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2 Years Later: Reflecting on COVID-19 in the Conway Community

Written by Kristen Heath
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Wow! Has it already been two years since we were hit with this pandemic? I remember sitting in a meeting at Blue Sail Coffee with other clinic managers and management from PrimeCARE planning for COVID if it made its way here to Arkansas. I was so optimistic and thought maybe we were jumping the gun. Surely this was being blown out of proportion and people were just panicking. 

We quickly learned that wasn’t the case and it was picking up fast. I remember not being able to order surgical masks and that blew my mind. The challenge of keeping the team safe while serving the community meant we had to get creative. Several team members gathered together in the breakroom to sew masks for our team and for our patients. It was so neat to watch them come together to do this.  They brought their sewing machines from home and went out and bought their own materials. No one asked them. They just saw a need and took initiative.

Rollercoaster of Changes

As a leadership team, we met several times a week to assess the ever changing CDC guidance and to make sure we were doing things safely for our staff and patients, while still being as efficient as possible. We got COVID tests quickly and the word spread. We had to make sure we figured out the best way to test patients and give them the best care possible.

We also had our valued primary care patients to take care of. You can’t stop treating your diabetes or hypertension because of a pandemic. Do we see all sick patients outside in their car? Not ideal because you can’t lay your hands on them and give them the best evaluation and treatment. So we bought a shed! Our team quickly adapted to working in a pod outside and doing full visits out there. It was so hot. They were suited up in their gowns and face shields, seeing twice the amount of patients as normal, and adjusting to working outside in all kinds of weather.

With the volume of patients and challenges of safety, we even changed our check in process. We moved to online check in during some of our busiest seasons. Sending a huge thank you to all of you for bearing with us through that process while we worked out the kinks.

Labor of Love

Our employees gave it their all everyday. They worked 12 hour shifts seeing 2-3x as many patients as normal. We weren’t even sure what the new normal was anymore. We hoped 2021 would better and bring relief we desperately needed. Sadly, we were wrong.  There were many times I said to myself and other managers that we just can’t keep doing it.

Employees were tired and it felt like there was no end in sight. No matter how much time and effort you put in, it felt like it was never going to slow down. There were always people on the outside there to critique how we ran the clinic. I know several employees questioned if healthcare was even right for them anymore. We had several employees leave over the last two years. It was rough.  But, there were always the patients and the people in the community who showed up to thank us and show us support. There were so many team members that stuck it out through the good and the bad. That definitely helped keep us going.

We also had members in other departments step up when it was needed. IT, marketing, quality care, billing, referrals, our CEO, and probably several others I’m forgetting to mention. There’s no way we would’ve survived without them. They’ve helped in so many areas over the last two year. The biggest reason we were able to withstand the pressure and continue to serve is the love we have for our community!

Together through the Highs and Lows

Over the last two years I watched my team go through so much. They adjusted daily to the new things thrown their way. They learned new jobs they never thought they’d be doing. They pulled extra shifts weekly to cover their buddies who were out sick. They took care of very sick patients. They got sick themselves. They lost friends and family members to COVID. They kept showing up. They kept taking care of each other and praying for each other. They laughed and cried together. They served their team and the community of Conway well.

I couldn’t be more proud of the team I get to work with every single day. I’ve said it so many times over the last two years, but I truly wouldn’t have wanted to go through COVID with anyone else. We’ve survived the highs and lows because of them. I’m so grateful to work with each of them.

Kristen Heath

Clinic Manger PrimeCARE Conway

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