Unbreakable bond: Testing site staff comes together during pandemic

August 17, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

This blog was originally posted in 2020. Some information may be out of date. For the latest updates on vaccines, testing, screening, visitor policy and post-COVID support, visit EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The COVID-19 testing center at the Edward Elmhurst Health Corporate Center in Warrenville opened on March 25 with a team of frontline healthcare workers that came from other Edward-Elmhurst locations, many of which were temporarily closed due to the global pandemic. Watch a video about the drive-up testing site.

In the beginning, the group saw about 25 patients a day due to limited availability of testing resources. However, the site, which provides three types of testing — a rapid 15-minute test, one processed onsite at an Edward-Elmhurst laboratory, and a version sent to an offsite laboratory — now often sees upward of 400 patients a day.

The drive-thru testing site offers a fine-tuned system that provides services for patients with a doctor’s order for a COVID-19 test. Patients may have symptoms, be asymptomatic but exposed to someone with the virus, or may need a test prior to having another medical procedure.

“From the time a patient checks in to when they check out may be just a minute or two,” says Michelle Vermeland, RRT, supervisor of the COVID-19 testing site.

Starting with a staff of 10, comprised of clinical and customer service roles, the group has grown to 30 members. About 17-21 employees are working at the site on any given day. They’ve been through a lot during their time together, and with so little known about the virus, many of the staff felt scared in the beginning of their time at the site.

“When we first started, there was so much unknown,” says Vermeland. “We all wore N95 masks to do swabbing back then.”

The staff runs positive samples every day onsite, but no one on staff has tested positive for the virus during the site’s time in operation. Today, they wear traditional surgical masks and face shields instead of the N95s. New information learned about the virus leads to adjustments and regular training for the group, which has a daily huddle to manage changes and keep everyone on the same page.

Team members feel significant pressure to ensure they provide a good patient experience and the most accurate results possible. They do everything they can to limit patient wait times but won’t hesitate to press pause to allow them to triple-check the process before letting a patient go home.

“The staff loves educating the community and having the opportunity to explain why what we have here is accurate,” says Vermeland. “I’m truly blessed to work with such a strong team.”

Experiencing this together has created a tight bond between the staff members, who started their outdoor work in the snow (one day when it snowed, they made a snowman) and now complete their workdays in 90-degree heat.

“We’ve huddled around heaters and huddled around air coolers,” says Vermeland, who describes the staff as extremely dedicated. “We haven’t had one complaint from a staff member.”

They’ve made the best of a tough situation at every turn.

When staff member Amelia Barone expressed disappointment that she wouldn’t be able to have a graduation ceremony when she earned her associate’s degree from College of DuPage this spring, the staff sprung to action. Vermeland, who also graduated from College of DuPage, still had her own cap and gown. She had it cleaned and the staff held a surprise graduation celebration for Barone, who wore the cap and gown proudly.

When asked about the best part of her experience working at the testing site, Vermeland doesn’t hesitate. “Absolutely it’s the team, they truly are some of the best in the system,” she says. “And that goes for everyone I work with here, to the medical director in charge of tent, and the system director in charge of lab. They have each played a part in the success of this place.”

Physician assistant Colleen Noonan agrees and says the team has also become closer over quite a few potluck meals.

“It’s the day-today comradery that’s been so great,” Noonan says. “Even though COVID is here, I’m not isolated. I’ve made several new friends and learned about so many different perspectives in medicine.”

Perhaps the most meaningful part of the group’s experience has been working with the patients. Although they’ve dealt with a few challenging situations and personalities, most of their interactions have been positive.

“Most patients are so grateful,” says Noonan. “We do not feel unappreciated.”

The staff has an entire whiteboard of emails and notes thanking them for their efforts at the drive-through testing center.

As the state of Illinois eased restrictions and more has been learned about the virus, things have changed for the group. Some staff have returned to their previous roles in Edward-Elmhurst Walk-In Clinics and Immediate Care locations.

“When staff goes back to their home base, there’s an emotional tug on everyone,” says Vermeland, who adds that everyone leaves with a collage of all the faces of those who have worked here, a tradition she started to ensure they remember each other and their shared experience at the testing site.

The site closed at the end of August, and although many team members won’t miss working outdoors in inclement weather, they will miss each other and their daily experiences with the patients.

“It’s so great to be here to help calm patients’ fears, do what we can to make them feel better and do something to help manage this pandemic,” says Noonan, “I’ll miss it.”

Watch a video featuring frontline healthcare workers at the drive-up COVID-19 testing site

To increase convenience and efficiency for community members, Edward-Elmhurst Health now offers COVID-19 testing at nine outpatient lab locations throughout the west and southwest suburbs. You can now have your regular lab work and your COVID-19 test performed at the same convenient location. A physician order is required and appointments must be scheduled in advance.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, your safety and well-being are our top priority. When you visit us, you will find consistent safety measures in place. Learn more about our Safety Commitment.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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