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You are our heroes ... every day.

IHA names all hospital employees as 2020 heroes

Since 2007, the Iowa Hospital Heroes program has celebrated at its annual meetings more than 100 employees who have acted courageously in a crisis or who have provided exemplary service to their hospitals and communities. This year, that criteria applies to all hospital employees.

Therefore, IHA is celebrating the dedication and accomplishments of all 76,000+ Iowa hospital employees who have served heroically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch for more information about how IHA will recognize your hospital heroes. Contact Craig Borchard at IHA with any questions.

Stories from the front lines

Dr. Ryan Flannery, a family medicine physician at Washington County Hospital and Clinics, has gone above and beyond to help WCHC prepare and implement its response to COVID-19. He has given up vacation, his traditional day off, along with his evenings and weekends to be available for our hospital’s incident command team, other providers, outside agencies – including our local public health, state public health, state epidemiologist and physician leaders at other organizations. He has spent countless hours reading, researching, strategizing, meeting, testing and implementing operational changes while maintaining his clinic practice and staffing our Respiratory Triage Clinic. Washington County has been a hotspot in the state but is well prepared to respond to our patients, long-term care residents and the community in part because of Dr. Flannery’s efforts. The vast changes we have implemented with his help have included setting up a respiratory triage clinic where we have tested more than 400 patients in the past six weeks, shifting providers to one clinic location, which meant adjusting to a different physical location and staff, implemented telemedicine for our primary care providers, implemented screening protocols to appropriately screen patients calling in for telemedicine or respiratory care, implemented quick testing protocols, implemented follow-up care nurse line for patients tested for COVID-19 and implemented effective COVID-19 employee health protocols. Dr. Flannery has remained positive and helpful through this entire experience despite the pressure and stress felt by all caregivers.

Allison Feltes is a shift supervisor on the inpatient pediatric unit at Mercy Cedar Rapids. With the arrival of COVID-19, Allison led the way in quickly relocating the pediatric unit to another area of the hospital to make additional space for treating patients with respiratory illnesses and the coronavirus. She also helped cross-train and orient nurses from other units to work on the pediatric floor to accommodate the shifting needs for patient care. Allison is bright, approachable and always willing to lend a hand. Most of all, she is loved by her young patients. On top of her busy life at the hospital, Allison’s wedding was planned for April 25. Of course, most of the plans were cancelled. Instead, she and her fiancé were married in a small ceremony on her front porch.

Laurel Foht is a palliative care nurse at Mercy Cedar Rapids. She is on the front lines of COVID-19, helping families communicate with loved ones who are being treated for COVID-19. Laurel says it can be heartbreaking – as families must make difficult decisions and even say goodbye to family members without physically being with them. Laurel is there to hold a hand, give a hug or sit at the bedside. She says it’s the hardest process she’s ever been involved with as a nurse.

Megan Litscher provides expert, compassionate care to type 1 diabetes pediatric patients at Mercy Pediatric Clinic in Cedar Rapids. The diabetes program provides 24/7 on-call service, which allows patients access to medical care and guidance from the comfort of their homes, often eliminating the need for an ER visit. In response to COVID-19, Mercy Cedar Rapids is using telehealth to provide follow-up appointments and give patients the consistent diabetes care they are accustomed to. Megan says she’s beyond blessed to work with an amazing team of nurses and providers at Mercy Pediatric Clinic where each person is making a difference.

Dawn Stuart and Emily Harken work in the Operating Room at Mercy Cedar Rapids. They are now part of the labor pool at Mercy. Because elective surgeries have been cancelled or postponed, OR nurses are among those filling in with different roles, as needed. We truly appreciate their flexibility. They recently staffed the entrance of the Emergency Room where patients with mild respiratory symptoms are screened.

Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital and Foundation started a Pictures for Patients. They’ve also started virtual visits using iPhones and iPads for patients to talk with family during their no-visitor period. The hospital’s cafeteria is providing various grocery items for employees to buy so they can avoid the store – milk, eggs, pasta, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.

Community partners in Pottawattamie County have stepped up to offer temporary housing for health care workers. One floor of an unoccupied Iowa Western Community College dormitory has been prepped to take on staff from Methodist Jennie Edmundson and CHI Mercy hospitals in Council Bluffs. And, more recently, Pork Belly Ventures has provided portable air-conditioned motel rooms and showers on the Mercy campus. The housing options are a partnership between the hospitals and their hospital foundations, Pottawattamie County Public Health, Pork Belly Ventures and Iowa Western. The Southwest Iowa Foundation is funding use of the trailers.

1026 To-Go recently opened at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital. It’s mini-grocery store located within the hospital’s existing 1026 Café. It was added by hospital administration to help employees that may find it challenging to grocery shop during the pandemic. 1026 To-Go offers basic food items like bread, milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables and even toilet paper. Take-n-bake pizzas or made to order pizzas are also available to employees. St. Luke’s Dining Services staff have received a lot of positive feedback from employees about the new addition.

Connie Render has worked for the past 2 years at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke's Hospital as an Environmental Services team member. She cleans and disinfects patient rooms, common areas and anything else that needs to be done. She and others in EVS are essential healthcare workers, working hard to keep the facility clean and safe for patients and team members. It’s especially true during this global pandemic where there is a heightened fear of spreading viruses. Often, essential health care workers are thought to be those working on the front lines such as nurses, doctors and techs providing direct patient care. However, there is an entire team of essential healthcare workers behind the scene like Connie. They are in the lab, dining services, sterile processing, laundry, and medical records to name a few. Connie is just one example of the support staff St. Luke’s needs.

Kristen Sehr has worked at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke's Hospital for 29 years, the last 26 in outpatient physical therapy at Therapy Plus. During the COVID-19 pandemic with elective surgeries and procedures postponed, she joined the hospital's Labor Pool. The Labor Pool is made up of team members whose department’s work has been changed or reduced and team members are reassigned to other units or areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristen went from working as an outpatient physical therapist to working in EVS and Dining Services. Working in the shoes of a team member such as Connie Render, Kristen found out firsthand what it was like to work as an EVS housekeeper. Kristen describes the pandemic as a new situation for all: "EVS is more important than ever during the pandemic. Working there is hard work, it’s more physical than what I normally do. The situation is always evolving but the EVS team has been very welcoming. It speaks to the atmosphere at St. Luke's where everyone is ready to roll with the punches as we don't know what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Scott Frank, age 63, a retired high school agriculture teacher has been a patient at UnityPoint Health – Family Medicine Belle Plaine since the clinic opened. He estimates that’s more than 25 years. With the nice weather, he spends much of the spring working with a local farmer driving a tractor and putting crops in the fields. When it came time for his annual well visit, Frank called the clinic to cancel. As opposed to canceling appointments, the UnityPoint Clinic team suggested a virtual visit with his provider, Karl Holmes, PA-C. Holmes is one of many providers that have championed the technology of virtual and telephonic visits for well and sick visits across UnityPoint Health. Frank, a novice to this type of technology, agreed to give it a try. While Frank was disking a field, he stopped his tractor to have his appointment.

Meliah Diller has worked for Washington County Hospital and Clinics for seven years as a diagnostic medical sonographer. You'll find her smiling face in the Imaging Department doing sonograms or in Cardiology skillfully performing echocardiograms. Wherever she is, Meliah brings expertise and her charming personality. Though seven months pregnant, when the COVID-19 outbreak began, she did not hesitate to step in and help where needed, which right now, is at the employee entrance screening anyone who comes through for a temperature, cough, shortness of breath or sore throat.

Myrtue Medical Center’s Pharmacy Department delivered pizza lunch to the Fareway to thank them for working long hours to clean, sanitize and stock shelves. The Pharmacy staff wanted to recognize people who put themselves in harm’s way, going beyond the caregivers at hospitals. Many people must put themselves at risk – police, firefighters, pharmacy staff, postal employees and grocery store employees. Harlan has been so good to the hospital workers, the Pharmacy staff wanted to pay it forward and give back to the local grocery store.

Iowa Specialty Hospitals and Clinics

Erica Thordarson, Patient Access Specialist, with Monroe County Hospital & Clinics (MCHC) in Albia purchased a 3D printer several years ago to help with her hobby, which turned into a small business. Since then, she has been involved in online printer forums and communities for new ideas and file sharing. A 3D printing company based in Prague released an open-source file on their community forums for anyone to use to print face shields for frontline staff. Erica immediately jumped on this opportunity because her sisters are nurses. She thought it would be a wonderful way to help keep them safe while they’re working directly with patients. Knowing some PPE items were getting more difficult to find, Erica told her clinic nursing team lead, Jocelyn Casteel, that she has a face shield available to make if she ever thought it would be necessary. Jocelyn let MCHC’s Emergency Services clinical support coordinator, Cory Billings, know about it and he thought it would be very beneficial. Erica immediately started printing. 3D printing can be a very slow process, but luckily Josh Munford, the District Technology Coordinator for Albia Community School District, started printing right away as well as others in Albia. Employees at MCHC put the shields together using readily available clear laminate plastic as the covers for the shields and they were distributed to all staff. Erica has made extras to give to care providers in assisted-living homes, nurses working with one of her sisters at another Iowa hospital and several other essential workers.

Erica Martinez, Lab Manager, at Monroe County Hospital & Clinics (MCHC) in Albia, IA assisted with running specimens to State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) at the University of Iowa to receive results back faster and ease anxiety. Erica shares, “As a Lab Manager, I was aware of the importance of quick lab results to diagnose and treat patients during this pandemic time. I also knew that due to the infectious nature of COVID-19, there was heightened anxiety amongst my teammates due to possible exposure. I felt that getting the specimens to SHL as quickly as possible was the best way to treat patients and calm the fears of my teammates. I made an executive decision and drove the specimens to SHL myself to fulfill the need of knowing. I have since coordinated specimen delivery with a few other teammates, Matthew Martinez, RN from our Surgery Department and Leah Raskie, Medical Technologist from our Lab Department. They were more than willing to make the trip.”

“The dedication to keeping staff and patients safe is one of the many qualities MCHC exhibits in daily functions.  Erica, Matthew and Leah are great examples of what MCHC stands for and did not hesitate to go above and beyond their normal job duties. We are very thankful for their efforts,” stated Brenda Finneman, Employee Health & Infection Prevention Coordinator, MCHC.

Floyd Valley Healthcare