PINE BLUFF, Ark. — It's hard to believe, but it's been three years since Arkansas saw its first COVID-19 case.
For months, all eyes were on Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff.
Other healthcare professionals watched and learned how the hospital navigated through it.
Erin Bolton is the director of Regulatory for the hospital and said March 11, 2020, is a day she'll never forget.
"My personal cell phone went off and I looked down to see a Little Rock number that I didn't recognize," Bolton said.
It was the Arkansas Department of Health.
They alerted Bolton the first presumptive case of the Coronavirus was inside Jefferson Regional.
"I just don't think we ever thought we would be the first," Bolton said. "We thought it would probably be one of the bigger hospitals in Little Rock and then we could learn from them."
She is among the many hospital leaders who were tasked with quickly readjusting their normal workflow, and the following months would be some of the most difficult.
"Everyone that came in had to take their temperature," Bolton said. "We asked them questions about any symptoms they might be having [and] we had to shut down visitation for a while immediately."
As time passed, the number of daily COVID-19 infections declined, mask mandates were dropped statewide and people learned to live with the virus.
"Over the last three years, we're back to a more normal visitation schedule," Bolton said. "Within just the last few weeks, we've dropped our mask regulation."
Although the pandemic continues to weigh heavy on everyone, Bolton said the hospital turned those challenges into lessons.
The biggest one is communication.
"In the beginning, we thought we were communicating the best we could," Bolton said. "Then we realized what we communicated today might not have reached the staff that arrived tomorrow or the next shift."
The challenges extended beyond Bolton's work as a nurse, and she learned to adjust just like her patients.
"Patience and gratitude," Bolton said. "I try very hard to find something to be grateful for each and every day."