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Recognizing COVID Heroes

May 20, 2020 07:00AM ● By MED Magazine

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact our region, everyone in healthcare had to adapt quickly and decisively. We invited organizations across the area to share some of the many 'COVID Heroes' who stepped up to do what was needed. 

Julie Meyer, Manager of Infection Prevention at Sanford

Julie has been instrumental in developing COVID-19 planning and protocols in addition to surge planning and developing best practices for conserving PPE. She and her team are on call for COVID-19-related infection prevention calls 24/7 across the SF region. According to Sanford, "Julie has been tirelessly rounding on the units to ensure all questions are answered and proper protocols are followed. Julie is a subject matter expert in infection prevention which is vital for keeping our staff, patients, and visitors safe."

Shelly Turbak, Chief Nursing Officer, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System

Shelly Turbak oversees the entire Healthcare Branch of the city/county central command known as the Watertown Area Task Force. Healthcare entities throughout the Watertown area report to her and she collaborates with other branches, as needed, to make sure everything - from hospital supplies to daycare for healthcare workers - is covered. 

"So not only am I thinking about my own shop. I'm also having daily virtual meetings with long term care facilities, ambulatory care clinics, funeral homes, etc." Turbak is also in routine contact with the State Health Department and carefully monitors changing guidelines from the CDC to stay in compliance and help keep the community prepared - for their own surge in cases, or for overflow from other facilities. "A pandemic is not hospital-centric, it's community centered," she says. "With a pandemic, you are always trying to predict and forecast. We can't be complacent and think it isn't going to happen." 

"Since early March, everything I do has been about pandemic planning and preparedness, from both a clinical perspective and an operational perspective," she says. "We have had to be constantly looking at how to stay on top of CDC and Health Department information. What you heard yesterday may not be what you're hearing today. We have had time to prepare, so we are really just looking for where we are best positioned to make sure that we have what we need to take care of patients.

"A lot of times a disaster such as a bus accident, flood, tornado, etc happens and you react. You have systems and plans in place and you drill on them so you will know what to do. With a pandemic, you're waiting. You are trying to predict and forecast. This is where interactions with the Department of Health are important. Based on modelling, how many people should we plan for?

"We know that large facilities might need to use facilities like us to care for other patients. It's why every hospital in the state is reporting daily to the department of health how many occupied beds they have, how many ventilators are in use, etc. So if we have to shift patients around, we can. 

"Back in 2009 we were faced with an influenza pandemic, similar to what we have now. Although COVID is tending to make people sicker. We dusted off our 2009 pandemic plan and said 'What's different and what's the same? What do we need to improve upon, based on what we knew then and what we know now?'"

"We are fortunate in our area in that we know how to adapt to change. We deal with the blizzards and the unknowns. And, in this case, we have had the time to prepare. We have been able to watch New York and other places and we have been able to think about how we can keep that from happening here.

"You can see and feel that the health systems are all in this together. We are all working together. This makes South Dakota unique. The teamwork and transparency and sharing orders and protocols and whatnot has been amazing to a part of."

Monica Everson, RN, ER Director, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System

Monica Everson has had to pivot quickly to prepare the ER at PLHS for a possible surge in cases of COVID-19. This has included instructing staff how to manage the walking-well who are asking for virus tests, cross-training other clinical staff how to work in the ER, gathering PPE and making sure it is handy, and managing the logistics of triage. "My job pretty much has been to reassure staff that what we're doing is in line with the CDC," says Everson who created a policy binder that she updates daily. "There is so much information out there and not all of it is reliable. When I feel like my staff is safe and has the latest information, I feel OK when I leave for the day."

"Sometimes I wish we could all just be on a conference call with other hospitals from all over and ask 'how are you doing it?' None of us have been through a pandemic before. This is new territory. We will have notes after the fact but right now we are just living it. "

"One thing I did was to start a binder at the nurses' station because it does change daily. I took all the initial questions and, any time there was an update, I'd update them. The staff has found it very helpful to have these continual updates.

"There are other processes we have had to look at, too. For instance, we do all the legal blood draws. But we also don't want to have any extra people in the ER right now. So we have had to look at how to put those people somewhere else. 

"While we have been on lock down, no visitors are allowed and not everyone likes that. If you have an ailing loved one and you heard that you can't come in, that can be really hard. In South Dakota that is not how we do things. This is not comfortable. But we have a policy in place and we can't let that crack. 

"One thing we have had to do to prepare is we had to make PPE more readily available. We had to get more isolation cards so that we can put all the PPE right outside the room. Along with any garbage cans. 

"There are a lot of logistics to figure out. In the past, we used same day services as an ER overflow. Now that's going to be an in-patient area, so we have to send ER patients elsewhere. But of course, we need to keep them separate. We are working on the logistics about how to get that person from triage over to the minor treatment area. When we pull the trigger, all these dominoes have to fall. 

Shannon Britt, Infection Control Nurse, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System

PLHS infection control nurse Shannon Britt oversees infection control policies and procedures. During the pandemic, she started a weekly newsletter focused on infection control policies and procedures. Britt works with directors to implement new protocols and educate staff and sends daily email updates to keep everyone informed. She is also involved with the Watertown Area Task Force and helps coordinate with other healthcare entities in town.

"Eleven years ago we put a pandemic plan together with our community, never thinking this would ever happen here," she says. "COVID is different in that there is still a lot we don't know. So much is still unproven about this virus. I'm so grateful for my co-workers and staff." 

Britt told MED the pandemic had changed her work "a hundred percent." "Before, I worked about 32 hours a week. I did a lot of quality control work. I did data entry and made sure we were up on our studies. Now, it is 100 percent COVID. My coworkers have taken on some of my other duties and I have put all other things to the wayside."

In the face of the pandemic, Britt has answered a constant stream of emails and worked closely with the community task force. She is continually reading CDC protocols and keeping others informed on information such as where to wear a paper mask and when an N95 mask is appropriate. 

"I have been in this role for 16 years. I was prepared in some ways. I knew what infection control was," she says "But this has become a professional and personal growth situation. COVID is different in that there is still a lot we don't know. So much is still unproven about this virus. It's been like 'Here you go. Spread your wings and fly!'" 

In a community our size, we want everyone on the same page. We have a healthcare branch and we are trying to stay unified in what we are telling people. Every day we have a message that goes out at 3 pm from the city. This goes out live on Facebook, goes to local TV, and goes live on the radio. Every week, we release a newsletter by Friday. Includes all the updates from the week. 

When this first happened in early March, I went to more meetings that I have ever been to in my life. Everybody really stepped up and directors went back and wrote up plans for their departments. My normal is gone. I don't know what it is going to be when this is over. 

Jennifer Bender, Director of Marketing, Prairie Lakes Healthcare System

PLHS Director of Marketing, Jennifer Bender, is also the Public Information Officer for the Watertown Area Task Force. Along with two members of the police department, who are also serving as PIOs with Bender, she launched a community Facebook page to serve as an information hub and coordinates a daily live community update. Bender worked with a local group to summarize the daily briefing in Spanish and launched a video PSA project for social media. In her role as Director of Marketing, Bender ran the internal communications on COVID-19 protocols and developed a #Prairie Strong ad campaign to help inspire staff and the community.

“When I was asked to represent the county as Public Information Officer (PIO) on a COVID-19 task force, I immediately said, 'yes!. Community health is a passion of mine, and what an honor it has been delivering messages as one of two PIOs. The responsibility of managing communications for both a task force and Prairie Lakes Healthcare System has not been a burden because of the teams’ support. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been exhausted… but haven’t we all? The grace I remind myself to give to others and the grace I receive is what inspires me to keep going.”

Rony Herrera Reyes, Floor Technician & Housekeeper, Huron Regional Medical Center

Rony recently celebrated one year working as a floor technician at Huron Regional Medical Center. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asked to change from his regular duties as a floor technician to provide housekeeping for several areas of the hospital campus According to HRMC, he took on these new responsibilities without complaint and with a positive attitude. "As things changed, he again was asked to flex his work environment and said, it is important for me to keep coming into the hospital and working wherever I am needed – for the patients, and for our community.'" 

He’s also careful at home and with his family, making sure he and his wife and stepson aren’t exposed to the virus within the community. “It is hard to be away from my church and for my son to not see his friends, but if I get sick, who will clean and prepare the rooms for our patients?” Rony previously worked for a nursing home in Huron that closed last year. He is so grateful for the opportunity to work and be an integral part of the HRMC team by making the hospital safe for employees, patients and their families. 

Janna Rose, Purchasing Director, Huron Regional Medical Center, 

As the purchasing director for Huron Regional Medical Center for the last 25 years, Janna Rose has been tenacious at making sure HRMC can get the supplies they need to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases. "In the face of many shortages and delays, she’s reached out to connections far and wide and 'dogged' the State to make sure we get our fair share.," HRMC told MED. "She’s developed backup plans upon backup plans and been very careful about protecting the supplies we do have. This includes not only personal protective equipment, but also cleaning supplies and regularly-needed supplies. She’s bright and not afraid to get right to the point with what she needs for our entire facility and staff to safely care for COVID and non-COVID patients." 


Jason Barnhard, CRNA, Lindsey McCaskell, RN, assistant inpatient director, and Destiny Finn, RN, OB coordinator, the Inpatient COVID Care Team, Huron Regional Medical Center

When Beadle County saw its first cases of COVID-19 in early March, HRMC's Inpatient COVID Care Team quickly connected with their counterparts throughout the state and nation to develop a plan to conserve and extend the use of N95 respirators, care for COVID patients needing to be intubated in the ICU, and create isolation areas on the medical and OB floors. 

This trio led the effort to map out how the COVID ward would operate, how to separate supplies and medications, and how staff could support one another in applying PPE and coming in and out of the ward. 

HRMC cared for two COVID-19 inpatients early on as the pandemic was just beginning and this team used the experience to learn and revise and learn and pivot again to create a surge-ready 14-bed COVID ward on the medical floor and 2 negative pressure rooms in the Birthing Center.  

Here’s a link to a radio interview with a description of the ward:

Erin Scarborough, Lab Director, Huron Regional Medical Center

As lab director at Huron Regional Medical Center, Scarborough "took the bull by the horns" in developing new testing protocols with the State Department of Health. Scarborough helped develop the plan and set up processes for the initial drive-through COVID-19 testing in the hospital's ambulance bay. Later, she helped the county task force implement off-site testing using the same protocols and processes. Scarborough advocated for adequate supplies for Beadle County, an early hot spot for the virus, and helped the county procure an Abbott Analyzer. "She took the initiative to research the technology and got the unit up and testing within one day of it’s arrival," HRMC told MED. "She takes accurate testing very seriously and has worked tirelessly to make sure we can provide quick and accurate diagnosis for our providers."

Charles Isaac, Chaplain, AseraCare Hospice, Sioux Falls

Charles Isaac, a Chaplains at AseraCare Hospice in Sioux Falls, has stepped to minister to more than the spiritual needs of hospice patients and their families. Like many other types of healthcare providers, AseraCare has been forced to become more creative to deliver the best care while also keeping patients, families, and their communities safe during this unprecedented time. "We continue to see our patients in person, but also have expanded into telehealth visits to meet patient’s needs," AseraCare wrote in a note to MED. "Charles took on this initiative to ensure that we could continue to serve our patients. He trained our staff to be proficient in the use of this technology and has even helped several family members become more equipped in the use of video messaging, allowing them to be in contact with their loved ones. 

Byron Nielsen, MD, Nephrologist and President of the Yankton Medical Clinic Board of Directors

Yankton Medical Clinic says nephrologist Byron Nielsen "has not been afraid to make changes at the clinic that keep providers, staff, patients and visitors safe and healthy. He has taken the lead and set an example for us to follow. We have embraced telemedicine and internal meetings are not held in person but using video conferencing. This is a challenging time and information at first was changing almost as soon as it was released. We are fortunate to have dedicated people like Dr. Nielsen to make sure we are doing what we need to do to keep everyone safe and healthy."

Kristal Vogt, RN, MSN, Infection Control Coordinator, Yankton Medical Clinic

Yankton Medical Clinic's infection control coordinator Kristal Vogt has been on top of all the changes and latest recommendations communicating all of the information to Dr. Nielsen and our infection control committee and making recommendations for processes," YMC told MED. Vogt has stepped up to make sure all staff are educated on the proper procedures for using PPE and keeps careful track of inventory. "She’s been working on creative solutions to replace what we need when supplies are limited or unavailable," said YMC.

Kathy Hansen, Madison Regional Health System 

Kathy Hansen is the Director of Quality, Safety and Emergency Preparedness at Madison Regional Health System. Kathy has been an instrumental piece in making sure MRHS is following, responding and implementing the rapidly-evolving COVID-19 guidelines.

“Kathy is an integral part of the success of MRHS. She has many responsibilities in the areas of quality, patient satisfaction, infection control and facility preparedness,” said Tammy Miller, CEO of MRHS.  “Kathy is adamant about preserving quality and safety for all of our customers, whether patients or employees. Our facility is grateful for her leadership."

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