#IAmWMC: Debra Zurn, Switchboard operator and safety coach
By Kristy Bleizeffer Feb 21, 2020
Even if you’ve never met Debra Zurn face-to-face, you might recognize the sound of her voice. Hers is often the voice you hear on the hospital’s overhead speakers calling a patient code. Or, she might be the switchboard operator who answers the phone when you have a question or are looking for a patient room.
Think of the switchboard as Mission Control, the centralized command post for Wyoming Medical Center. The 10 operators work in shifts of 2 or 3. They monitor the Code Phone and alert the appropriate staff in cases of disaster or patient codes. They answer phone calls from the public, patient rooms, physician offices and nursing stations and connect the calls to the right people or departments. They silence alarms. Everytime a baby is born, they start the lullaby that plays throughout the hospital.
“Sometimes when people call us, if we sound like we are short or are distressed, we really are not. We just have maybe 20 calls coming in all at the same time,” said Debra, a Wyoming Medical Center switchboard operator and safety coach. “We do have days when that is non-stop.”
One of Debra’s favorite parts of her job is manning the Code Phone, a special telephone line dedicated to the hospital’s 27 separate codes requiring specialized response. WMC has 6 disaster codes, ranging from a Code Black (bomb threat) to Code Silver (active shooter), and 21 patient codes, including Code Heart (chest pain) to Code Gray (combative person). Each has a different set of people who must be alerted, and a different protocol for how the Code must be called.
In 2019, switchboard operators executed 2,174 Codes, an average of almost six per day and 181 per month.
As the department Safety Coach, Deb is responsible for educating the communication department on the standardized safety behaviors and tools that we learn how to speak as a common language here at WMC. Deb attends a monthly safety meeting with Risk Management once a month to bring updated information on safety back to the team. Deb trains each operator in code execution and has taken on the responsibility of rebuilding the code books. The code books are now uniform as well as user friendly and always updated.
“Calling codes is really important,” Debra said. “When there is a Code Blue, a cardiac or respiratory arrest, we have just four minutes before the patient is clinically dead. You have to act fast and follow the protocol.
“The other day we had a Trauma Red five minutes out, and we had everyone notified within 3 minutes,” she said.
Debra likes to say that Wyoming Medical Center has 18 years of her life, because she’s worked here a couple of separate times. She first worked as a certified nursing assistant on the fifth floor, caring for geriatric and terminally ill patients. She came back as a switchboard operator nine years ago.
“I love working at WMC, in fact I feel like it’s home. I don’t ever want to go look for another job. In this building, there are many people who are very motivated and highly reliable. They give up holidays, work long hours and sacrifice time with their families to keep this place running and to take care of our community,” she said.
“We are a very busy office, but I work with an amazing team of women. I am thankful for this job, and I am blessed to have it, and I plan on being here as long as they allow me to stay.”