While many Cobbers are no longer on campus and staying at home, others are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kendra Johnson is currently a senior at Concordia. For four years she has worked as a CNA/Med Aide at Touchmark at Harwood Groves in the Memory Care Neighborhood. After she graduates this May, she plans to work in the Family Birth Center at Sanford as a mother and baby nurse.
Since working at her current job throughout college, Johnson has continued to see her abilities grow. Although she has learned many skills from the nursing program and clinicals, she has also learned patience and kindness at her current workplace.
“I enjoy having the opportunity to make someone laugh every time I work, and Concordia taught me the importance of greeting everyone with a smile.” Johnson continued, “My favorite part about work is walking past Concordia alumni who see my Cobber ring and how many people have such a high level of respect for Concordia students and alumni.”
According to Johnson, Touchmark began limiting visitors on February 24th. On March 12th, they started screening all employees every shift. Then, on April 5th, all employees had to be wearing a mask at all times. Johnson mentioned since there was a scare in the community, precautions were increased. Staff had to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, glasses, gloves, and masks. They wore all PPE until all of the residents and staff tested negative and they were able to go back to wearing only masks on April 14th.
Since some employees are unable to work due to COVID-19, Johnson averages about sixty-two hours a week at work. Her typical schedule is working sixteen hours a day and staying up late into the night to complete school work.
“It has been very difficult physically and mentally to answer the increased need of being a healthcare worker at this time, while still attending school full time,” Johnson said.
Johnson mentions how scary it can be for residents to see people trying to help them in gowns and masks and they don’t always understand what is actually happening in the world. The residents also are unable to see visitors and family.
“It has really been a difficult time for me because sometimes the best way to make someone feel better is with a smile and they are unable to see my facial expressions with a mask on,” Johnson said.
A 2018 graduate, Micah Ferden, works as a Clinical Care Leader/RN at Sanford Health in Fargo on the inpatient Oncology unit. Ferden explains that the clinical and classroom experiences at Concordia really prepared him for the real world. His last clinical rotation was the floor he currently works on, which gave him the opportunity to experience what the unit was like and how the nurses worked together before even graduating college.
“The nursing program emphasizes that nursing is both an art and a science, while in school you may not make that connection right away but once you start working and find the area you like, you feel it,” Ferden said, “Concordia emphasizes having a global world view and in this job you need to, as you never know where or what situation your patient may be coming from and as a nurse you need to be able to listen to, empathize with, and respect them as a human being.”
Preparations for COVID-19 started back in January and policy changes became more evident in March. Although on the oncology floor, preparations started very quickly because of high-risk patients. Although Ferden does not work directly with COVID-19, he says that he is much more aware of keeping his home clean and taking necessary precautions with everything going around.
When asked if this new pandemic changes his view on staying in the healthcare position, he replied that it shines a spotlight on problems the healthcare faces prior to the pandemic. Such as shortages in nurses, but it shows him how resilient the profession is.
“It’s definitely challenging right now with everything going on, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Ferden said.
Tamera Ostenaa graduated from Concordia in 2001 and went on to her first job as a registered nurse in the Oncology Unit at MeritCare Hospital in Fargo, which is now Sanford Health. In 2016, she returned to school online through Maryville University and earned her master’s degree in nursing. She now works at the Sanford Health Clinic in Mahnomen as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
Ostenaa thanks Concordia for a great foundation of learning and her professors were always very encouraging and this gave her the courage to attend grad school.
“Preparations for a mass casualty event have been in the works since 9/11 happened, which coincidentally was only a few months after I started my nursing career,” Ostenaa said. “Of course, no one can prepare for every specific scenario, but thinking outside the box and having a plan in place for different scenarios is something that has been happening for the past several years.”
For COVID-19, preparations began a few months ago, and daily in-person meetings were happening until eventually, those meetings became conference calls or over skype due to social distancing standards. They now have meetings two to three times a week to prepare for the surge of COVID-19 cases that will likely hit in the next few weeks or months.
Since the pandemic, Ostenaa’s hours are cut in half and spends more time at home with her two teenage children. She says clinics everywhere have become very slow due to the shelter in place orders and social distancing standards so employees working in these clinics are having their hours cut. Some organizations even require their employees to use their vacation time to cover lost hours if they want to get paid.
She says telemedicine has been talked about for several years. She hopes once this is over, video and verbal visits are still a viable option for patients.
“Health care is something I have always been passionate about and I can not see myself doing anything else. When you enter into the health care industry, you are warned about change, things are constantly changing. You can either learn to adapt and embrace it or fight change and get extremely frustrated,” Ostenaa said.