By Katie Nash, UNC Health Foundation
With the countless disruptions and uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many UNC Health employees have gone above and beyond their job duties to ensure their colleagues are prepared and cared for during this time of transition.
Beyond the Gym
An exercise physiologist at UNC Wellness Center, much of Mary Hale-McDonald’s work came to a halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UNC Wellness Center, like many University entities, was forced to close and suspend services indefinitely. Hale-McDonald immediately saw the toll this took on her colleagues.
“My department is composed of certified personal trainers, dietitians, health educators and clinical exercise physiologists – a tight knit group,” Hale-McDonald said. “Between losing the camaraderie of being with coworkers every day and being unable to meet with patients, many of whom have been seeing these providers for years, there was quickly a lot of frustration and uncertainty among my coworkers.”
With the help of colleague Kari Spitzner-Wilkinson, Hale-McDonald began hosting weekly Zoom meetings for the department to allow for discussing these frustrations as well as educating her team on checking in on clients virtually who are missing the one-on-one time they had with their providers. Hale-McDonald has also worked with leadership to provide University policy and operation updates as they have emerged.
“The main thing is addressing the family-like atmosphere we had in our office and trying desperately to maintain that outside of the work building,” Hale-McDonald said. “Knowing we have been looking out for each other has been tremendous in terms of boosting morale and keeping the department engaged. We all want to work and all want to continue to make a difference.”
A Beacon of Volunteerism
During this time of unprecedented change, Health Care System Business & Quality Improvement Leader Deanna Zolfo has worked tirelessly to create the resources necessary to help UNC Health’s clinical practices navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 environment. Managing patient screening information, coordinating telephone and video visits for physicians and putting together timely informational materials for patients and staff, Zolfo has been a champion for keeping UNC’s front-line health care providers connected with patients while they are at home.
“Her attention to detail and her willingness to help her team and the practices she serves at UNC Medical Center and UNC Physicians Network is outstanding,” says manager Todd Reichert. “Her customers can always count upon her enthusiasm and her desire to help.”
Zolfo has become an example of volunteerism for her department, consistently going above and beyond her job duties with very little notice to ensure patients continue to receive necessary care and physicians are able to make meaningful connections. As clinics and other facilities slowly move toward reopening for in-person visits, Zolfo is working to develop standards for best practices in safety and care delivery as patients and physicians return.
“All of our work is supportive of the larger health care system,” says Reichert. “We are here to support and improve primary care clinics and preventative care quality. While this has been a challenging learning experience, I am so grateful to have the tireless support of colleagues like Deanna to ease us into every transition.”
A Force of Nature
UNC School of Medicine Executive Coordinator Amy Armstrong’s colleagues call her “a remarkable force of nature.”
“She has always been a key part of UNC Physicians’ operations, but without Amy our COVID-19 response would have been infinitely more difficult,” says close colleague Tippu Khan. “She coordinates all of our efforts and logistics into one cohesive approach and is the glue that holds us all together.”
A quiet professional who “just does the work,” Armstrong was critical to pulling together vastly different groups across the system, getting communications out to a wide audience and coordinating multiple tasks that often don’t catch people’s attention unless they go wrong.
For many, nothing has been more vexing during COVID-19 technical adjustments than navigating remote meeting software such as WebEx.
“Amy has wrestled WebEx into submission and coordinated very valuable calls for several hundred of our leaders,” says President of UNC Physicians Dr. Matt Ewend.
Armstrong has virtually coordinated staff and presenters at multiple locations, including UNC Health’s new mobile COVID-19 testing clinic in downtown Raleigh. She has also talked and guided her colleagues through entire evening meetings when WebEx had low bandwidth and would not support video. In between, Armstrong supported two command centers that were approved by UNC Medical Center Occupational Health as being COVID-19 compliant. She has been the first person in and last person out of the command centers for weeks, and has worked many weekends.
Dr. Ewend says, “We have many, many heroes at UNC Health. Amy Armstrong is definitely one.”