Margaret Feenstra sat at a table in scrubs and a white coat, syringe in hand.
Although she left her nursing job eight years ago, she stepped out of retirement to give COVID-19 vaccinations at Spectrum Health.
“This is my way to help out,” Feenstra said.
A registered nurse, she readily answered the call to assist with vaccination clinics for Spectrum Health’s front-line team members.
That desire to help is a common theme for health care providers—retired and current—who have taken on new roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a look at three Spectrum Health team members who have answered the call for assistance.
A different atmosphere
Feenstra worked as a nurse at Spectrum Health for 38 years, caring for orthopedic patients, before she retired in 2012.
Since then, she has returned to work each fall for two months, giving influenza vaccines to the community through the Spectrum Health Visiting Nurses Association.
When she learned nurses were needed to help with COVID-19 vaccine clinics, Feenstra readily agreed. She welcomed the chance to use her nursing skills to help address the pandemic.
“I have never experienced a health crisis like this,” she said. “Why not be a part of it?”
The work involved is similar to her job in a flu clinic: Feenstra gives each person an injection into the muscle of the upper arm.
But the COVID-19 vaccine clinics have an especially happy, celebration-like atmosphere. For many team members who care for patients with COVID-19, the new vaccines offer relief and hope.
“They are excited to get the vaccine,” she said. “Some are in tears. They have seen so much.”
Although she considers her work a small contribution in the effort to defeat the virus, she is touched by the gratitude she hears from those she vaccinates.
“People are so appreciative,” she said.
‘It was really rewarding’
Working at the Spectrum Health Medical Group family medicine clinic in Caledonia, Adam Mitchell, DO, has seen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients and the community.
As a rising number of patients were hospitalized with the virus, he thought of the physicians who work in the hospitals.
“They had to really be feeling it,” said Dr. Mitchell, a family medicine specialist. “They have been working so long doing this, I knew they could probably use a little help.”
That is why he said “Yes” when Spectrum Health asked for physicians willing to be redeployed to work with inpatient care. He knew he could bring his skills and experience as a family medicine physician to the position.
Dr. Mitchell worked a month’s rotation as a hospitalist at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. He cared for patients throughout the hospital, including the intensive care unit and the COVID-19 unit.
He found the work rewarding, particularly as he created bonds with patients and their families. And he especially took heart in seeing patients recover and leave the hospital.
“It was really rewarding to be able to help out,” he said. “There was a spirit of teamwork and selflessness in the hospital.
“You are just doing everything to care for these patients. And the patients and the families were so appreciative.”
A need for testing
Peggy Merrill, RN, works as a diabetes educator at Spectrum Health Pennock Hospital. Last spring, she underwent training to work in the hospital caring for patients in case there was a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Although she wasn’t redeployed at that time, she offered to help out if there was a need elsewhere.
In the fall, Merrill trained to help collect specimens for COVID-19 tests at Pennock Hospital’s drive-up site.
Although many of patients are afraid—either of the specimen collection or the possibility they could have COVID-19—Merrill has been impressed by the gratitude they express.
“Almost every one of them says, ‘Thank you for what you do,’” she said.
She has only worked a few shifts swabbing patients for tests, she said. But it was enough to give her a “healthy respect” for the expertise and dedication of the specimen collection team.
The willingness to pitch in is part of a nurse’s calling.
“Most registered nurses who are not on the front lines feel a strong desire to do anything we can to help out our co-workers,” she said. “Nurses work as a team and this is instilled in us as part of the profession.”