Few patients when entering the hospital consider all of the “behind the scenes” staff working on their behalf. Sure, the obvious examples come to mind like doctors and nurses, but rarely do people consider all of the different departments and various healthcare professionals that are ready at a moment’s notice to provide quality patient care during the day or throughout the night. A good example of one of those departments is The Sleep Center at Watauga Medical Center and one of those professionals is Shelly Church, RPSGT.
Since an early age, Church knew that she wanted to work in healthcare. After college, the Ashe County resident considered nursing, but decided to go to medical lab technology school instead. During that time, her aunt recommended that she pursue a career in sleep studies. In 1999, Church followed her aunt’s suggestion and was hired by a contract company to start performing sleep studies at Watauga Medical Center. Today, she serves as The Sleep Center Supervisor and absolutely loves her job.
A sleep study is designed to monitor a patient’s vitals throughout the night to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. For Church, that meant meeting the patient in admissions, making them feel comfortable with the equipment and then sitting outside their door with a mobile cart monitoring their sleep throughout the evening.
In 2004, the hospital decided to add its own Sleep Center and asked Church if she would come on board as its founding employee. Although superior to its original contract space, The Sleep Center started with modest accommodations. Still located on the first floor of the hospital, Church and a fellow technologist would faithfully sit in the hallway monitoring two patient studies per night, three nights a week.
“Night shift is a lot different than day shift,” Church said with a smile. “Occasionally, hospital police or the house nurse supervisor will come by to check on us, but for the most part, it is just us keeping watch over our patients.”
An awe-inspiring example of her unwavering commitment to patient care came about in 2005 while monitoring a sleep study. At approximately 2 am, Church, who was pregnant at the time, felt early contractions. Fortunately, they were prepared for this scenario and she called for a cross-trained respiratory therapist to relieve her so she could check into the delivery department.
After a quick assessment, her doctor decided to induce labor at 8 am and suggested that she go home until that time. Being the middle of the night, Church considered her options and after notifying her husband Kenny, decided to stay at the hospital and complete her patient’s sleep study. After discharging the patient the following morning, she traded her scrubs in for a hospital gown and headed to the third floor of the hospital to deliver her beautiful daughter, Lauren.
“It was an incredible experience,” said Church. “Although my patient had no idea what was going on, and my family thought I was crazy for finishing my shift, I thanked God for allowing me to already be at the hospital when it was time to deliver.”
Over the years, The Sleep Center family has expanded as well. In 2006, the department was moved to the third floor of the hospital. Today each patient room has breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and is equipped with Sleep Number beds and private bathrooms. Additionally, the technologists now have their own state-of-the-art control room to monitor patients – a big improvement from the mobile carts.
“I have witnessed a lot of changes over the years,” said Church. “However, my favorite part of the job has remained the same. I love working with our patients, everyone has a unique story to tell and our goal is to come alongside them, encourage them and improve their quality of life.”
After working night shift for 15 years, Church recently transitioned to an administrative role during day shift. She still works in The Sleep Center, but now spends more time working with patients on the front end and answering follow-up questions from physicians. Additionally, she is currently studying for her Electroneurodiagnostic technician exam scheduled for next year. When not at work or studying, Church enjoys spending quality time with her family kayaking the New River.
“I love my family and my work family (co-workers) at Watauga Medical Center,” said Church. “I feel truly blessed to live and work in this community.”
If you or someone you know suffers from a sleep disorder, please consider calling The Sleep Center at 828-266-1179.