Acts of Kindness Take Many Forms
During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous healthcare workers at Northwestern Medicine have come forward to support patients and teams outside of their usual line of work. For many, this has meant undergoing additional training in order to safely care for patients with COVID-19, while others have found less visible but equally powerful ways to make a difference for patients, families and colleagues. They are among the healthcare heroes who make Northwestern Medicine better.
Here are a few of the many acts of kindness documented at Northwestern Medicine in 2020, expressed through creativity, community outreach, connection and camaraderie.
As manager of Clinical Practice and Development at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, Amy Barnard, MS, APRN-CNS, CCNS, SCRN, CEN was one of the first advanced practice providers to volunteer on the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Communication Liaison Team. “One of the difficult things was recognizing how hard it was for these families who didn’t get to sit with their loved ones during the sickest time of their lives,” says Barnard. Driven to connect patients with their loved ones, Barnard found a way to help families increase their virtual presence. She served as the main contact to collect their photos and hang them in places that were visible to patients. Her volunteer group also created a process for enabling video calls via iPads.
Suzanne Schwartz, BSN, RN, nurse and night supervisor at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, shared her musical talents to bring light to both Huntley Hospital and Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital: She set up her PA system and played her guitar in the lobby and cafeterias during shift changes and lunch time. “Music can be a healing force and a uniting force. People who have never spoken with me before have made positive comments about how hearing the music when they are on their way in and out of work makes them smile and puts them in an immediate good mood. It lifted me up as well,” says Schwartz.
Carla Gutierrez Dominguez, MSW, LCSW, social worker and case manager at Lake Forest Hospital, chose to participate in Accion Comunitaria Latina (ACL), a group of Latinx professionals from Lake County that is addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Latinx community. She has served on their PPE, Safety Kits, and Education Subcommittee to source and distribute supplies for communities in need. Volunteering a few days a week, Gutierrez Dominguez puts personal protective equipment (PPE) packages together to deliver to some of the hardest hit areas including Waukegan, Round Lake, North Chicago, Mundelein, Wauconda and Zion. “My manager Patricia Gobel and co-worker Alicia Fielder have joined me, which has given us an opportunity to get to know one another better. It has been great to see Northwestern Medicine representation while volunteering for a necessary cause in our communities,” states Gutierrez Dominguez.
Judy Booth, RT(R), operations coordinator at the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, made a discovery early in the pandemic while greeting colleagues arriving for work: They were growing sore from constantly wearing masks. After mentioning it to her family at home, Booth partnered with her 15-year-old son to design mask adapters with their 3-D printer. They created enough to distribute about 600 mask adapters to local first responders, including fire departments and police departments. “I felt it was important to show presence and let first responders know that we were all there for them,” says Booth.
Elizabeth Vollmer, PA-C, who works in Internal Medicine at Lake Forest Hospital, says, “What I love about my job is establishing meaningful relationships with my co-workers and my patients. I’ve learned that everyone has something to teach you.” Vollmer is one of a number of employees who have stepped outside of their typical roles to work shifts in the Emergency Department to care for patients being evaluated for COVID-19. She says her relationships helped her get through each day. “It's really amazing to see how we’ve all come together as a community during this time and to look at all the small acts of kindness that everyone did together.”
Sharon Troike, RN, casual case manager at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, expresses her passion for connecting with patients. During the pandemic, Troike helped build out a follow-up call program to maintain connections with patients discharged from Marianjoy. Her goal was to support those recovering at home from serious conditions, including stroke, and spinal cord and brain injury while reinforcing the work of the dedicated rehabilitation team. Amid a hectic time, Troike says, “The fact that Northwestern Medicine reached out to me to establish this added remote communication exemplifies how we make sure patients always have a lifeline to the hospital.”
When there was a high demand for ICU nurses during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lindsay Stanek, MSN, FNP-BC, CCRN, SCRN, advanced practice nurse and Stroke Program lead at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, was approached to help the ICU team as a charge nurse. She worked four to five shifts per week in this new role through the end of June before returning to the Stroke team. “Times were uncertain, guidelines seemed to be changing daily, but everyone stepped up to provide excellent care for our patients,” notes Stanek. “The teamwork and camaraderie that I witnessed during my time in the ICU was very humbling and drove me to come back to work each day.” Stanek also acknowledges that the work of the Stroke team is what allowed her to continue serving in the ICU, saying, “They pulled together in order to accommodate my absence and service our patients, which is a great example of their support for the patients, system and community.”
Mat Huidobro, RN, education coordinator for Intensive Care at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, notes the increased camaraderie throughout his team and across Northwestern Medicine. “I genuinely enjoy being a part of the ICU team here at McHenry, and my motivation comes from a desire to support my team. My best days are when we can grow and learn together in high-acuity situations. Seeing someone grow their confidence and ability in that kind of situation is what being an educator in ICU is all about,” says Huidobro. Over the past year, he observed the benefits of increased collaboration among the Emergency Department and other hospital departments that sent staff for added support. “That camaraderie and common purpose really helped our team. It is because of the strong relationship our teams have that we have been able to accommodate rapid changes and really operate as one fully integrated team.”