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Redeployed WellSpan workers learn new tasks, find new joys during pandemic

May 22, 2020

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Wendy CarterA WellSpan audiologist has spent busy days emptying trash, gathering dirty linens, sanitizing equipment and restocking supplies in the Cardiovascular/Intensive Care Unit at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.

A WellSpan Brossman Health Center office assistant found himself baking brownies and making potato salad in the kitchen at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.

And a WellSpan Sleep Center employee bundled up and stood outside in all kinds of weather, taking in box after of box of face masks, hand sanitizer, protective gowns and other donations from generous Lancaster County neighbors.

Welcome to the life of a redeployed WellSpan employee, a life that offered a new look at health care, new challenges and new joys during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am very glad I had the opportunity to do this,” said Wendy Carter, a 28-year employee of WellSpan who went from being an office assistant at the WellSpan Sleep Center in Lancaster to working at a donation site in northern Lancaster County. “I loved being with the people. This is historic and what we saw expressed the incredible kindness of people.”

Carla Pielmeier normally spends her days in an office, fitting patients with hearing aids at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. But since late March, she has donned scrubs and worked in the hospital’s CVU/ICU, which has cared for the most critically ill COVID-19 patients, doing housekeeping and nurse’s aide duties.

Carla Pielmeier

“I never thought I would be doing this,” she said. “But if the cleaning work is not done, nothing else can be done. If it’s not sanitary for the nurses to do their jobs, they can’t do them. I feel just as important doing this as I would doing my hearing services. I am going to miss it!”

WellSpan began redeploying workers in mid-March, after the pandemic slowed or temporarily paused normal work in some areas. Most of this redeployment occurred within WellSpan entities, with employees moving to different roles at or near their hospital or location.

But some of this redeployment occurred across the system and, at one point, several hundred WellSpan employees were redeployed to a different part of the health system, facilitated by the organization’s Talent Acquisition team, who themselves were doing a different work than normal.

“Our goal has been to support our departments and team members as our services shifted and needs across the system changed due to the pandemic,” said Kim Brister, senior director of Talent Acquisition, Diversity and Inclusion for WellSpan. “We were creative with placing available staff in open positions that aligned with their skillset, COVID-related assignments and sharing our team members with community partners who needed screeners.”

Some workers, such as Calvin Chang, chose to be redeployed after their hours were reduced. Chang works as an office assistant in the speech and occupational therapy department at the WellSpan Brossman Health Center in Ephrata. After his department moved services online, and he was only working 16 hours a week, Chang decided to make a temporary move to a full-time position in the kitchen at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.

Chang, who had previous food service experience, ended up doing a lot of food preparation, making desserts and side dishes. He also washed dishes.

“Now I know how to bake,” he said. “I never made brownies. I love cooking but I’m more of a cook and a griller. I don’t do desserts but here I am.”

Redeployed workers had some adjustments to make. For Chang, it meant he had to work different hours and some weekends. But he’s glad he could continue to get full-time hours.

Calvin Chang

“This taught me if everyone works together as one, we can get through this,” he said. Carter said she learned a lot about herself by being redeployed. At 67, she found she could lift heavy boxes and work outside. “My daughter said, ‘Mom! You have such a tan forehead!’ “

Pielmeier said she learned the importance of cleaning and stocking the 20 different hand sanitizer stations in hallways of the CVU/ICU (“That is a LOT of dedication to clean hands!”). She also realized that housekeepers could act as a visitor for a patient, especially during the visitor ban of the pandemic, providing uplifting conversation and cheer. And she also learned how nurses, housekeepers, dietary workers and other hospital employees roll up their sleeves and help each other, day in and day out, in a busy hospital unit.

“Just seeing how they are a well-oiled machine taking the best care of a patient, but also taking care of each other, was amazing,” she said. “I also got choked up when I saw the care the nurses provided. If the patients’ families could see these nurses brushing the hair off a forehead, like someone would do with a loved one, it showed their great care and empathy.”

Pielmeier’s co-workers have appreciated her flexibility and presence.

“Carla has been selfless during her redeployed time,” said Bonnie Connor, nurse manager of the CVU/ICU. “No job is too big, too small or beneath her and it is completed with a smile. She recognizes and acknowledges the work of others.”

Connor said the unit has benefited from other redeployed staff as well. For example, redeployed nurses were paired with an experienced ICU nurse to provide care in a team approach to complex COVID patients.

Carter got to see the kindness of community members, including members of the Plain Community who dropped off thousands of homemade masks at the donation site.

“The most memorable moment for me was when we had an Amish girl come on her bike,” she said. “It had rained like crazy. The wind was just insane. She was struggling to come in, with her mask on. She brought a pack she had made of 25 masks. That just touched my heart.

“I am glad I got to do this job. I would do it again. It was good!”