Heroes of the pandemic

Heroes of the pandemic

They’re doing what they’ve always done. Doing what they’ll continue to do when coronavirus testing is widespread and a vaccine is developed. When the rest of us return to a new normal, whatever that might look like, they’ll still be on the front lines caring for the sick and afraid, comforting the grieving, fighting for health care equity and championing the message that mental health care is health care. The terrifying risks to them and their families will eventually subside, but never their passion for and clarity about this work. We thank them now, and resolve to keep our eyes open and hearts grateful.

John L. Hick

M.D., Medical Director for Emergency Preparedness, Hennepin Healthcare

As manager for the State Healthcare Coordinator Center, Hick is working 90-hour weeks at the State Emergency Operations Center to help devise strategies to get us through this pandemic as safely as possible. Hick was involved in disaster planning and response for Ebola and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, has developed disaster critical care guidelines and served during federal hurricane responses. He hopes we’ll come out of this crisis with better vaccine and protective strategies for our health care workers.

“I’ve never seen cooperation and dedication to the mission from the state agencies and private sector like I am seeing now, and that’s a joy.”

Katie Smith

R.N., B.S.N., Fairview Hospice

Smith knew the world had changed the day her voice mail was flooded with calls from panicked family members. Then she walked into a locked facility where a sign read “No Visitors” and her heart sank. Smith provides compassionate nursing care and support to terminally ill patients who live in buildings that now limit or restrict visitors due to the coronavirus. Her day begins with phone calls from families anxious for updates; she receives daily temperature checks and health screens before beginning her rounds. Her greatest fear is inadvertently spreading the virus to a patient or others. Yet her work has taught her to be prepared for the unexpected — and that in the midst of pain and suffering, there are often moments of great joy.

“After a long day at work, the clerk at the gas station saw my nursing badge and offered me a cup of coffee. That small gesture almost brought me to tears. I just need little reminders from time to time that we are going to continue to look out for each other during this difficult time.”

Rosemary Fister

Psychiatric nurse practitioner, Hennepin County Health Care for the Homeless Program

Fister notes candidly that COVID-19 is just the latest assault on the patients she serves. Primarily homeless, they were already dealing with hepatitis A, HIV outbreaks “and the collective grief of drug-related deaths.” Her program just launched mobile outreach to provide low-barrier access to buprenorphine, a medication that reduces overdose deaths and helps people struggling with opioid addiction. Fister is on her phone constantly or doing street outreach to encampments and squats where she is a comforting and consistent presence. She misses her partner, an ICU nurse working the COVID units in Chicago. She takes her dog down to the river to unwind and dreams of ways to move people who are homeless into vacant luxury condos and to build DIY hand-washing stations outside.

“Before this, it sounded radical to call for a moratorium on evictions or mass decarceration. I hope to say that this was the moment we learned how to make another world possible.”

John Yang

Patient Support Services Supervisor, Hmong interpreter, Community University Health Care Center

Yang studied health and wellness at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, presciently taking many public health courses. That prepared him well for his work managing the in-house and agency interpreters for CUHCC, whose languages include Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Hmong and Lao. Yang works remotely two days a week and comes into the office three days wearing a face mask and gloves; all CUHCC patients are also screened before being allowed to enter. Yang longs to throw a pizza party when life returns to the new normal. On the receiving end of “screaming” racial slurs recently, he reminds everyone to try to keep negativity out of their lives.

“I have seen many Asians being targeted around the globe and I just got added to the list. But CUHCC has been a real support for their staff and I am happy to be working here.”

Kellie Lease Stecher

M.D., OB-GYN, M Health Fairview Women’s Center Edina/Eden Prairie

Her 5-year-old daughter cries every time she leaves the house now. She clings to Stecher because, even at her young age, she’s caught wind of the news. Before leaving for work, Stecher takes off all her jewelry, which can breed infection, puts on scrubs and a surgical mask. And she thinks about things she never did, like whether to take the elevator and chance being contained with someone sick or take the stairs and risk touching a door handle. Her team rotates between telemedicine, seeing patients in the clinic, and performing deliveries and emergency surgery that can’t wait for any virus to subside. Her strength comes in part from her Lutheran minister grandfather, who acted with humility and grace at all times, including during WWII.

“When this pandemic is over, I hope we can realize that the majority of essential workers are in fact women and that we can be taken seriously for who we are and what we contribute.”

Jane Deckenbach

RN, BSN, Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital

Deckenbach (pictured on the cover) has added almost 12 hours a week to her schedule as she and her team prepare for the possible surge. Daily briefings, updates and the ever-changing recommendations coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention often make her head swim. Because her team doesn’t know for certain who has COVID-19, they isolate anyone with a fever, cough or respiratory symptoms. Sometimes patients are stable one minute and need intubation the next. She’s hopeful that Minnesotans will continue to flatten the curve, but that accomplishment comes with personal sacrifice. Her husband has been living in Wisconsin since mid-March; she longs to hug him, her kids, grandkids and her mother. It’s home and work. Home and work.

“I draw upon Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.’”

Yeshi Getahun

Environmental Services, Regions Hospital and HealthPartners

When Getahun arrives at work as a custodian and parking attendant, there’s no more daily huddle. She picks up a mask and a pager and gets to work, making sure to stay 6 feet away from staff members and patients throughout the day as she cleans and disinfects rooms and bathrooms in a patient care unit at Regions. Wearing the mask 40 hours a week sometimes gets uncomfortable, but she knows it’s essential. Luckily, one of the clever nurses on her floor gave her a headband with a button on each side to attach the mask to instead of her ears. It made a world of difference. Getahun misses attending church and being able to gather with her friends and family, but she knows that life is filled with challenges. She is determined to stay strong and never lose hope.

“When this crisis is over, I hope to look back and say my loved ones survived.”