The newspaper submitted written interview questions to the Monroe County Hospital and Clinics and asked staff that were interested to share their experiences during the last year, how things are going now and their hopes for the rest of the year.
BRENDA FINNEMAN, RN INFECTION PREVENTION AND CONTROL/EMPLOYYEE HEALTH COORDINATOR
Brenda Finneman is the RN Infection Prevention and Control/Employee Health Coordinator for Monroe County Hospital and Clinics and has worked in the Monroe County healthcare system for 12 years.
“I was part of an integrated, multi-disciplinary team,” said Finneman. “This team would meet three times a week to discuss the changes that were occurring very rapidly. The team focused on patient care and safety of everyone within the walls of MCHC.”
Finneman said that since the depth of the surge, things have slowed down and her day is back to routine. She is now involved in working with Monroe County Public Health to provide vaccine clinics to the public.
“We vaccinate the public here at MCHC with the assistance of Public Health,” said Finneman. “The process of the vaccination clinic is quick and runs very efficiently. People are very excited to receive the vaccine and thank all of us for helping keep them safe.”
HEATHER LESHEN, RN INPATIENT MANAGER
Heather Leshen is the RN Inpatient Manager with MCHC. She has been in the position for two years and has been with MCHC for almost nine years.
“I managed the Inpatient floor, made sure we had adequate staffing and worked when needed to make sure staffing needs were met,” said Leshen.
Leshen said that the biggest challenge was the unknowns of COVID, especially in the beginning. She said once the hospital had set up a COVID unit, dealing with the pandemic did become more routine, until the surge hit.
“The surge defiantly had an effect on the Inpatient Unit,” said Leshen. “Once we had a designated COVID Unit, we had two areas to care for, which meant increased staffing. We were truly blessed to have such dedicated staff members not only on the Inpatient Unit, but from all over the hospital that would come and help.
Leshen said she is always worried about the possibility of another surge, but she feels the she and the staff would be more prepared not if it happened again
She said she was most proud about the teamwork of all the MCHC staff from every department.
“Everyone knew we had a job to do and our patients were our number one priority, which was reflected by the teamwork that was shown,” said Leshen.
DR. GERALD L. HAAS DO
Dr. Gerald Haas has worked for the Monroe County healthcare system for 38 years. During the pandemic he has been involved in planning the hospital’s response as well as patient care in the clinic and in the hospital.
He said that throughout the year, work at the hospital increased, mostly for a short period during the surge, but work in the clinics has been lighter.
“There was increased intensity of inpatient care for a short period of time,” said Haas. “The patient workload in the clinic has been lighter than normal due to patients not wanting to get out. Our experience was on a much smaller scale but stretched us at times due to increased inpatient workload.”
Dr. Haas said that patient volume at the clinic is gradually picking back up now.
Dr. Haas said he feels the hardest part of the pandemic has been overly harsh restrictions on nursing home residents and he is looking forward to restrictions on them easing up this year.
He said that no one can know for certain if there will be another surge of COVID, but that it is reasonable to assume their will be more flare ups.
“We need to learn how to live with it and not forever try to hide from it,” said Haas.
ERICA MARTINEZ, LABORATORY MANAGER
Erica Martinez is the Laboratory Manager at MCHC. She has been in the position for four years and has worked in the laboratory field for 30 years.
Martinez didn’t deal with patients directly, but dealt with getting their test results to the State Hygenic Lab. Eventually the MCHC lab was able to start testing for COVID itself.
Martinez said the biggest change she has seen during the pandemic was the ability of the hospital to perform it’s own tests.
“The biggest difference now is that we are able to get tests and perform them in house for faster results rather than sending them to an outside lab,” said Martinez. “In the beginning we were unable to get tests due to government allocation which was frustrating since we already had the analyzers. With the positive cases falling, the amount of testing has decreased so we can relax a little more now.”
Martinez said COVID took over her day-to-day routine, which happened to many hospital staff.
“Dealing with COVID consumed a very large portion of my day whether it was collecting or testing samples, attending COVID team meetings to address the hospitals response, or attending webinars to keep up to date with research and information from various sources,” said Martinez. “Normally my focus would be managing laboratory staff and processes for compliance and efficiency which I still had to maintain while dealing with the added challenges of a pandemic.”
Martinez contracted the cornovirus during the community surge and said it was very difficult to be away from work.
“I felt horrible to not be able to help,” said Martinez.
Martinez one of the hardest parts of the last year was not being able to see her family as much as she wanted and worrying about them catching COVID. She said now that she is hopeful about the pandemic ending she is looking forward to concerts, baseball games and seeing her family more.
“I am so incredibly proud of our team at MCHC,” said Martinez. “We came together and battled a pandemic as a team. As much as this last year has been a strain on laboratories I appreciate the light it has shown on a profession that so often does not get the credit it deserves. I think healthcare in general has proven that it is full of heroes.”
Martinez encouraged people to pursue careers in the lab field as there is a big need.
“The laboratory field is in dire need of technicians,” said Martinez. “If anyone is interested in pursuing a career in the laboratory please contact me at MCHC laboratory or Indian Hills Medical Laboratory Science program.”
CORY BILLINGS, EMERGNECY SERVICES CLINICAL SUPPORT COORDINATOR
Cory Billings is the Emergency Services Clinical Support Coordinator and has worked for MCHC for 10 years. He is the hospital’s Disaster Preparedness Coordinator.
“I have had training in dealing with disasters including pandemics,” said Billings. “It has been my responsibility to take tools and skill that I have learned to help to lead the hospital decision making regarding pandemic response. I have worked with a large multi-disciplinary COVID-19 team at the hospital to make plans to give the best quality care to patients and to protect staff and the community.”
Billings said the pandemic changed his job completely. Before COVID, disaster preparedness was just one aspect of his job.
“During the past year my role has switched to require me to work on COVID related tasks almost primarily,” said Billings. “I look at reports from the county, state, and from the country to help to track trends and responses that other organizations are having. I work closely with the hospitals in our area and with MercyOne Des Moines almost every day. I am watching webinars put on by the State and Federal government. I am helping to review and discuss guideline changes with the COVID team and communicating them with frontline staff. My job has become almost exclusively COVID in the last year.”
Dealing with the surge demanded a new way of thinking about treating COVID. The hospital set up a COVID wing and Billings said the staff stepped up.
“Luckily for us, other organizations have experienced these events before we had,” said Billings. “We were able to take things from our surrounding hospitals and adapt them to help our staff. We set up a designated COVID wing in order to help isolate patients and keep other patients from potential exposure. We were busier but I believe the staff all stepped up to the occasion and helped provide a top-quality healthcare experience”
Billings said dealing with the unknown was tough, but now they have a solid knowledge base which can help lower stress of the staff.
“In the beginning, no one knew what to expect,” said Billings. “It was so new to everyone and no one knew what the right answers were. … The changes were coming in so fast, it felt like the only constant thing was change. … Now, we have a better understanding of what is happening and what could potentially happen.”
As vaccines began to be approved, Billings oversaw setting up vaccine clinics for staff, which went very smoothly. He has also worked closely with Monroe County Public Health to plan vaccine clinics for the public at the hospital.
“I am very excited to see people coming out to be vaccinated,” said Billings. “I never thought going to nursing school that I would ever be giving this many vaccinations, but we are doing it and I am happy to be a part of it.”
Billing said the unknowns of COVID and the sacrifices demanded to keep people safe have been the hardest thing to deal with.
“Things have been changing constantly and it can be overwhelming or even terrifying at some points,” said Billings. “I also think the losses that we are experiencing have been difficult. My grandmother passed away during this pandemic and not being able to attend her funeral was something that I struggled with. I think everyone has made sacrifices in one way or another. “
Billings said he is cautiously optimistic about the pandemic right now but that things can change quickly.
“If COVID has taught me anything is that it can change in an instant,” said Billings. “Because of this we are meeting every week and discussing strategies to ensure that we are prepared for anything COVID may send our way. “
Billings said it was great to see the staff grow and step up to deal with the pandemic throughout the year.
“Almost everyone here has stepped out of their comfort zone to ensure that we are keeping people safe,” said Billings. “I am so proud of everyone here at the hospital.“