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Staff Appreciation Day

For the health care workers staffing Santa Cruz County’s Safety Net clinics, COVID-19 has elicited some of the same reactions as it has for employees everywhere: fear of COVID itself, stress, uncertainty about the future, new juggling of home and work, and often stretching to serve in different roles under layers of uncomfortable and sometimes scarce PPE. All of these are true, and yet, as one reflected, “I’m really grateful to work with health care workers. They show up. They’re passionate. They understand the risks. They use PPE. And they just … do the job.” Indeed, despite the stress, worry, and new demands, many are proud of how they and their colleagues have stepped up.

Like their colleagues in other health centers, Planned Parenthood staff pivoted immediately to create and implement new protocols, moving reproductive health visits to telehealth and initiating curbside visits for medication pick-ups. When the volume of clinic visits dropped, they focused on training to prepare for whatever came next. Many volunteered to help staff a test site in Monterey County.

At Dientes, all staff had reduced hours because oral health was not initially deemed an essential service. For weeks, they provided only emergency care – but used the time to advocate successfully for the return of routine care in May 2020 and prepare for the rigors of reopening. Oral health staff face an added layer of risk from patients’ open mouths and aerosolized saliva, so their pre-COVID masks and gloves are now only part of the many layers of advanced PPE that staff wear. Under double masks, face shields, gowns, hair coverings and booties, Dientes staff continue to provide compassionate care with smiles on their faces.

At Salud Para La Gente, an EHR outage in 2019 turned out to be a rehearsal for reacting quickly to a crisis. After all, one staff member shared, “We’re used to not having resources, less-than-ideal circumstances, and still having to perform – which is what COVID’s all about!” Like other clinics, Salud staff boosted telehealth and text communications with patients, noting surprisingly increased adoption of telehealth for behavioral health visits and easier access for many patients. Staff Town Hall meetings keep everyone up-to-date on the latest COVID protocols and information, while continuing to fine-tune all the non-COVID operations that must continue as well.

Before COVID, many conversations started with, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could … [Install a barcode scanner … Transition to telehealth … Provide blast text messages and customized ones for specific situations …]” The urgency of COVID delivered stress and friction, to be sure. But it also unleashed innovation, broke down some organizational barriers, and reinforced the pride, resilience, and care for each other that staff are appreciating every day — and hope to hold onto no matter how the future unfolds.

[Photo Above: Staff from Salud Para La Gente in PPE]

[Photo Above: Staff from Santa Cruz Community Health. Photograph shot by Schmuel Thayer]

[Photo Above: Health Services Agency RN swabbing against COVID]


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