September 22, 2021

Pandemic life at MercyOne

One of the most common words used during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was “unprecedented” – and nowhere was that more evident than at MercyOne Newton Medical Center. The hospital, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary on May 30, served as Jasper County’s frontline as the coronavirus upended not only health care, but life in general as employees knew it.

While hospital staff were dealing with the same challenges as their neighbors – virtual learning for children, shortages at local grocery stores, social distancing from family and friends – they were also deemed to be essential workers, and therefore went to work each day to face obstacles unique to health care. For a time, non-emergent services were curtailed, which meant staff furloughs in some departments. Every person who walked into the building had to be screened, with temperatures taken and masks distributed. Medical-surgical units housing COVID-positive patients were sealed off to all but the most necessary staff.

“We cannot stress enough how appreciative we have been of the work all of the staff have done each and every day,” said hospital president Laurie Conner. “Especially during this difficult pandemic, the dedication of this team has been nothing short of amazing.”

While much of the year was colored by the pandemic’s stressors – fatigue, uncertainty, loneliness – that does not mean 2020 was void of successes or accomplishments for MercyOne Newton. As staff came together and rose above, a number of triumphs were celebrated.

For two years in a row, the hospital has had a local nurse named to the list of 100 Great Iowa Nurses: lactation consultant Christine Hinshaw and Cardiac Rehab nurse Christie Milligan. Also in quick succession were two staff members who received the Spirit of Mercy award: Nick Schlatter, Radiology, and Craig Hudson, Plant Operations.

The annual Gala, the hospital’s largest fundraising event, had to convert from an in-person celebration to an online event. Despite the drastic shift in format, the Gala still earned nearly $32,000, which has set the stage for another successful virtual event starting at 6 p.m. on April 17.

The Cancer and Infusion Care clinic was relocated to a much larger and more convenient area of the hospital, expanding by about 1,000 square feet and increasing comfort and privacy for patients. The project was made possible through the generosity of donors who contributed $236,000.

A new Employee Health and Occupational Health Clinic was opened in the Ross Medical Arts Building, fulfilling a need expressed by many area businesses.

Other highlights from 2020 at MercyOne Newton included:

• Patients began receiving text or voice phone call reminders for upcoming appointments.

• Thirteen area students received scholarships from the MercyOne Newton Auxiliary.

• Physical therapist Robyn Friedman introduced functional dry needling as a service to treat patients dealing with weak, tight or otherwise dysfunctional muscles.

• Monoclonal antibody infusions are now offered for COVID-positive patients.

• MercyOne Newton was featured on WGN News Nation for their adept handling of the COVID crisis in a rural health-care setting.

• Nearly $4,300 was raised at the annual Jingle for a Cure 5K fundraiser event in December.

• Numerous donations, grants and fundraisers throughout the year helped recognize staff for their unending dedication and also made possible the purchase of various pieces of vital technology and equipment needed by patients.

Last but not least, as of early April, nearly 75 percent of hospital staff have received the COVID vaccine, joining the more than 60 million Americans who have also gotten vaccinated.

“I got my vaccination because I know it’s an important tool to slow down and stop this pandemic,” said Lauren Figland, Radiology manager. “I got the vaccination because my kids need to return to normal. I want them to be able to participate in group activities with a huge crowd of family and friends cheering them on from the sidelines. I got the vaccination for my parents, grandparents, and all of the people in our more vulnerable population. I got the vaccination because I am one of many vital team members on the frontline. Our patients need us healthy!”