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A Day in the Life of a Frontline Worker

We’ve all heard and talked about the role of frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to actually be one of those people?

Phyllis Potter, a Clinical Supervisor at North Ottawa Urgent Care, spent some time on the phone with us recently and shared her perspective.

Interviewer: So tell us…what kind of work are you doing these days related to COVID-19? 
Phyllis: I have a staff of four. We’re open seven days per week, taking phone calls to the NOCHS COVID Hotline and collecting samples for COVID testing.

Interviewer: What’s your typical phone call like? 
Phyllis: It’s a lot different than I expected it to be. On an average day, we probably answer about 70 calls. More than half of those calls are from people who are afraid or who are looking for answers. We’re like a comfort line for individuals as well as HR managers. People don’t have one source from which to get all the facts, and we have become that source.

We’ve definitely talked to people who needed to be tested, and we’re testing an average of about 30 people per day. But what’s really interesting is that the calls have actually reduced the need for testing. When someone says, “I need to be tested,” we start talking about why. Do they have symptoms? Were they in contact with someone who was ill? Oftentimes, the answers are no and no. They’re home. They’re alone. It boils down to the simple fact that the person is scared. And once we’ve talked through all of that and I’ve calmed their fears, I always ask, “Do you still feel you want to be tested?”  Most of the time, the answer is, “No.”

Interviewer: What has been the most difficult part of the work? 
Phyllis: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing! I would say that one of the very difficult challenges was the continuous change in testing guidelines. Things were literally changing while I was on the phone. We’ve had to change hours, change staffing, change procedures, change paperwork. Keeping up with all of that change is exhausting. Fortunately, the rate of change has slowed a lot recently. That helps reduce some of the stress.

The other challenge for me personally was dealing with the heartache. I talked to people who were turned away at other places, either because there were no testing kits or no staffing. I came in on Saturdays and even some Sundays to do testing because I’m not good at turning people away!

Interviewer: What have you been doing to support local employers?
Phyllis: Employers have really struggled during this time. They want to provide a living to their employees, but they have to follow State guidelines. They also care about their employees.

I’ve worked with HR managers to set up specific testing time blocks for their employees. One situation in particular, was really special. We collaborated with an employer to modify procedures when we needed to overcome a language barrier. Every single person we were testing was employed and lives here legally. They just can’t speak English. I had a real sense of pride because there should be no barriers to receive accurate and safe services. Their relief made it all worthwhile!

Interviewer: Do you worry about bringing COVID-19 home to your family? 
Phyllis: In the beginning, sure, I was a little worried, especially when we had our first positive results. It was all psychological, because we have the proper protective equipment. We’re checking temperatures of all the staff every day. We’re crazy detailed about disinfecting…even the clipboards get cleaned before they come inside! Our staff has stayed healthy, but I still feel tension when I come home. I take off all my clothes in the garage and I won’t let anyone else touch them. I wash my hands, and I take a shower. So far, so good.

Interviewer: How do you feel about doing this work?
Phyllis: I’ve stood in the rain and snow and swabbed a nose so that a worried mom with symptoms could find out if she had COVID or the flu. I’ve sweated in my gear as the sun beat down on me so that someone could get this test in order to be accepted into drug rehab. It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting. I feel some days like I’m carrying the burden of every person I’ve seen or spoken to during the day. But I know this work matters. I am so proud to be working for a community hospital that puts the community first.

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