June 14, 2021

Opening a new patient care unit requires months of planning. Devin Bunch helped open the COVID-19 ICU in just a matter of days.

“Whatever it is, we roll up our sleeves and do what’s best for our patients.”

Credo Award Winner Devin Bunch poses for a photo on April 9, 2021. Photos by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Photo by Donn Jones

Devin Bunch, BSN, MMHC, RN, believes there are some things beyond his scope of practice as manager of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), but there’s nothing that he won’t do – whether it’s repositioning a critically ill patient in the hospital bed, helping restock a supply cart or emptying a full trash receptacle.

It’s a philosophy he inherited three years ago when he assumed the manager role from his mentor, Julie Foss, and that he embodies for the staff who work with him to take care of some of VUMC’s most critically ill patients, including those with COVID-19.

“Whatever it is, we roll up our sleeves and do what’s best for our patients,” he said.

For this philosophy and for helping create, add staff and lead the COVID-ICU unit on the eighth floor of Medical Center East over the past year, Bunch received a Credo Award during the May 2021 virtual Leadership Assembly. “Devin has truly been tested by fire this year,” a colleague wrote in his nomination. “As an organization, we are deeply indebted to Devin for all he has done in this unprecedented time,” the colleague said.

“We are confident he never imagined this year, and yet, he has led through the extraordinary events of this year with extraordinary leadership,” another colleague wrote. “With others he had to figure out how to deliver care for incredibly ill ICU patients, with a disease we had not treated before, in a location never intended to be an ICU…the COVID Medical Center East unit started as a 10-bed ICU and is now a 37-bed ICU. Devin went from managing 35 beds and 95.6 FTEs (full-time equivalents) to 72 ICU beds and 194 FTEs in a few months.”

Bunch interviewed hundreds of nursing applicants to staff the units. “Usually opening a new unit takes months, if not a year, of planning. Devin and team opened a new unit in days. How’s that for growth?”

Bunch, who joined the MICU as a staff nurse in 2010, said the past year has been “very much a team effort.” He said that keeping the team culture was at the front of his mind as he and VUMC leaders worked quickly to hire 60 full-time staff and 80 temporary staff to care for the influx of patients with COVID-19.

“When you have this much fluctuation, it’s important to preserve the culture that makes your unit successful. That was my No. 1 goal. We could not let our culture fail. We had to make sure that was the one thing we preserved.”

Bunch said when he took over as manager in 2018, he never imagined the MICU model would expand outside of the walls already established. “I felt like my sandbox was already built and established and knew how this unit operated.”

He also made sure his emotionally-depleted staff had the opportunity to receive mental health support if desired. Bunch enlisted the help of Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, the late bioethicist Kate Payne, JD, RN, NC-BC, the Rev. Sherry Perry and Jim Jackson, PsyD, from the ICU Survivor Clinic to provide weekly compassionate caregiver sessions that have now become biweekly. These sessions help providers cope with the stress of taking care of gravely ill patients in the MICU and the COVID ICU units.

“We deal with some very critically ill patients. A lot of things we see are tough to process on an average day. When COVID happened, it was clear that personal lives were affected — losing child care; family members losing employment; if you’re a social person you couldn’t go to social events,” he said. “To be in an environment that speaks about COVID 24/7 created so many stressors that staff weren’t equipped to handle. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and when you’re driving 120 mph, sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to take in what’s around you and know how you’re coping with things. It was apparent our staff needed support.”

Bunch’s support over the past year has come from his wife, Jessica, also a nurse. “I wouldn’t have made it throughout this COVID pandemic without her unwavering love, support and her enormous help in raising Olivia (their 3-year-old daughter).”

The COVID-ICU patient census is remaining steady, he says. “I hope and pray the volume stops or slows dramatically.”

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.