Dr. Vasu Singh, Medical Director at UPMC Insurance Services, Allegheny County
Addressing pandemic-related issues has really been a challenging yet learning experience for me. I firmly believe that the strength of my family and a strong sense of community and responsibility towards my patients, allowed me to help many of my patients and colleagues steer through the hardest of times during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I personally witnessed generations of families coming back home (India) to live together to help and safely take care of each other. People now seem to be more resilient. Small groups within the local communities are working together creatively to support each other by sharing responsibilities. During the pandemic, Telehealth has emerged as a major mode of delivery of healthcare services virtually. Due to this, I have seen many younger family members step up to help their technologically challenged older family members with their Telehealth visits. Practicing medicine during the Covid-19 pandemic has instilled a heightened level of cultural sensitivity and competency due to my exposure to patients who were situated in unique situations. I got the opportunity to be a part of various creative public health initiatives to increase Covid-19 vaccine rates within the community.
Being on the front lines every single day during the pandemic as a healthcare worker has resulted in an increased level of compassion and empathy towards others. Now, I feel a renewed sense of sharing, caring and hope!
Amy Meister, Associate Chief Medical Officer, UPMC insurance Services, Allegheny County
I am humbled by the grit, grace, and gratitude displayed by all the amazing people around me who make it possible to serve our community in this time of great need. As I look around, I don’t take it for granted how fortunate I am to have the privilege to be here.
There are many other women who would gladly swap places with me but face barriers from physical and mental health to lack of services such as childcare. It is critically important now to bring positivity to the workplace and pay it forward with acts of kindness.
Marisa Seubert, Director of Marketing & Development at Lancaster EMS, Lancaster County
We are proud of our female staff for what they provide our Lancaster Community 24/7/365 days of the year.
Karen DePasquale, Vice President of Clinical Operations for UPMC Health Plan
During the COVID pandemic, we operationalized a 24/7 call center to support all workers that were directly affected with the virus and what it meant for them regarding work status and getting paid and how to interact with supervisors and HR. We also offered relief to bedside nurses by taking on functions for them.
Being able to provide support and relief to those that work tirelessly on the front lines while finding time to balance that with demands of home, family, and caretaking of children and parents can be exhausting. You still must take time for yourself to recharge and provide the best version of yourself to help others. Even if it is 5-10 minutes, take a break, you deserve it. It is important to constantly check yourself and take a timeout to maintain your physical and mental health. And remember to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.
Marcia Rossman, Paramedic/PA State Constable, Clarion County
My name is Marcia and I have been an EMS provider for 39 years as of March 5.
In my many years, I have had an opportunity to meet many people and families during very difficult times in their lives. I have seen people at their worst and their best.
While working EMS I have experienced treating my brother who was in a horrible 18-wheeler accident 1 mile from my home. I flew him to Pittsburgh after providing lifesaving skills. I also did CPR on my 3-month-old nephew. He survived as well. I have had others whom I could not help at all but took pride in providing comfort to the families to the best of my ability. This job is not easy in any way as we take home every call. It will stay with us, but each day we put on our uniform and go out again. As I get older, and my body wears out, I wonder in the famous words of George Jones, “who’s going to fill our shoes?”. No one wants to do this anymore. Whether due to the pay, the job requirements, or just the lack of retirements. I wonder what is going to happen.
EMS is a very rewarding job, but also stressful and trying at best. Please find out what it’s like to make a difference in someone’s life, even if only for 30 minutes out of a lifetime.
Beth Boruta, Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Education, Bucks County
Beth Boruta, RN, MSN, CMSRN, of Newtown, Bucks County, has been an intensive care nurse practitioner at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for 33 years, and teaches best practices in nursing as a nurse educator at HUP. She has cared for patients through the AIDS epidemic, Ebola, H1N1, influenza outbreaks, and so many other public health crises, but she said nothing compared to COVID-19. As a float nurse for the past 15 years, she and other float nurses were a natural fit to staff the newly created COVID ICUs, often never leaving a patient’s side throughout their entire 12-hour shift. They were especially selfless in taking the burden and the risk off nurses who were pregnant.
During the height of the pandemic, many parts of the hospital shut down, including the surgical units, creating what Beth called “a post-apocalyptic ghost town.” The shortage of PPE was intense, and so many unknowns caused constant fear and angst that they would become infected or infect their families. Patients decompensated quickly. Someone could come into the ER with shortness of breath and wind up on a ventilator only hours later. When no visitors were allowed in the hospital, mobile iPads allowed patients to FaceTime with their loved ones.
Many patients passed away with no family members close, only nurses who were acutely aware they were the last faces many dying patients saw on this earth.
Her love for her job, her patients, and her family is remarkable and well worthy of recognition, so thank you!
Ivana Marji, Emergency Room Residency at Wellspan York Hospital, Dauphin County
Ivana Marji completed her Emergency Room residency at Wellspan York Hospital at the height of the pandemic. At her class graduation in 2021, she was chosen for the prestigious “Clinician of the Year” Award. Her attending physicians spoke about how Ivana and her class of residents saw more death than any class in recent history at the hands of Covid-19. Ivana took care of many dying patients in the ER and ICU with great compassion and said goodbye to their families for many of them— even while worrying about her own family, several of whom had Covid as well. She now practices at UPMC in Harrisburg and Carlisle, where her diagnostic skills are consistently lauded as top-notch. She is a graduate of Penn State Hershey School of Medicine.
Bethany Stough, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, Huntingdon County
“The truth of Covid 19 kept hitting me in patient rooms, as I counseled, grieved, and even cried with family members who lost loved ones to the pandemic. Repeating traumas from not being able to say goodbye to a mother, father, sibling, or spouse who suddenly slipped out of this life unexpectedly. Their stories resonated to my inner soul, showing the fragility of love, trauma of loss, and strength of spirit. As a practitioner I mourn for some of my most beloved patients who will never walk into the office again. Working in primary care you absorb, like a sponge, the lives of others and are a safe place where others express their fears and vulnerabilities. A cumulation of all their life stories and personal relationships, swirling through my mind as I try to be an honored keeper of their memories and continue to celebrate the beauty of Life.”
Dr. Johanna Vidal-Phelan, Chief Medical Officer, UPMC, Allegheny County
“As a Latina physician, I bear the responsibility to do everything I can to continue educating my own community. During the earliest days of the pandemic, when access to COVID-19 information in Spanish was extremely limited, the patients and families I was working with consistently expressed their frustration in trying to access up to date pandemic news, guidelines, and recommendations. As local recommendations changed, I witnessed firsthand how the community I am both a part of and serve struggled to stay informed.
This is the reason why I started working in partnership with local TV news, radio, and social media outlets to get the information out to our communities, in Spanish. Our communities need access to reliable information in their primary language. Continuous, consistent efforts to connect with our patients must focus on building long-lasting trust and addressing their needs, one patient at a time.
It is a privilege and honor to be able to communicate in Spanish, understand the culture and beliefs, providing much-needed advice, and keeping the community updated.”
Anne Palmerine, Vice President, Customer Engagement, Enrollment and Retail, UPMC, Allegheny County
“Our teams have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure our UPMC Health Plan members continued to have access to care, had support with their benefits, and have been working 24/7 to answer our members’ calls. Our Health Care Concierge team has been ensuring that they could bring comfort to our members during these challenging times by helping members connect with telehealth options, and ensuring they were still getting their preventive care needs met. Our Enrollment and Coordination of Benefits teams have worked hard to ensure all membership eligibility updates are worked quickly and with great excellence, ensuring members have access to care and can get their prescriptions filled. Our Retail Teams have been working in the stores to help members select plans, answer questions, and provide safe community events including preventive care. We took on managing our Telehealth platform Anywhere Care by answering the calls when a patient needs help, chatting with patients in the waiting rooms, assisting with technical support, and load balancing to create the shortest wait times possible to see a provider. We have been instrumental in the Vaccine effort with answering 375K inquiries about the vaccine and getting members scheduled at our UPMC clinics. We helped to staff the vaccine clinics with team members stepping up to go work in the clinics. We organized and ran Vaccine community clinics for the underserved population including 5 clinics in the LatinX community staffed by our bilingual team and at the Mission of Mercy. Working during this challenging time has been an honor and a pleasure for me to be able to help and serve our members and the community, with many great learnings.”
Carrie Whitcher, Chief Quality Officer & VP Quality Performance, UPMC, Allegheny County
“Amidst turbulent and trying times, it is often the sheer grit, determination, and caring ways of women that are looked upon to bring healing and hope to those around us. We naturally often serve as the caregivers, encouragers, and providers for our families, friends, and loved ones alike. No one can deny the pandemic has impacted women and our families in countless ways.
It is in these most turbulent times that I am even more inspired to bring light and hope to those I have the privilege of serving every day at UPMC Health Plan. Not only does this include driving a focus on health care quality improvement for the close to 4 million members we serve, but also in serving my team of close to 200 people who work tirelessly to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities we passionately serve.
As a new leader at the Health Plan, I’m centered on advancing the employee experience so that we can deliver the very best patient experience. Over the last year, I have advanced tangible support to my team through regular virtual check-ins, team development surrounding emotional intelligence and resilience, and well as facilitated conversations to learn and share about grief and loss, gratitude, and self-care. As part of the greater human experience, we are all in this together, and we need each other now more than ever. We need to remain connected, supported, and encouraged so that each of us can play our own individual role in bringing hope, light, and healing to everyone we encounter, whether a patient, our partner, and/or our greater community.
I’ve consistently witnessed our team going above and beyond to step up and out through donations this past Christmas to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank allowing us to provide up to 3,710 meals to our neighbors who are faced with the impossible choice hunger creates – the choice between food and other crucial needs, like childcare, medicine, or utilities. Within my team, we are active in providing e-cards and monetary donations to other team members who have lost loved ones and encouraging each other through simple daily reminders to just keep moving forward. As a woman leader, I strongly feel it is my duty to drive this kind of grace and space to create an atmosphere full of hope and inspiration.”
Katie Domalakes, Senior Director, Clinical Affairs and Program Development, Medicaid/CHIP, UPMC, Allegheny County
“My health care experience is going to look a lot different from the ED physician or the nurse on the floor- being a woman with a social worker background and in a position of leadership – I get to bring my passion for advocacy, my desire to be a helper, and my training and experience to influence policy changes and create innovative programs that make a difference in people’s life and health. I’m energized by using health care to make a difference in the lives of people, families, and communities by increasing access to care, improving physical and emotional wellbeing, and working creatively with communities and technology to get people what they need.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed how we define health care and how we look at the things that impact people’s health. It’s also been a great disruptor in health care delivery and forced us all to be increasingly innovative. When the covid-19 vaccine was available – I’ve been able to work together with community groups to distribute the vaccine at places like community centers, sports stadiums, drive through locations, and free dental clinics. The pandemic has also displayed social needs (healthy food, safe housing, employment) are key components of health and at UPMC for You we’ve built innovative models and partnerships to get healthy food and medically tailored meals to the people we serve. When the loneliness and isolation became so prevalent during the pandemic – we created virtual telehealth program for pregnant women and new moms – to connect with nurses, social workers, and behavioral health professionals – improving outcomes for women and children we serve. Health care looks a lot different than it did three years ago – and my job is to make sure its reflective, relevant, and accessible to the needs of people.
I approach my position by looking at each person I serve as a just that – a person – and my goal is to meet them where they are, find out what’s important to them and build a way to help. And I’m lucky enough to be in position that can build those bridges and make a difference – the challenge is to never stop building. ”
Jacki Roderick, Chaplain at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital
WellSpan chaplain Jacki Roderick helped WellSpan team members acknowledge, process, and release their feelings from the pandemic during a series of ceremonies she oversaw at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.
Chaplains led a variety of ceremonies across the WellSpan system, to allow caregivers to reflect on their resilience, remember patients who died, and rejoice for patients who recovered.
In one ceremony, Roderick gathered groups of caregivers and urged them to take a small rock from a jar and then direct their feelings from the pandemic – exhaustion, sadness, anger, grief – into the rock and drop it into a jar. Afterward, the group stood in a tight circle, holding hands, as they recalled the months of loss and grief as well as healing and compassion.
“Know you are blessed and loved,” Roderick told them.
Laura DeHaven, a nurse in the WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital intensive care unit, said after a ceremony with Roderick: “This has been a rough year here. It was good to decompress today.”
Her colleague Allison Sigman, ICU clinical coordinator, said, “It’s helpful to have a time to pause and reflect and get together. Everyone needs this.”
Rachel Wingert, Registered Nurse at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital
Rachel Wingert, a registered nurse at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital says the pandemic has made her more vulnerable with patients. That’s a good thing, she says.
“Before COVID, I would keep myself guarded. It’s not easy in nursing. After COVID and seeing what people have gone through and going so long without having patients who can talk to you or have family here, it became very depersonalized. I want to make people feel loved. It feels good to do that.”
Last month, Rachel cared for a cancer patient and former WellSpan emergency department nurse who was critically ill with COVID-19 and had to be placed on a ventilator. A few days before Feb. 14, her husband wrote a note on the whiteboard in his wife’s room, noting that she needed to be discharged by Valentine’s Day, as he had a romantic date planned for her.
Rachel and her team orchestrated a special Valentine’s Day meal for the couple. The woman died that afternoon.
“I just like being a caretaker and I want everyone to feel OK and as good as they can with the outcome, even if it’s not the one we wanted. I just want people to feel loved.”
Natosha “Tosha” Banks, Physician Office Assistant at WellSpan Family Medicine—Roosevelt Avenue
Natosha Banks worked to spread happiness as her practice welcomed people for their COVID-19 vaccination.
“My overall intention is just to make people feel comfortable and give them a little bit of joy during whatever they’re going through,” she said, “I want them to know that I see you and that you matter.”
Tosha has a contagious cheerfulness and a memory about each patient she encounters, she calls her “mental rolodex”. Tosha says that she feels that outreach is even more important due to events of the past year.
“We’ve all been so separated because of COVID-19,” she says, “so it’s bringing people back, like, ‘You’re part of the group. Come back into the fold. You’re OK. It’s all right,’ allowing them to feel like they’re part of a unit, as opposed to being so alone.”