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Unsung heroes supporting Parkland’s COVID-19 frontline mark an incredible year

Alejandra Hernandez, Jacquelyn Richmond, and
Feodor Plair Jr. are just three of the unsung heroes

Not all healthcare heroes are doctors or nurses. At their sides or behind the scenes at Parkland Health & Hospital System are support staff who provide essential services helping the COVID-19 medical team treat the sickest of the sick. Housekeepers, engineering and maintenance workers, medical interpreters, pharmacists, nutrition staff and others have labored alongside the caregivers throughout the long, difficult year since the SARS-CoV-2 virus arrived in Dallas.

“Exhausted, emotional and frustrated” are three words used by these workers who directly supported Parkland’s COVID units to describe their feelings this past year. Despite every hard shift, they remain hopeful this virus will soon be under control and “normal” life will resume, thanks to the rollout of vaccines. The recent shut-down of Parkland’s dedicated COVID-19 units is a major milestone on that journey to normalcy.

“This year has been unpredictable and emotionally draining at times,” said Alejandra Hernandez, a medical interpreter at Parkland. “It's incredibly hard to deal with and witness the loss of a patient to the pandemic, but it is also a reminder of what we’re here to do, to help patients and their families through a difficult time.”

One of the unsung heroes who has helped battle the pandemic at Parkland, she made virtual rounds with doctors in the hospital’s COVID units to help interpret for patients or their families.

“One especially difficult call I remember was having to interpret to a woman who only spoke Spanish that her husband was not doing so well,” Hernandez said. “The hardest part was having to listen to her share memories of him and tell us who he was as a person. You get to know the patient through these conversations.”

For many months Jacquelyn Richmond, an environmental services technician, walked the halls of Parkland’s 16th floor COVID-19 unit each day to make sure every breakroom, restroom, nutrition room, and on-call room was clean and ready for staff to use. She also cleans and disinfects rooms after a COVID patient is discharged. Richmond is one of seven technicians who volunteered to continue to work in their designated area even when it was converted into a COVID unit as caseloads rose at Parkland. She was also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to a medical condition.

“I stayed so I can be supportive,” said Richmond. “One thing this pandemic has taught us is when a crisis hits, we pull together as a team. We were there to protect each other.”

“All credit goes to my staff. We were prepared and ready to go,” said Feodor Plair Jr., an operations manager in the Environmental Services department at Parkland. “I wasn’t surprised that Jacquelyn, along with others on my staff volunteered to stay working on the 16th floor. I was relieved, happy and excited with how the staff took the news.”

Before COVID, Richmond was used to having conversations with patients during her shift. She liked to check on them or simply offer to help plug in their phone charger. That was not the case this time.

“I walked through the halls and saw patients through the window lying on their stomachs. This time, I can’t go in the room, but I made sure to at least say a prayer,” she said.

Staff members like Richmond, Plair and Hernandez are just three of many Parkland employees who have not been in the spotlight for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, but their commitment and contributions to battling the virus never went unnoticed by Parkland senior leadership.

“It takes everyone at the hospital to provide the best quality of care,” said Joe Chang, MD, Parkland’s chief medical officer. “Working throughout the pandemic has been very difficult for our doctors and nurses treating patients infected with COVID-19. However, our housekeepers, interpreters and hundreds of others at Parkland have worked just as hard and suffered just as much. These people are the unsung heroes at Parkland and deserve all the credit they can get. We’re proud of their hard work and dedication through these months.”

“This year has shown me how strong our staff is,” said Plair. “These are folks who won’t toot their own horn. They’re simply doing what they’re called to do. I can say we’ve accomplished a lot.”

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