“I learned the value of kindness”
Sometimes, the depth of an experience can only be measured later, when there’s time to pause and reflect. This is certainly true for those who worked on the frontlines of patient care during the heartbreaking COVID-19 surges; those whose lives were upended by the wildfires; and the thousands of employees who worked long hours to support their teammates over the past two years.
As we honor all Asante employees during Health Care Week, some are sharing what they have learned from these experiences, how they’ll take those lessons forward … and what gave them strength.
The value of kindness
As supervisor of ARRMC’s Intensive Care Unit, Kelsea Robinson, saw the worst of COVID-19. “It was hard to bear witness to so much pain, that much fear, hurt and anger,” she says, still fighting the grief. “What I learned is the value of kindness. I was so fortunate because within my own team of nurses, they were kind. They did lean in. They extended grace to each other. We weren’t perfect, and there were incredibly hard times, but the overall feeling was one of such love and support for one another.”
“We’re not heroes, we’re just people,” says Maggie Pech, also an ICU nurse at ARRMC. “We’re people who love. We’re people who nurture. We had to show up even though we were scared. We had to show up even though we were fatigued. We had to show up even though we were emotionally drained and we were seeing we weren’t winning. We were losing our patients.”
“During the delta wave that most of us were showing up day to day, not only for our patients but for our coworkers because we wanted to be there for each other,” Pech says. “And I know that my nurses are there for me now. The the only ones who know what I’ve been through are my coworkers. It has made me stronger to know that I have a family of my coworkers behind me, embracing me, holding me. We made it through together.”
Allowing time to heal
Even in an ICU, it’s not common for most of the patients to die. That happened at both ARRMC and ATRMC during the delta surge. “Sometimes we would have four deaths within a couple of hours, which is unheard of,” says Jason Dimmick, who manages ATRMC’s ICU and IMCU. “Seventy percent of your patients were going to die, no matter how hard you worked, no matter how many extra shifts you did, no matter how many extra lines you put into the patient, how many medications you gave them.”
Although the numbers of COVID patients have slowed to a trickle, the staff healing is just beginning. “The temptation may be to kind of skip on to ‘Yay, things are better now, let’s party.’ But for a lot of people on the front lines, there needs to be some healing first.”
Adapting with gratitude
The pandemic had a seismic shift on Asante’s support workers as well. From ITS to HR, staff members who once gathered in groups to meet (and sometimes socialize) found themselves working alone in makeshift home offices and away from the structured environments they were used to.
Many, if not most, have relished the flexibility. Others, however missed the buzz and camaraderie that comes with being in an office. Steve Ryan, an ITS support tech admits he struggled to adjust to working without being surrounded by teammates. “Everybody split up. I’ve been here for 10 years and suddenly everybody was scattered.” For Ryan, work/life balance meant spending more time at work. So when it was clear someone needed to be on-site to accept deliveries and so on, Ryan was glad to oblige. “Everybody I know in ITS was excited to go home,” he says. “And then there’s me. I’m excited to be here in person.” He now works in the office full-time.
Kitty Sallas, a health educator and self-described “wellness lady,” was surprised to see her own well-being begin to spiral during the pandemic. “I realized I was ruminating on a lot of negative stuff because so many negative things were happening,” she says.
She began taking the advice she offers to the people she coaches in Asante Health Promotion. “We can’t control the waves of those challenges and changes that come our way, but we can learn to surf the waves.” To regain her emotional strength, Sallas uses mindfulness techniques to trade “toxic thinking” for positive self-talk and actively choosing gratitude.
For Barbara McClung, benefits supervisor for HR, the new way of working required some practical and mental adjustments. “I think a lot of times we tend to plan out everything. We’re gonna run it by 50 committees and do all these things. We didn’t have that opportunity. You had to be super nimble on a dime — and know that you didn’t get it correct 100% of the time.
“If you let the heaviness of this whole pandemic weigh you down, that’s where we start to lose the resilience to bounce back and see that it’s gonna be OK. I don’t know when the end is. I don’t know what it’s gonna look like, but I know it’s gonna be OK. And I fully believe that.”
Shawn Espejo endured a double challenge in the past two years. He was among the thousands of local residents and 80 Asante employees who lost a home in the Almeda fire. As a physical therapist for outpatient rehab, the experience brought him closer to the struggles his patients have as they recovering from a life-altering illness or event. Both vulnerable, the patients learned from Espejo, and he learned from his patients.
“Even if you run into an obstacle, it doesn’t mean you stop there,” he says. “You think of other ways to go around it. Same thing goes for pain. We are engineered to think that pain is something that you avoid. But pain is there to let you know that you’re alive.”
The pandemic forced Pete McAfee, an imaging tech at AACH, to work differently, but it also taught him the importance of giving.
“I felt the need to bring positivity into my life. I set a goal to try and help people. That was by raising money for amputees and providing prosthetic limbs and prosthetic care, and by climbing some big mountains in South America with other amputees [as a fundraiser]. That really helped to keep me feeling positive, not only in my life, but that positivity also carried through at work at Asante. When you’re doing good things for people you tend to feel better at work and provide better care.”
What resilience looks like
“There were times when we felt the weight of the world was on our shoulders,” says Sheralee Couch, a nurse in ARRMC’s ICU. “We were all going through the same struggles, but we were showing up shift after shift, even when it felt impossible. And it did. It felt impossible at times.”
“We had to rely on each other to a degree that we never had before,” she says. “We knew we were caring. We knew we were competent. I don’t think we knew how resilient we were.”
“I learned that everybody has a story,” says Mickey Slack, supervisor at APP–Black Oak. “No matter how bad my day was, somebody else was going through their own story. It really made reflect on the moment that I was feeling frustrated and know that this too shall pass. I will be stronger for this.”
Kelly Stofflet, scheduling assistant for Volunteer Services at AACH and ARRMC, found inspiration in the people who work at Asante without pay. “All of our volunteers were called off when our hospitals went into lockdown,” she says. “Even after they were told they wouldn’t be able to volunteer, many offered to come help at the Smullin Center. Then they helped at the COVID vaccine clinics. All the while, they were checking on me to make sure I was OK. They have shown me what resilience looks like.”
Thanks to these and the many other employees interviewed for this project whose names did not appear. Your contributions are deeply appreciated. You are #AsanteStrong.
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