Jennifer Novak and Pat Kinney’s soles may be sore, but their hearts are full.
As insurance coders for Spectrum Health Medical Group surgical specialties, they typically work from home. Day shift. Monday through Friday. Seated in front of their computers.
Until COVID-19 capsized the world.
Now, Novak, 46, and Kinney, 61, work second shift, on their feet from 3 to 11:30 p.m., sanitizing touch points at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.
Novak and Kinney are two of about 50 coders who took on new roles to help fight the vicious virus.
“It’s an adjustment, but it’s OK,” Novak said. “Since all the elective procedure surgeries were curtailed we were all running out of work to do. Since there was no coding work, we entered our names for redeployment.”
On April 6, Novak and Kinney started their new roles with Spectrum Health Environmental Services to supplement the teams of hidden heroes battling this pandemic.
“I was very nervous at first, but that’s human nature,” Novak said. “I was scared. I work from home. I’m now being sent to the front lines. I was safe working at home. But the more I get to meet people and the more we’re doing this work, it is so necessary. I’m seeing all the hard work doctors, nurses and medical assistants are doing for the patients. I’m seeing all the hard work security is doing to keep people safe. It’s unsung what everyone does.”
Spectrum Health provides a cart, cleaning products, box of gloves and a mask when she starts a shift.
“I’m wiping down all the touch points, not only for patients, but also for staff—door handles, elevator keys, pads, buttons, knobs, cupboard handles, bathroom faucet handles, handrails… ,” Novak said. “I’m sanitizing the hand sanitizer, which cracks me up. I’m taking all the hand sanitizing stations all over the hospital and sanitizing them.”
Not just once, though. The cleaning continues repetitively throughout her shift.
“We were given training,” she said. “We make a circuit and we make it again and again because you never know who is going to touch what when you walk away. It’s continuous. We’re trying really hard to make sure the regular environmental services staff can continue doing what they do. We’re taking on this new, extra added thing.”
Novak bought a new pair of walking shoes to help her soles adjust to their new role. She’s adjusting, too.
“I feel empowered, like I’m doing something, like I’m part of the fight,” Novak said. “It’s very empowering to feel like I’m killing the virus.”
Novak said she’s impressed with the teamwork she sees.
“Really, it takes all of us,” she said. “There’s so much more to health care than just doctors and nurses. It’s everyone. It’s the coders, environmental services, security, administration, check-in people, it’s everybody. This is a good family to be in.”
Kinney has worked as a Spectrum Health Medical Group surgical specialties coder since 2013, on flex-time, at home.
“We had some down time,” she said. “They reached out with an assignment. We had the opportunity to take it or turn it down.”
These days, Kinney sanitizes touch points at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center—hand rails, staff and public restrooms, door knobs and more.
“I work from the seventh down to the third floor,” Kinney said. “It takes me the entire shift. I really didn’t think about a lot of this until I’ve been on the job. We have a cleaning cart, wear a mask and plastic gloves. We’re constantly changing gloves.”
Prior to starting their shifts, Spectrum Health screens employees, asking if they have a fever or cough, or if they’ve reached out to the COVID-19 hotline.
Safety first. Safety always.
Kinney said the first week was tough, but she’s adjusting.
“I was tired the first week, but I’m feeling better,” she said. “We understand the message from leadership and from the community that ‘it’s all hands on deck’ and we have to pitch in to make it through this. It’s a difficult time, but it’s a necessary responsibility.”
Kinney said it breaks her heart to see patients who can’t have visitors at this time.
“Walking down the halls, it’s so quiet,” she said.
Kinney is used to walking. She walks a couple of miles a day with her dog, Lola. So being on her feet is not out of the norm.
“One of the girls at work had a Fitbit and she had us at around 6.5 miles (on a shift),” Kinney said. “I probably do maybe 4 miles most nights.”
Despite the jarring change in schedule and job description, Kinney said she feels good about it.
“I’m glad that I’m helping,” she said. “Now that I’ve worked in environmental services, I truly appreciate how hard the permanent environmental services team works in normal circumstances to keep the hospital clean and safe.”
Brian Glass, manager of Spectrum Health Hospitality Support Services, said he’s impressed with employees’ flexibility and willingness to join the battle against COVID-19. Only about 13% of coders opted out of redeployment.
“Although Jennifer Novak and Pat Kinney typically work from home, they both have graciously accepted the call to duty for environmental services,” Glass said. “It is crucial we keep our hospitals clean to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Having these team members join the team has been imperative toward the fight.
“This truly exemplifies ‘we’re in this together.’”