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Mayo Clinic workers on the front lines

Employees say they are happy to know they’re helping in some capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic

Area resident Deb Wessling had worked as a registered nurse for 43 years — including at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and at Mayo Clinic in Rochester — when COVID-19 became a reality last year.

Furloughed in May and June when elective surgeries were limited, she was called back in July and worked another month before retiring in August.

Her retirement was short-lived, however, as she decided to return to the Albert Lea clinic to assist in whatever way she could.

Wessling said she watched on television as the pandemic continued to unfold in the weeks after her retirement. As she learned about the new vaccines that were being released, she decided she could help.

Registered nurse Deb Wessling had retired in August before returning in December to help administer COVID-19 vaccines. Provided

She contacted the Albert Lea clinic to see if she could help with the swab or vaccine clinics, and the week of Christmas she returned to work, this time administering vaccines.

“I feel like Santa Claus,” Wessling said. “The majority of these people are so excited to get this, and I am giving them a gift. I feel so good that I have a purpose in helping to put a stop to this pandemic.”

Wessling is one of many health care workers through Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea who have worked on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Making a difference in people’s lives’

Randi Monnahan-Chicos had also retired 3 1/2 years ago as a registered nurse after working in the cardiology department for 41 years at the Albert Lea, Rochester and Austin campuses.

She said she got involved because she came back to give flu shots in the fall, and when the hospital received the COVID-19 vaccine, she was asked to help with those.

Bags for the testing specimens are labeled with different priorities inside a cubicle at the Mayo Clinic Health System COVID-19 testing site at the East Annex in Albert Lea. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

“I’m happy to be back,” Monnahan-Chicos said. “I know there’s nursing shortages almost everywhere at this point. To help in this capacity so they don’t have to pull from other areas — to do this, it’s been a very pleasant experience and everyone seems grateful.”

She said it gives her a good feeling to be a part of helping during the pandemic.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “It feels good to be back doing that again.”

‘You feel good to know that you are helping’

Before COVID-19, Maxine Borge worked in registration for the family practice department on the fourth floor of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea.

In April or May 2020 she volunteered to join the registration staff at the Albert Lea COVID-19 testing site, checking in patients for their appointments to get tested for the virus.

For much of the summer, that meant working in the heat and humidity as the testing site was outdoors in a parking lot.

She greeted the patients and radioed inside the building as the other workers prepared and then conducted the testing.

The testing site moved indoors when colder weather arrived.

“It does make you feel good to know that you are helping,” said Borge, who has worked in desk operations and appointment services at the clinic for 17 years.

“There were a lot of patients that are very scared. It’s reassuring to talk to them and to let them know we’re here for them and we want to make this as best as we can for them,” she said.

Stefanie Stevens, a registered nurse who has also worked at the COVID-19 testing site, said staff are passionate about serving their patients, and patients in turn are appreciative and kind even though they are in an unfortunate situation.

Stevens, who has worked at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea for two years, said the family practice nurses were required up until November to take shifts at the testing site.

‘We’re not just getting this for ourselves’

Despite working in settings where they encountered patients with COVID-19, Borge and Stevens said none of the RNs nor the swabbers at the testing site tested positive for the virus.

Borge said they were never worried because they wore the proper personal protective equipment.

The women said they also believe strongly in facemasks and other safety precautions.

Monnahan-Chicos said wearing masks and properly sanitizing hands are two things that can be done to keep everyone healthier.

Wessling also talked about the importance of getting the vaccine — not so much for yourself, but for others.

“We’re not just getting this for ourselves,” she said. “We’re getting this for our family members, our relatives and for those people who cannot get this vaccine.”