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October 15th, 2021

National Guard members provide relief for weary Methodist staffs in continuing COVID-19 fight

Courtesy of Post-Tribune • Written by Michelle L. Quinn

Raquel Prendkowski doesn’t want to think of herself as “greedy,” but when it comes to bringing in the troops to give her Methodist Hospitals emergency-room family the hand they desperately need, she’ll happily own that description.

Methodist’s assistant vice president of patient care is already planning on putting in a second request to the Indiana National Guard to either secure more troops or extend the tour of the 10 troops currently finishing up in both campuses’ emergency rooms this week. The hospital was one of four systems that received the first deployment Oct. 1, and they’re finishing their tour Friday, Prendkowski said.

Methodist received a flyer about the joint effort between the Indiana National Guard and Indiana State Department of Health around Sept. 25, Prendkowski said, so she decided to fill out a request even though she figured that with COVID-19, all hospitals everywhere are going through the same issues and getting immediate help might be a pipe dream. She was thrilled to find out four days later that four medics and six general staff would be reporting for duty the next day.

Their help couldn’t have come at a better time, either: While Gary was one of the last cities to get hit with COVID’s Delta variant, it was merciless on the city with the highest rate of COVID when it showed up, Prendkowski said, “Just five weeks ago, there was a day when neither (emergency room) had any COVID patients, and that day, we were calling each other celebrating because we hadn’t seen that in so long,” she said. “Within two weeks, we went from zero patients to 40 every day. In two weeks. It was really frightening.”

Guard Specialist Michael Kiel, 35 and of Michigan City, has been deployed all over the world but has been focused on COVID missions since July 2020. He mainly worked testing sites – the Lake County Health Department’s site in Crown Point was one – where he could see up to 700 people a day seeking testing.

Coming to a hospital, he wondered what awaited him and his cohorts. He was assigned to Methodist Southlake to perform certified nurse’s assistant duties, he said, and while not for the faint of heart, he’s enjoying himself.

“We basically do CNA duties without touching the patient,” Kiel said. “I run lab tests to the lab, restock shelves, turn linens and help patients with food. We reset rooms after patients have been released or removed, too.

“I come out exhausted, but I definitely sleep better.”
Shelley Tinnell, the ER manager for Methodist Southlake, remembers the “peaceful” days of the ER, and compared with the last 18 months, there really was a time you could call them peaceful.

“Nursing is not an easy profession and emergency rooms have the good and the bad, but there was always a balance,” Tinnell, who started her career as an intensive care nurse, said. “Since the pandemic, all we see is bad. During a shift, you’re turning patients so fast and then you have to think about the linens, the stocking, the cleaning rooms. By that time, you’re just completely exhausted.

“So when these guys showed up so willing to help, it’s been a godsend, and we can keep our focus on the patients.”

As well, in all the chaos, there’s time for teaching. One of the medics in Tinnell’s unit was asked to administer an IV — his first ever — and like most first-timers, he was having a bit trouble.

Tinnell stepped in.

“He was excited (when it finally clicked). Once they get it, it’s easy,” Tinnell said. “I remember my first one.”

Another one of the medics serving at the Northlake campus is studying phlebotomy, or blood drawing, so Prendkowski said she’s checking in to open positions at the hospital for him. She wonders if there are other mentoring opportunities that the hospital can offer in the future.

It would be easy enough to implement, since the troops came prepared for anything.

“When they got here that Friday, they all came with their immunization papers and other documentation. The onboarding process was seamless,” Prendkowski said. “We would love the opportunity to have them for other programs.”

And there’s always time for teaching. Like Tinnell teaching the medic how to administer an IV, there’s always something to see at the Northlake campus since its ER handles many trauma cases from around the county.

“It’s not just COVID here, so when we have something like a gunshot or other serious accident, our nurses love to pull the ‘kids’ in and say, ‘Want to see something cool?’” Prendkowski said. “We have such a tight-knit community here.”

If nothing else, the mission has Kiel thinking about what he wants to do career-wise. At one point, he was a caretaker for the differently abled, but now, he said he’s thinking about becoming an EMT or something else in a hospital setting.

“I like this mission, because I get to see the people I’m actually helping, and when a person gets discharged, you get to see them happy,” Kiel said. “And everyone here has been the nicest; I figured they would be at their wits’ end, but everyone’s so considerate and nice.”

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