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Behind the Scenes on the Front Lines: Employee Health Services

In “normal” times, they take care of the people who take care of the patients.

Employee Health Services staff members at Penn State Health provide information on required tests to new hires, offer immunizations and spring into action when there’s a needlestick or blood splash.

Employee Health staff strives to make employees feel like “we’ve got your back,” reassurance that became more important than ever when COVID-19 hit – and with it, myriad questions about testing, quarantining, masking and how to keep family members safe.

“I remember that very first day… the Employee Health staff could barely keep up with the volume of calls ― at one point 100 calls deep,” said Bridget Piekutowski, senior workforce consultant at Hershey Medical Center. “There was no way a handful of staff could manage the calls and the Employee Health visits… thus the birth of the Employee Health COVID Call Center.”

What are the ways Employee Health has contributed during COVID that most Penn State Health employees aren’t aware of?

“We’ve teamed up with our safety and nursing departments and trained a combination of 76 nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, medics and technicians to perform mask fit testing. Since last spring, we have fit-tested thousands of employees.” ~ Judy Zabinski, Employee Health nurse, Hershey Medical Center

What was the biggest challenge your department faced during COVID?

“We were responding to an outrageous number of calls while trying to sort through and give out the best information, which was changing all the time. And we were changing health systems in the middle of a pandemic… That was a little stressful.” ~ Susan Vodzak, Employee Health nurse, Holy Spirit Medical Center

“Our biggest challenge was finding the help we needed to support our employees because we had to keep rotating staff and training them… We had great support from daily Zoom calls with our manager and the infection control nurse. We shared humor and our challenges, which got us through high-volume days and weeks.” ~ Jeanne Rugh, a registered nurse abstractor at St. Joseph Medical Center.

What qualities best describe your co-workers?

“Many Call Center staff didn’t know each other or a lot about the role they would be providing, but they all shared the same commitment, ‘I will help.’ Their patience and empathy are their gifts.” ~ Bridget Piekutowski, Hershey Medical Center

What about your department are you most proud of?

“Our teamwork – we worked well together, juggling all the responsibilities, sometimes from home, sometimes on call during the weekends, always working together to support our employees and their families, who also faced a lot of unknowns with exposures.” ~ Jeanne Rugh, St. Joseph Medical Center

What was the biggest thing that changed for you during the pandemic?

“The ability to serve as a nurse during the pandemic afforded me the privilege to practice the fundamental mission of nursing… helping people, whether in person or on the phone, who are in a vulnerable state of health.” ~ Bridget Piekutowski, Hershey Medical Center

“At the risk of sounding corny… dealing with the inability to hug somebody. There are days when we desperately, simply need… a hug.” ~ Judy Zabinski, Hershey Medical Center

What is one fact about your department that you wish everyone at Penn State Health knew?

“When we ask employees a lot of questions about an incident, it’s because we have a lot of regulatory agencies we report to – we’re not just being nosy. Sometimes I feel like a mother hen, but it’s because I feel very protective of the people who work here, and I’ve known many of them for years.” ~ Susan Vodzak, Holy Spirit Medical Center

“I think there is the misconception that Employee Health is just where you go for shots… Yes, but more importantly, we advocate for our employees, patients and our community in many ways. The message is simple: We care about you and your overall health.” ~ Judy Zabinski, Hershey Medical Center

Julianne Callis, right, of Holy Spirit Medical Center’s Employee Health Services Department, gives a COVID-19 vaccination to physical therapist Satvir Gill. Callis is wearing scrubs with the Penn State Health logo on them, goggles and rubber gloves. Gill is wearing a short-sleeved shirt and has her eyes closed. Both are wearing face masks.

Julianne Callis, right, a licensed practical nurse at Holy Spirit Medical Center’s Employee Health Services Department, gives a COVID-19 vaccination to physical therapist Satvir Gill.

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