withdrawal; while she and her team did not have the necessary medications to solve the situation, they did their best to support the patient while waiting for EMS to arrive.

Kim says that her work at Merck helps her problem solve in her current role as a volunteer.

“We’re constantly in quality improvement here,” she says. “The organizations and experiences I’ve had at Merck in how systems work and understanding what does or doesn’t work, and providing those challenges back as solutions, has really helped in my role here.”

Kim’s shifts at Boston Hope are “chaotic,” but she still makes time to remind patients that she’s there for them – not just for medical assistance, but also for company. The day after Easter, with her children’s blessing, Kim took one of their plastic eggs filled with candy and brought it in for a patient she befriended, an elderly professor who was feeling isolated and alone in the hospital.

“I told him, ‘I was telling my kids about you and they wanted to share this Easter egg,’ and he got a big smile on his face, with tears in his eyes and it was the only time I saw him smile,” she says. “He’s now home; I know he brought that egg home. To be able to bring something from the outside and make a connection and help patients living in an unusual situation – it made him feel human again, and that was really touching to me.”

Covid-19 Infographic

Mentoring in the Year of the Nurse

Kim says it’s a passion of hers to mentor others, and her time at Boston Hope is no different. “That’s something I really pride myself on – to help support and mentor other nurses,” she says.

Kim says at Boston Hope, she “pushed” her colleague, a student in nurse practitioner school, into a role as a charge nurse in one of the other pods.

“I think she was questioning if she was really ready for it, but I had no doubts,” says Kim. “Not only did she do it, she really rose to the occasion. She didn’t even know she would challenge herself to come into this situation as a COVID-19 volunteer, and now she’s being put into leadership roles.”

Kim also says she enjoys sharing her experience at Merck with her fellow Boston Hope nurses, to show them that there are alternative career paths for helping patients

“The role that I play as a regional medical director is around vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s exciting for them to think outside the box, to think, this is another thing a nurse can do – I’m excited to share that with them, to think about having an impact by reducing vaccine preventable disease across the region and country.”