It wasn’t long after Washington State’s schools and businesses closed in response to COVID-19 that Nancy LaVielle began to hear the stories. Partners of clinic staff were taking cuts in work hours and paychecks. Extended family members were losing jobs. Children who usually ate meals at school were studying at home and taking a bigger bite out of grocery budgets.
Combine that with the stress of working the front lines of health care during a pandemic and Nancy, business director at HealthPoint’s Auburn health center, worried for the well-being of the clinic’s staff. Thankfully, no one had lost their job at HealthPoint. That was a major relief as coronavirus changes how U.S. health care stays solvent without the kinds of elective services that usually employ staff and pay bills.
“But at the same time, it all feels like the stress is just piling on,” says Nancy, who along with others at Auburn began to think about how to help. “If we can help somebody take off even a little piece of stress, that’s progress.”
It’s career advice that’s especially valuable during this time of pandemic: When you face unprecedented challenges at home as well as on the job, who you work with and how they treat you means everything.
The bottom line and staff satisfaction
As business director at SeaTac health center, Arni Villanueva Carullo sees her job as being responsible both for the center’s bottom line and the well-being of staff—as she says, "making sure people are fully engaged and satisfied with the job of serving our community.”
That community includes refugees from Somalia who, before COVID-19, received interpreting services during appointments now largely postponed. When a worried interpreter told Arni she feared losing the salary her family relies on, Arni’s mind began to spin. “She has four kids,” Arni explains. “And she and her husband don’t have anyone in this country.”
With Arni’s help, the interpreter is now supporting the clinic’s work by calling Somali-speaking patients who are overdue for services or who need follow-up appointments. She’s also continuing an existing pregnancy support group, which now meets online.
“I’m just thankful for HealthPoint,” says Arni, who came to SeaTac Center after working for larger healthcare organizations. “In corporate settings, if you don’t have a job, you don’t have a job.”
Redeployed and still employed
Staff at the Tukwila health center, where Eric Owen is business director, have been similarly reassigned as elective procedures have halted and needs of patients have changed.
Staff has been reallocated to make hand sanitizer, conduct COVID-19 testing, and complete health screenings at patient check-in. Some help patients find food, then deliver it. Others call to check in on those who are most at risk for severe symptoms if they develop COVID-19.
“We have a huge commitment to keeping folks working and employed,” he says, “and also to meeting the needs of our patients as they go through this with us.”
The importance of give and take
A table sits near the screening area at the Auburn health center where every staff member gets a temperature check before starting work. On it might be box of instant rice, some cereal, or a package of diapers, depending on what those arriving at work drop off that day. As the table fills, team members carry the goods to a room near the clinic’s exit where they apportion the donations into bags. Every evening the bags disappear, taken by staff who, while grateful for their continuing paychecks, could use a little extra help.
It might seem like a small gesture. But to Nancy LaVielle it’s an example of how her colleagues value and support each other.
“I can’t sing their praises loud enough,” she says. “Everybody’s trying really, really hard to work through all of these difficulties while giving our patients the best care possible. And it makes me really proud to see that.”