Beth O’Donnell normally spends her days working with 200 high school juniors who are interested in the healthcare field – future nurses, doctors and other professionals likely to work someday in area medical offices and hospitals.
The instructor for Exploring Health Careers program at Kent Career Tech Center leads hands-on, interactive lessons to provide students with knowledge and experience before they choose which health career to pursue. The last months of school usually consist of units like CPR and First Aid training, and capstone projects where students study a career in depth.
This year ended much differently due to the state-mandated closure of schools to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. So O’Donnell stepped up in a different way to contribute to local health care and its unprecedented need.
She piled up personal protective equipment to donate – masks, gloves, isolation gowns; and cleaning items like hospital-grade wipes and hand sanitizer. She and other Tech Center staff members have sent loads of supplies to Spectrum Health from her class and the center’s other health care programs. Also, instructors from criminal justice, construction and automotive programs donated items including safety glasses, thick tight-fitting gloves, masks used for painting – all materials that can be used when supplies run short.
They also donated items to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and Edison Healthcare facility.
Tech Center Assistant Principal Laura Robinson said she loves that the staff joined forces to help.
“I appreciate that our health care staff and students are helping the industry they are going to be a part of… What a great family. It demonstrates who we are,” Robinson said. “Even with everything shutting down, our staff jumped in to help without a second of hesitation. Isn’t that what the health field is known for? Being givers? I am so proud of the people I work with.”
Other schools and GRCC donating, too
Educators in other districts are pitching in as well. Rockford schools nurse Kelly Theaker donated 5,000 medical gloves and more than 1,000 masks. The Grandville High School science department donated 219 pairs of protective eyewear to Metro Health Hospital.
Grand Rapids Community College has stepped up in several ways. Donations include more than 70,000 pieces of medical and personal protection equipment. Faculty members are volunteering time and expertise to Spectrum Health and other local healthcare facilities and public safety departments, according to a news release.
GRCC’s Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences departments donated supplies, along with Nursing, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Radiologic Technology, Dental and Medical Assistant programs. The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education and the Residential Construction program also supported the effort.
Nursing faculty members are also volunteering for shifts and assisting in other ways. The Nursing Programs department loaned thermometers and donated more than 1,500 thermometer probe covers to the Grand Rapids Police Department. Several nursing faculty members are also working shifts at hospitals and assisting with other roles as able, and as requests come in.
GRCC also offered Spectrum Health employees use of the Bostwick parking ramp while students are away. That helps employees who usually must ride shuttle buses from far-flung lots.
An Emotional Experience
O’Donnell said it’s a great feeling to help right now—helping meet demand that is still surging. “It’s bittersweet. It feels empowering; It feels good to do something,” she said.
Still, there was a sense of sadness while she gathered items in the classroom where her students would normally be. “We are not going to meet in this space again,” she said. “There’s also a grieving in accepting that we are done.”