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Recognizing nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic

A group of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea nurses are being called COVID-19 superheroes as they work on the front lines at the coronavirus testing site at the HealthReach campus.

Through non-ideal weather conditions over the last two months, the nurses have stepped up to allow patients with COVID-19 symptoms to be tested promptly.

“When I think about the weather they’ve been out in, that says a lot of the dedication of the staff,” said Lesa Anderson, a registered nurse who is the nurse administrator for the southeast Minnesota Interstate 90 corridor for primary care through Mayo Clinic Health System. “It’s been snowing, it’s been raining, it’s extremely windy. It doesn’t stop the dedication to their patient.”

Nicole Knudson is a registered nurse primary care supervisor. She said when tasked with the job of opening the swab testing site in Albert Lea, she said she thought it aligned well with their goals in primary care.

“As soon as we identified the need, I reached out to our nursing staff, who stepped up immediately, volunteering to help before they knew what all it entailed,” Knudson said.

One of those volunteers was Catherine Wilde, a certified medical assistant who worked at the Lake Mills clinic. Wilde said when she first received the email about the need for possible volunteers to work at the site, she thought her background in both lab and nursing would be a good fit.

The same was true for Meredith Gonzalez, a registered nurse in primary care at the Albert Lea clinic, who previously was conducting a lot of nurse messaging and phone calls, along with annual wellness visits.

Cathy Wilde and Meredith Gonzalez work at the COVID-19 testing site at HealthReach in southern Albert Lea. – Provided

“When I heard that there was a need to volunteer, I was more than willing to help wherever,” Gonzalez said.

Knudson said there were not a lot of answers when the swab site was first set up back in March, but said she thinks things have been running smoothly ever since, a success she attributed to the care teams working at the site.

“We really have a dedicated, professional group of medical professionals,” she said. “If we wouldn’t have had that, this could have turned out so differently.”

The women said at any given time, the site has had six people working, including nursing, security, registration personnel and a provider. It has been open seven days a week, accommodating patients in an easy-to-use drive-thru system. It has only had to shut down once due to inclement weather, Anderson said.

Knudson said testing numbers have remained steady from the beginning, and they anticipate COVID-19 swabbing may increase over time as elective procedures are reopened.

The women said despite the risks of their jobs, they have felt comfortable and protected through necessary personal protective equipment and other safe practices implemented.

Anderson said they plan to continue the drive-thru model for the time being, noting, however, they have to be like willow trees and be able to bend and react quickly to change when it arises.

Knudson thanked the staff for their dedication.

“As I reflect on these last two months, I can’t thank the team enough for stepping up as quickly as they did,” Knudson said.