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Recognizing COVID Heroes

Jun 26, 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."

Karen Weber, RN, Medical Surgical & ED Director, Brookings Health System

At the start of the recent COVID-19 epidemic, Karen recognized Brookings Health’s traditional disaster preparedness plan would not work with the unique clinical and medical challenges COVID-19 brought with it. The outlook at the time was such that the Sioux Falls hospitals and ICUs would be filled to care for COVID-19 patients plus additional field hospitals would be filled as well. As such, if a wave of COVID-19 hit the Brookings region, Brookings Health System would have to care for all area COVID-19 patients, even those with the most severe cases.

The existing disaster plan called for setting up an alternate care site off campus under Brookings Health System’s licensure in the event the health system exceeded surge capacity. Setting up and staffing an off campus care site with very sick patients who required intensive care would unreasonably strain Brookings Health’s human resources. As such, Karen began engineering how to care for up to 63 patients inside Brookings Health’s main campus, spending many long nights developing the plan. She looked for space within the building, planning to repurpose same-day surgery rooms and PACU bays to care for patients while leaving space available to care for emergent surgeries as needed. She also planned to use rooms from the old OB unit, a space leftover from Brookings Health’s recent hospital expansion and renovation project, as well as the cardiopulmonary rehab gym and outreach clinic. She also found resources for needed equipment, supplies, additional beds and IT equipment to supply those additional rooms. As she found rooms and beds, she planned how to keep COVID-19 patients separated from non-infectious patients with emergent care needs and to accommodate delivering OB mothers with COVID-19. Her plan also included a points system to identify the complexity of patient cases, where to house them for care, and how to assign the correct staffing levels for each patient case. Then, when the Department of Health informed Brookings Health to prepare for up to 81 patients per day at the projected COVID-19 peak for mid-June, Karen went back to her plan and found space and equipment for an additional 17 beds, bringing Brookings Health’s surge capacity to 80 beds.

In addition to pulling together Brookings Health System’s bed management and surge capacity plan, Karen also worked side-by-side with physicians on developing treatment protocols. Because COVID-19 was new and an emergent health need, new information was coming out every day and constantly changing. Karen worked with the physicians to put in place a standard of care for COVID-19 patients and critical care kits to have on-hand and at the ready.

With her role as Medical Surgical & ED Director, Karen’s team of nurses and patient care techs also looked to her for reassurance that there was a plan in place to safely care for COVID-19 patients. She communicated to them the plans for bed management and surge capacity as well as standards of care for COVID-19 patients, alleviating their fears.

In summary, Karen spent many long days, working weekends and nights at the hospital, preparing for the COVID-19 worst case scenario because of her compassion for patients and her love for her team. Her dedication and leadership helped prepare Brookings Health System to handle anything, even COVID-19.

Bunny Christie, MS, Infection Preventionist Brookings Health System

An experienced microbiologist with a specialization in infectious disease, Bunny was prepared and ready before the first instance of COVID-19 was even identified in the U.S., staying up-to-date on global developments and the CDC’s response. When the first case was identified in South Dakota on March 10, she became a shining star. Bunny spent many long days and sleepless nights at the beginning of the pandemic, readying Brookings Health team members, answering their questions, and providing them important safety guidance. From responding to the first SOS call at the local clinic, numerous phone calls with the state, fielding phone calls at all hours of the day and night from staff, physicians, and administrators, training nursing home staff to properly use personal protective equipment, to coming in the middle of the night to provide just-in-time training to staff on using PAPR hoods, Bunny has been the rock of Brookings Health System’s response.

Bunny has also helped keep the Brookings community informed. She called in weekly to the local radio station to the give the community updates regarding the COVID-19 situation and answer commonly asked questions during the height of community anxiety. Her active involvement with the Brookings County Pandemic Planning & Coordination Committee made her a knowledge resource to others involved on that team, including Brookings County Emergency Management and the City of Brookings.

According to her supervisor, Quality Director Sandra Ruesch, “Bunny has been our quarterback in a football game that is going into perpetual overtime! There were many weeks where her role was non-stop COVID-19. I recall one day in early April when she had an opportunity to look at Foley catheter utilization data for an hour, and she said, ‘I have never been so excited to look at Foley data. It’s something other than COVID for a change!’ She’s had a great attitude throughout the pandemic response. We are grateful to have her knowledge and expertise on our team!”

As healthcare recovers from the pandemic and a new normal settles in our world, Bunny is still at the ready for Brookings Health. She stays up-to-date on information from the CDC and the Department of Health, reports necessary data to government agencies, and continues to inform and educate team members and the community.

Brad Haupt, Vice President of Supply Chain and Contract Management, Monument Health is used to getting phone calls when something is missing. What he wasn’t used to - until about three months ago - was having 1,200 products on back-order or facing their allocation limit. 

“Over my 27-year career in supply chain, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “These are unprecedented times for the supply chain.” 

Manufacturing around the globe began facing major shortages long before the pandemic reached the United States due to the fact that most medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) come from China, who of course was battling its own COVID-19 crisis. So Brad’s team had to get creative early on, especially with regard to products ordered using an allocation strategy. Allocated products are reordered when only a certain number remain, and because allocations are still based on pre-COVID-19 utilization, the supply chain has had to manually override these automatic ordering systems. 

Brad explains allocation using this example: If you normally buy 10 cans of soup per month, but you suddenly need more soup to feed your family, allocation says you still get just 10 cans per month. “So you need to either figure out how to tend to your family with 10 cans, or figure out how to buy soup from someone else,” he said.

The decision to stop elective surgeries gave the supply chain a chance to catch up. “We continued to buy our allocation of products and build our inventory,” Brad said. “A lot of work was done during that time. We were working overtime to bring in even more supplies and take control of our inventory.”

Caregivers in all areas of the supply chain, from laundry to transportation and in all markets, have been stepping up, taking extra shifts and working longer hours to make sure caregivers and providers at all locations have the supplies they need. 

“Our contractors and buyers are constantly vetting vendors and brining in substitute products,” he said. “Face shields are a good example - right now there are 20 different styles being distributed across the system to make sure caregivers have PPE they need.”  

According to Brad, a huge motivating factor behind the hard work and long hours his team has been putting in is that they are helping the whole community - not just Monument Health. As a health care leader in our region, the suppliers vetted by our organization and the relationships we’ve built are of value to others who are suddenly facing their own supply challenges.  

“Just the other day we were contacted by an organization, and while we couldn’t give them enough of the product to hold them over, we gave them contact information for some suppliers,” he said. “Later that day they called and thanked us and said they got what they needed.” 

Thank you to our supply chain team for their dedication to not only Monument Health patients, caregivers and providers, but to others in the community who rely on our leadership. 

Dr. Mark Abraham, general surgeon at Midlands Clinic, also works frequently in all of the area hospitals: MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center, UnityPoint Health, and the Dakota Dunes Surgical Hospital. As the Medial Staff President at MercyOne, he has played a major role in planning and decision making regarding COVID-19. His hours spent in the hospital have increased during this time as he is dedicated to assisting the response and research efforts. He has been involved in research focused on adjunctive strategies for treating COVID-19, the use of plasma in treating the virus, and novel treatment strategies to help make the course of the disease less intense. He has been on the frontlines caring for COVID-19 positive patients and interacting with them for research protocol, and because of that he has been self-isolating from his wife and three daughters, a third grader, first grader, and two year old.

He continues to spread awareness, urging people to take the precautions seriously. “Our lives will be different and likely a bit less convenient for the foreseeable future. That is much better than the alternative I have seen, being desperately ill in the hospital with a fair chance of death, despite aggressive medical care.” He is devoted to the community in which he lives and cares for, and has taken any opportunity available to educate and advise the community on the virus. We appreciate him for his dedication and sacrifice during this pandemic!”

Dr. Lawrence Volz, general surgeon at Midlands Clinic, is also the Chief Medical Officer for MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center. Due to this role, he has been vital in decision making and implementation of the Coronavirus preparedness and response. Dr. Volz has had an immense presence in caring for COVID patients at MercyOne, including working on treatment plans with the critical care physicians and nursing staff, working on a hyperbaric oxygen therapy trial, and the use of plasma therapy for COVID patients.

He is passionate about community education – he was the driving factor behind efforts to unite his physician colleagues in sharing our "wear your mask" social media campaign and is constantly looking for opportunities to make sure thoughtful, correct information is out in our community. He continues to be an incredible source for Siouxland as he is active in the news answering questions about COVID-19, advising Siouxland on proper protection and precautions, as well providing accurate and up-to-date information on the virus.

Dr. Volz is a constant example of how to show reverence for each individual patient, which has been demonstrated as he works to coordinate care for each COVID-19 and trauma patient he encounters. At a time when visitors are limited and many loved ones are separated during medical care, I hope our community can take comfort knowing that there are decision makers at his level who truly treat each patient as if they were his own mother, father, sister or brother. We thank him for his passion for keeping Siouxland safe and healthy!”

The COVID Incident Command Team, Pioneer Memorial Hospital & Health Services, Viborg 

The COVID Incident Command Team spent countless hours preparing the facility and three clinic locations for the COVID pandemic the past 90 days. They have been instrumental in planning and developing protocols to keep staff, patients, and residents safe.  The team consists of (L-R): Holly Jensen, Interim Director of Nursing for Long-Term Care & Performance Improvement Coordinator; Tonya Rudd, Director of Clinic Operations; Lindsey Hauger, Chief Executive Officer; Sharon Jacobsen, Director of Nursing; Anne Christiansen, Chief Financial Officer; and Lori Hisel, Director of Support Services.  (absent was Krista Schaeffer, Director of Nursing for Long-Term Care.

David Basel, MD, Vice President of Clinical Quality for Avera Medical Group. Dr. Basel has been one of our leaders in the COVID response and lead physician on COVID surge modeling and predictive analytics. He’s worked closely with the State of South Dakota Department of Health and health care counterparts across the state to determine surge numbers and surge timelines for both the state and larger communities within the state.


Jawad Nazir, MD, Infectious Disease physician with Avera Medical Group. Dr. Nazir has been Avera’s lead infectious disease physician during this pandemic. He’s helped colleagues and health leaders bridge the knowledge gaps in understanding the virus and provided the professional expertise to establish infection control measures and clinical protocols at multiples levels for both patients and employees.



Anthony Hericks, DO, Pulmonologist with Avera Medical Group and Medical Director of Critical Care services at Avera McKennan. Dr. Hericks has been leading the charge preparing staff and clinical protocols for treating COVID patients in the inpatient setting. He’s also been instrumental in identifying necessary critical care beds needed for the anticipated patient surge.