First day on the job at hospital not the norm during coronavirus pandemic

CIC HEALTH 0407 Sonali
Sonali Patel is the guest relations team lead at IU Health North in Carmel, although she’s yet to have a normal day on the job. (Submitted photo)

Sonali Patel’s first day on the job didn’t go as expected.

The Carmel resident started her new role as the guest relations team lead at IU Health North Hospital on March 16, the same day a temporary “no visitor” policy went into effect to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Instead of spending most of her time helping patients and visitors find where they need to go, Patel found her primary role to be screening guests at the door for potential signs of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

“I hadn’t really trained for what I’m doing here,” she said. “It’s been on the fly.”

Patel said that she and other employees at the hospital have chipped in to work long hours whenever needed. With the pandemic yet to reach its peak in Indiana, that’s not expected to change soon.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before,” Patel said. “Every day there are different protocols. I think that this week there was a lot of fear, unknown and sadness.”

The staff and volunteers at IU Health are like family, Patel said, and that’s what keeps her going. In fact, that’s what brought her to the hospital in the first place.

Patel said she was impressed by the friendliness of the hospital staff when she got lost in the facility several years ago while taking her daughter to a routine appointment.

“Every person that I came into contact with was happy, smiling and said, ‘Good morning,’” she said. “I was sitting in the office thinking, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”

Patel began volunteering at the hospital a couple of years ago before accepting part- and full-time roles at IU Health North and Saxony hospitals.

Last month, she became the hospital system’s first-ever guest relations team lead at IU Health North, although she’s yet to see a typical day in that role. 

Patel said her first weeks on the job have been stressful – but not in the way she imagined.

“We’re trying our best,” she said. “It’s a lot of scary situations, but we’re trying to keep calm, show compassion and get through it together.”

IU Health not overrun 

Indiana has seen its number of COVID-19 cases jump in the last week, and many more are expected in the next month.

Other regions affected by the outbreak have run out of hospital beds and medical supplies, but IU Health officials said the hospital system is in good shape for now.

“IU Health has adequate supplies right now and continues to closely monitor equipment and available personal protective equipment to meet emerging health needs,” said Berkley Rios, a spokesperson for the IU  Health Indianapolis Suburban Region. “IU Health has plans and standard processes in place to treat a potential influx of patients. This includes evaluating and ensuring adequate staffing, space and equipment. Most importantly, we are working closely with the Indiana State Dept. of Health and other hospitals and health systems to ensure the needs of our communities are met.”

Rios said the hospital has rescheduled elective procedures to help conserve resources and free team members to deal with the pandemic.

Those wishing to donate supplies to IU Health may email [email protected]. The hospital’s supply chain operations team will work directly with individuals and companies to assess each donation. Items should not be dropped off at IU Health facilities.

Suggested items for donation include:

  • Respiratory masks, including industrial N95 and N99 masks
  • Facial and eye protection
  • Hand sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol content
  • General personal protective equipment like gloves and observation gowns
  • Disinfectants