Written for New Hampshire Women Magazine
As New Hampshire residents pass the one-year mark of the COVID-19 crisis, we mourn and reflect on the loss, isolation, loneliness, sacrifice, and grief we’re collectively enduring during this pandemic. Along with the personal impact the COVID-19 crisis places on us all, local organizations and businesses face significant obstacles to protect employees and the public as they endure rapid shifts in operation in order to sustain. Through it all, there are remarkable acts of perseverance, tenacity, and determination that New Hampshire Women Magazine is proud to highlight.
To share some insight into these behind-the-scenes acts of grace and grit, New Hampshire Women Magazine reached out to leaders from North Country Healthcare in Berlin, World Academy in Nashua, and Renew MediSpa in Derry to share how their employees rise to the challenge.
As we all recall, the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown sent shockwaves across the country. Uncertainty rattled us all. Businesses and organizations had to move at an unrelenting pace into the fear of the unknown. “Very early on, a number of staff members went into homes to administer COVID-19 tests, recognizing the need to care for the homebound,” explains James Patry, System Director of Marketing at North Country Healthcare (NCH). “Teams worked collectively to help assure that there was a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, communicating with local businesses, suppliers, and individuals who were so generous in supporting our initiatives.”
Kathy Nelson, Founder of World Academy in Nashua, recalls how team members stepped up to the plate immediately. “When the stay-at-home order was issued last March, our entire early childhood education (ECE) team stepped up to the plate and provided a remote curriculum for child care,” she explains. “It was a life saver to parents who didn’t really know how to support their children’s development at home while they were trying to work remotely themselves.”
Dr. Lisa Vuich, Founder of Renew Medispa in Derry, says the COVID-19 crisis significantly challenges many businesses. “The COVID crisis has challenged many businesses, but particularly retail, restaurant, and personal service providers such as Renew,” she says. “Complying with the needed safety precautions has resulted in a decrease in sales volume, which in some cases directly impacted service provider income, as well as overall business profitability. I would estimate that we lost not less than three months of revenue and probably closer to five months when the numbers shake out due to overall reduction in booking volume to accommodate safety restrictions. Nevertheless, it is the commitment to quality and safety [that] also helps us stand out in these trying times. Our current staff have consistently shown a dedication to making lemonade out of lemons so to speak and we have been proud of what they have accomplished despite the [COVID-19 crisis].”
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were all so fearful, but our teachers continued to nurture and educate our students, hands-on and lovingly, at the peril to their own health,” says Nelson. “It has continued for a year and these same veterans are continuing to perform like the professionals that they are, even though there was no timetable for vaccines, while more children began getting the virus.”
Patry explains that early on, NCH created invaluable collaboration teams to streamline policies and procedures for unchartered territory. “During the most uncertain of times, employees across North Country Healthcare worked collaboratively sharing best practices, resources, and even vaccines, focusing on the health and well-being of our community members. NCH and each affiliate established Incident Command Teams, which focused solely on the pandemic and discussed and created such tools as policies and procedures for personal protective equipment, protocol for visitors, staff, providers, volunteers, and communication methods and content.”
Nelson recalls how her staff assisted families during the remote learning days at World Academy in Nashua. “Our ECE staff truly helped them through this tough and scary time by reaching out daily, giving families access to the teams and their activities,” she says. “They even held circle time and 1:1 meetings via Zoom. At the same time, our K-8 staff took only two days to convert to a fully remote schedule and slid seamlessly into teaching synchronous education throughout the spring. Planning for September began in May when we invested in amazing remote learning stations for all in K-8 so that the students who returned to the campus and those at home felt like they were sitting next to each other and learning at the same time in class. This helped tremendously with our socio-emotional wellness, which remote students everywhere were missing. Also, teaching children in the classroom and those at home at the same time is not an easy skill to learn and 100 percent of our teachers mastered the process in short order.”
Across all three industries, there is an undeniable alignment in this profound area: radiating gratitude for their staff members. “The pandemic has reminded us of the need to be flexible, collaborate, and move with a unified vision and mission,” explains Patry. “We have been forced to pivot on a moment’s notice. Our staff has been inspirational in keeping the big picture [of providing high quality care to those we serve] first and foremost in their minds; they do what needs to be done. In terms of how this has changed us, it’s been more of a reinforcement – why we are here, which is to serve. In terms of takeaways, in addition to the flexibility mentioned earlier, communication is key. We have worked to communicate with our stakeholders frequently and with the most up-to-date information, while indicating that such information is fluid and can change quickly. Putting a consistent message across all platforms [and] vehicles is critical to help reduce any confusion [and] uneasiness. Another takeaway is the reminder of how the individuals who serve on our behalf [- the] providers, nurses, staff, volunteers are truly the heroes. That word can seem commonplace at times like these, but it’s true. We’ve seen employees work seven days a week, recognizing the need – volunteering to complete difficult tasks such as COVID swabbing outdoors in cold temperatures, because it’s the right thing to do. We couldn’t be more proud.”
Vuich explains, “[a]s a business leader during these times, I have had to take on more responsibilities than usual. Things I had previously successfully delegated fell back onto me, as staff scrambled to attend to the brand new tasks and priorities generated/imposed by the pandemic. It definitely felt like taking a ‘step backwards,’ but with a higher purpose in mind, of course. We are all looking forward to a return to ‘normalcy,’ where we can focus more on future goals and less on day to day ‘survival mode’ duties.”
“The talent and expertise it took our Head of School, Principals, ECE Director and Admission Director to turn normal activities such as graduations, open houses, holiday presentations, parent meetings, etc., into quality remote experiences was amazing,” Nelson says. “Rising to the occasion, these Administrators connected with families, supported children and demonstrated a new perspective in meeting student needs without gaps. Also, following the critical path, we knew that the only way to stay ahead of the game was to upgrade our facilities HVAC system and set up our own COVID testing lab. We did both quickly and efficiently and that proved to be the key to presenting healthy, in-person education. Our staff is that innovative and we thank them for their work ethic and insights. This experience has made me value my team more than I could have imagined. One person could not make this work…it took everyone operating at their highest level to get through this pandemic together. I feel so close to the entire staff. We helped each other navigate fear, frustrations, and continued challenges. It has certainly made me understand the phrase, ‘it takes a village’! We truly have become a real family throughout this ordeal.”