In the midst of the pandemic outbreak, workers in a health care system are fulfilling different roles


As the Director of Emergency Preparedness for CentraCare, Rachel Mockros spends most days during the pandemic in virtual meetings on a computer screen, planning for disasters.

But last Friday, Mockros worked as a basic caregiver at St. Benedict’s Care Center, a nursing home in St. Cloud. Wearing blue scrubs with her hair in a bun, she jostled from room to room as residents pushed their call buttons.

“We help brush our teeth. We help dress,” she said. “We help with anything they may need – brush their hair, go to the bathroom, take a bath.”

Like other healthcare systems, CentraCare – which operates the St. Benedict Health Center, St. Cloud Hospital, and other healthcare facilities in central Minnesota – is overwhelmed by the latest wave of COVID-19 and a staff shortage.

To help alleviate the crisis, CentraCare offers employees the ability to fill where they are needed most, even if it is well outside of their career experience.

The labor pool program began at the start of the pandemic to displace employees whose departments were experiencing less demand.

But it has evolved to give employees interested in working beyond their regular hours the opportunity to help in departments with critical staffing needs, spokeswoman Karna Fronden said.

More than 1,700 workers offered to participate. They receive additional compensation and training, if necessary.

Rachel Mockros (right) chats with Mike Lais, who is a certified nursing assistant. Mockros was taking a shift as a basic care aide in the St. Benedict community of CentraCare.

Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Some are healthcare workers who take turns in intensive care units or emergency rooms, where they do not normally work. Some are high-level administrators who clean hospital rooms or fold sheets.

As a leader, Mockros knows how critical extra help is. CentraCare hospitals are overflowing with patients requiring intensive care, and staffing across the system is limited.

“At the heart of it all is that if we don’t send people into the nursing home, we can’t move people out of the hospital,” she said. “Right now we have 50 to 70 people who need to be discharged from the hospital in a long-term care facility and we don’t have beds.

Mockros’ medical training is in community health and health care administration. But in college, she worked at St. Benedict’s as a recreation therapist.

Taking evening and weekend shifts gives her a chance to return to direct patient care, to be more physically active and to feel like she is helping in a crisis, Mockros said.

“When you’re in a managerial position, you’re not always on the front line,” she said. “You are not always at the bedside. So it was really, really fascinating to learn. “

In St. Benedict’s, Mockros is constantly on the move, filling cups with ice water, closing blinds and even taking dirty laundry to the laundry room.

“It’s not glamorous,” she said. “But it’s gratifying because they need help.”

St. Benedict’s nurse’s aide, Michael Lais, said he looked forward to the extra help. He said it’s easier when there are four employees looking after the 33 residents on the third floor, but some days there are only two or three.

“With two people it’s pretty hard for us to do our daily chores here because it’s just not enough hands to help,” Lais said.

A woman takes a glass of water.

Rachel Mockros helps a resident of the St. Benedict community by providing him with water.

Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

St. Benedict administrator Susan Kratzke said she knew there would be limits to what people could do while doing jobs they weren’t necessarily trained for. But she said they did more than expected.

“People find things to do. They learn fast, ”she said. “They don’t want to just call it bingo. They really want to get involved and do things that make a difference for residents.

Tammy Totz is a CentraCare accountant who worked from home in Clear Lake during the pandemic. But in the evenings and weekends, she dabs patients for COVID-19 at a Waite Park testing site. She also monitors and helps transport patients to the busy emergency room at St. Cloud Hospital.

“If I can do this stuff to free these nurses to take care of a patient, then that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

The extra chores give her a chance to get out of the house and think about something other than finance and accounting, Totz said. And it gave him a new appreciation for the hard work of frontline workers.

“It’s kind of an eye opener,” Totz said. “You see the nurses and you hear how overworked and stressful it is. And until you actually get there, and you see it, I don’t know if you have that full appreciation of what they’re doing. deal exactly. “

CentraCare employees also said the program makes them feel like they are helping to help their colleagues and patients.

A man slides a tray of food into a cart.

Tim Johnson, a recruiting marketer for CentraCare, slides a tray of food into a cart for delivery to a patient at St. Cloud Hospital.

Courtesy of Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson, a marketing recruiter, works alternate Saturdays putting fruit cups and Jell-O on platters and restocking kitchenettes at St. Cloud Hospital.

“When we’re out there to build trays, it’s not just about filling in what’s on the ticket,” he said. “It’s literally making sure someone can heal. And he’s making sure he’s getting the nourishment his body needs to allow that to happen.”

Melissa Pribyl has been a nurse for 27 years. For the past six years, she has been a community health and wellness specialist for CentraCare Monticello, but she said many of her friends are still working at the hospital.

A health worker stands at a counter.

Community health and wellness specialist Melissa Pribyl works shifts in the emergency room at Monticello Hospital.

Courtesy of Mélissa Pribyl.

“I had a bit of that bad conscience knowing I could help,” Pribyl said. But at first, it was not possible for employees to access jobs by the hour. Once this hurdle was overcome, she began to help in Monticello’s emergency room.

“It’s like a desire in me to be able to help as a nurse for so many years, especially in a small regional hospital, where the staff is minimal anyway,” she said.

Like other health care providers in Minnesota, CentraCare has been hit hard by staff exhaustion and employees fall ill, care for sick family members, or have to be quarantined due to the exposure. COVID-19, said Kathy Parsons, vice president for population health. Some workers are facing childcare issues and some have left to become itinerant nurses, she said.

CentraCare has also lost some employees due to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that begins Dec. 15, but that hasn’t been a major issue, Parsons said. Employees who refuse to be vaccinated will be put on leave and can return if they decide to be vaccinated, she said.

The labor pool program is scheduled until early January. This is a short-term strategy to deal with the staff shortage as CentraCare strives to recruit and hire more permanent workers.

Kratzke said she can see the Workforce Pool program continuing as a way for people to earn extra income, keep doing something they love and fill a void.

“It will be some time to find the workforce we need in this industry,” she said.

Mockros said she would like to continue taking shifts at St. Benedict from time to time.

“My heart is definitely in long term care,” she said. “I like being with the residents. I like to bond with them. “

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