You don’t have to be an ICU nurse—or any kind of nurse, for that matter—to help care for others during the pandemic. That’s the message of the Helping Hands program, which allows Parkview Health co-workers to, quite literally, lend a helping hand.
It started with the need to fill roles that didn’t exist before the pandemic. Dozens of co-workers organized a community-wide mask-making effort
. Teams took turns asking screening questions at facility entrances. And more than 400 co-workers, from a variety of departments and locations, worked shifts at the COVID-19 vaccine clinic.
“With every COVID-19 wave, it’s become more efficient, more structured,” says Caitlin McEntee, Manager of Engagement and Retention for the Human Resources team at Parkview. She is responsible for ensuring nearly 400 Helping Hands shifts are filled each month.
Jen Todd, an Information Services project leader for Parkview Health, is pictured at a visitor check-in area at Parkview Regional Medical Center as part of the Helping Hands program.
Currently, Helping Hands assists with a variety of needs across the health system, with a focus on frontline support. The program typically assigns co-workers to four-hour shifts, available seven days a week, in both clinical and non-clinical areas.
Individuals with clinical experience can assist nurses with tasks such as taking vital signs, walking patients to the restroom, or responding to call lights. Non-clinical co-workers can stock supplies, fold linens or assist visitors.
“It’s about making those frontline workers’ jobs easier, less stressful,” McEntee says.
Co-workers are paid for their time, but they’re often working shifts in addition to their normal roles. Jason and Jen Todd, for example, volunteer to work shifts on top of their full-time roles in Information Services.
The married couple started volunteering to work at Parkview Regional Medical Center shortly after Jen’s father passed away from COVID-19 in September of 2020.
“I wanted to give back to our co-workers, to help them in any way we can,” Jen says.
Their first assignment was folding gowns—a small task that makes a big difference. Clinical staff must change gowns almost every time they enter or exit a patient room, so having gowns folded rather than thrown in a bin makes it easier for them to grab and go.
“When my wife told me, ‘Hey Jason, we are doing this,’ I was apprehensive, to say the least,” Jason says. “I recall how excited Jen was about being able to help fold gowns. She indeed has a passion to help others, which she spreads.”
Jen explains that Helping Hands has aided not only in her grieving, but also in her career. She’s gaining insight she never would have encountered as a technology project leader.
“At the end of the day, what we’re doing to help out the clinical inpatient areas has been an eye-opening experience. It helps us better understand their needs,” she says.
Jason adds that they’ve enjoyed meeting and getting to know more co-workers.
“It’s definitely been an enjoyable experience, even though it’s at a dark time,” he says. “The clinical staff, they are truly heroic.”
For nurses Michaela Weir and Bryttany Harrison, Helping Hands is a chance to reconnect to their calling. Both primarily work in nursing education but are working three shifts a week with Helping Hands to support hospital inpatient units, caring for COVID-19 patients and those with other care needs.
Weir has worked in outpatient surgery for 18 years, so she’s not as familiar with the hospital inpatient setting. However, she’s happy to do anything she can to help.
“I have more of that clinical knowledge to relieve some of the burden they have,” she says.
“The nurses have been really, really appreciative everywhere we go; So have the patients,” Weir explains. “With the nurses being so busy and visitors being limited, patients can get lonely. It’s nice that I can spend a little bit of time with them.”
Harrison is more familiar with inpatient settings. Prior to taking her current role, she worked in the surgical trauma ICU at Parkview Regional Medical Center.
“Working these shifts gets me reconnected with the staff, and I remember what they’re going through,” Harrison says.
When asked what it’s like to work inside the hospital right now, she notes that she wishes the public understood the intensity of care that is needed for COVID-19.
“The patients are so much sicker, so they all take so much more time,” Harrison explains. “The small tasks we do help them feel better and not as overwhelmed as they care for these more complicated patients.”
Though Weir and Harrison ultimately plan to get back to their “normal” roles, both nurses have a sense of compassion in their voices as they talk about their work with Helping Hands.
“At the end of the day, we’re nurses, and we went into nursing to help people,” Weir says.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Why are you going back to the bedside? You’re not a bedside nurse anymore,’” she says. “But that’s what my people need. We’re nurses, and we’re here to help.”