Clinical educator volunteers to help in tough spots

Specialist traveled cross-country to respond to COVID-19 community outbreaks

Lori Johnson headshot on gray background

While the coronavirus pandemic is a hardship for everyone, nurses are often asked to make more significant sacrifices.

Lori Johnson is a Sanford Health learning and development specialist who did not just answer the call to help, she sought it out.

As someone who educates nurses, she sees that level of commitment all the time so when the opportunity came to leave her home in Iowa to aid a Good Samaritan Society community in Blaine, Washington, there was no hesitation.

“We’ve all been working from home and I’m thinking what can I do to help?” she said. “And then by golly, they sent a request off from Washington asking for assistance from our department.”

Johnson and two others responded that they would take on the assignment. She was eventually picked to go to Good Samaritan Society – Stafholt in Blaine, a town of about 5,000 people located on the U.S. – Canada border.

She would be serving in a supervisory role for a staff that, like the rest of the area at the time, was getting bombarded by the virus.

This would not be an easy assignment.

“I think it was God’s plan to have me go,” Johnson said. “So that’s why I went.”

Welcomed as part of the staff

The challenges were significant during her 10 days there. Blaine was midst an early but intense coronavirus outbreak.

“Haley Amundson, administrator in Blaine, was a great leader welcomed all the help she could get,” Johnson said. “She was gracious and treated me like I was part of her staff.”

There were plenty of resources available but a shortage of workers was unavoidable. This was in part because of the remote location of Blaine, but also because of the impact COVID-19 was making on the workforce.

The Good Samaritan Society community in Blaine was particularly hard-hit and the staff, diminished in number because of the virus, was being asked to do a lot.

Johnson’s assignment, then, was to advise and organize a plan of attack within a community that was on isolation.

On the plus side, the community was well-equipped with physical protection equipment and had ready access COVID-19 testing.

“It was challenging to put all their resources together and utilize them without having to worry about every single person,” Johnson said. “The other challenge was emotional support. This was very traumatic. A lot of the staff was physically and emotionally drained. There were many hours of high-level stress.”

The staff reacted to Johnson’s presence with a welcoming and eager attitude, which made her responsibilities infinitely more attainable.

But still difficult.

Johnson trusted her training. It was like preparing for a code blue, she says. You might not often be in that situation but the capacity to handle it is there when you need it.

The same was true of her 10 days in Washington.

“It’s kind of like when a new mom brings home the baby,” she said. “By the grace of God I had enough of a knowledge base in infection control so that everything fell into place. I was able to hit the ground running.”

Another community needs help

Johnson returned to Iowa and was on Day 10 of her quarantine after her Washington visit when she got a call from Lori Meier, her director.

“She said she hated to do it but there was another community that could really use some help,” Johnson said.

She was on her way to Greeley, Colorado, four hours later.

The challenges greeting her and the staff at Good Samaritan Society – Bonell Community were a little different. The skilled nursing floors she was assisting were, like much of the rest of Colorado, dealing with a PPE shortage. Greeley, like Blaine, was getting hit hard by the virus.

In fact, Johnson had to present proof that she was aiding the Good Samaritan Society when entering her hotel. Officials wanted to make sure she wasn’t on vacation.

“Randy Fitzgerald, Ryan Mertz, and Tammi Lehto were great to me in Greeley,” Johnson said. “They were so kind in this difficult situation.”

In both her deployments, she was inspired by those around her who were collectively doing their best to address pandemic circumstances.

“We’re all part of a team,” Johnson said. “From the people doing the cleaning to the truck drivers bringing us equipment. We’re all part of a network and each of us has a pivotal role in fighting COVID. Everyone should be recognized for that. We’re all doing the best we can.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Faces of Sanford Health, Health Care Heroes, Senior Services

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