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Switchboard operators provide crucial support during COVID-19 era

Penn State Health switchboard operators are among the many employees that are demonstrating exceptional dedication and teamwork during the COVID-19 crisis. The operators, who work 24/7, are a crucial part of the hospital staff at Hershey Medical Center and St. Joseph Medical Center.

The operators are responding to a higher-than-normal call volume because of questions and concerns about COVID-19. Normally, they answer more than 1.5 million calls a year at Hershey Medical Center and 250,000 at St. Joseph Medical Center.

Their duties include handling emergency calls, on-call schedules, patient calls and overseeing the hospital paging system. Several of the operators speak English and Spanish and have experience working in 911 call centers.

“They have been flexible, dedicated and extremely adaptable when keeping up with the constantly changing flow of information they need to know to handle calls,” said Hershey manager Donna Werner.

The Hershey staff works in a small office on the ground floor of Hershey Medical Center. Nearly every member has worked overtime or helped to train new team members since last December, Werner said. The team consists of two lead agents, 15 operators and a support associate for paging services.

The St. Joseph team, located in the main lobby of Bern Township campus, consists of four full-time and five part-time staff.

Khaliah Morris, left, and Lori Munoz sit at the front desk of St. Joseph Medical Center. They are smiling and wearing sweatshirts. The St. Joseph logo is behind them on the wall.

Khaliah Morris, left, and Lori Munoz work the switchboard at St. Joseph Medical Center.

“Knowledgeable and helpful operators ensure good communications with people who oftentimes don’t know exactly what they are looking for,” said Mike Jupina, security director and vice president of marketing and communications at Penn State Health St. Joseph. “I hear from patients often, and one thing they seem to always remember is the person on the phone who helped them.”

To help protect the Hershey staff during this crisis, three operators are working from backup stations on Granada Avenue. While separating the team makes the job more difficult, the team should be commended for doing all they can in difficult circumstances, Werner said.

“I am proud to be the manager of such a dedicated team,” Werner said.

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