JRMC Volunteer Judy Hoyt holds the door for patients and guests. High winds damaged the facility’s main entrance. Employees and volunteers like Hoyt made THE difference in patient care during a December blizzard.

Amber Dockter knows what it feels like to lose a loved one.

After her mother passed away last September, she sees things differently.

That’s one of the reasons Dockter, a registered nurse, joined the home health and hospice team at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. It’s also one of the reasons the Jamestown resident packed her sweatpants in an overnight bag Wednesday afternoon.

One of Dockter’s patients was in the patient care unit, awaiting space in a nursing home. This patient was nearing the end of her life journey. Because of the storm, some of this patient’s family couldn’t make it to Jamestown to be with this woman in her final hours.

“But that doesn’t mean that we can’t,” Dockter said, promising she’d spend the night at the hospital if she had to, holding this woman’s hand.

If blizzards bring out the worst in wind gusts and road conditions, they bring out the best in people. JRMC employees worked the duration of the December blizzard, living out the JRMC mission of being THE difference in rural healthcare.

Some employees showed up for their shift on Monday, and by Wednesday afternoon, still hadn’t gone home.

Holly Wald works in patient access management. She helps patients when they arrive for an appointment. An Edgeley resident, Wald said didn’t feel safe navigating the 30 miles to her home. So she slept in one of JRMC’s overnight rooms one night and an empty patient care room the next. She said she’s grateful to her coworkers – one brought her a toothbrush, another brought make-up remover, etc.

Wald wasn’t scheduled to work, but since she was there, she picked up shifts for other colleagues who couldn’t make it in. And Wald’s supervisor, Alison Kennison, said she sure appreciates it.

Kennison and her husband, Jim, drove at least eight employees to work Tuesday night and Wednesday, to make sure the hospital was adequately staffed. Jim works at UTC, which told employees to stay home Tuesday due to weather.

“He loves it,” Kennison said of her husband. “He’d probably head out in a blizzard more often if I let him.”

Another blizzard road warrior? Dr. Robert Bates, JRMC’s urologist. The clinic was open most of the day, but one patient needed emergency care and couldn’t make the drive. So Dr. Bates made a house call.

“It’s all about the patients for him,” said Annette Hazelton, clinic manager.

Despite the weather, many JRMC employees stayed positive and continued delivering exemplary patient care.

Registered nurse Kathy Jenrich lives in New Rockford. She arrived at work Monday afternoon for a Tuesday shift and by Wednesday evening, still hadn't returned home because of weather. Many JRMC employees like Jenrich arrived early, stayed late and even spent the night to ensure the Jamestown community had access to care.
Registered nurse Kathy Jenrich lives in New Rockford. She arrived at work Monday afternoon for a Tuesday shift and by Wednesday evening, still hadn’t returned home. Many JRMC employees like Jenrich arrived early, stayed late and even spent the night to ensure the Jamestown community had access to care during a December 2016 blizzard.

Kathy Jenrich was one of them. The registered nurse was originally scheduled to attend a professional development class Tuesday morning. To beat the storm, Jenrich, a New Rockford resident, arrived Monday evening. When the class was canceled, Jenrich picked up an extra evening shift.

“I always have a bag packed in my car, just for this reason,” she said.

Nursing unit manager Deb Falk said in 36 years, every storm has one thing in common: teamwork. Those that can work extra for those that can’t. During this blizzard, some of thosefrom Falk’s team who worked extra shifts include: Bonnie Bowen, Katie Kohler, Pam Enger, Derek Holden and Katie Barta.

Radiology stayed extra too. On evenings and weekends, radiology usually staffs one on-call person who drives in for an after-hours exam. But during a blizzard, call coverage is always a concern, said radiology manager Diane Nelson. For this storm, all techs on duty decided to stay at JRMC for the night.

Nelson stayed Monday night, Nichole Rahn Klundt, radiology tech, volunteered to take call and stay after her Tuesday night shift, and Radiologist Tech Greg Nordstrom also volunteered to stay after his night shift Wednesday.

“This was an amazing team effort to assure the department could provide coverage and keep staff and patients safe,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she is especially appreciative of Sandy Myers, admissions clerk. Radiology was down a unit clerk, Nelson said, so Myers stepped in the fill the gap.

“Sandy went way beyond her job description to help cover the radiology desk, answer phones, and help with cancellations and rescheduling appointments. I am thankful for the admissions staff,” Nelson said.

While some staff stayed, others got to go home. But they relied on ingenuity to get to work on time.

Family BirthPlace licensed practical nurse Marla Wegner said her husband, Don, dropped her off at work. This year, he drove a pickup. But in previous years, when the hospital was downtown, he’d drive her in a snowmobile. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for members of a local snowmobile club to offer rides to essential hospital personnel.

Throughout the blizzard, nurses stepped up for nurses, said Courtney Haag, unit supervisor, and departments stepped up for departments.

“You didn’t get hired by the department, you got hired by the hospital,” Haag said, saying people filled in where needed. PCU nurses worked in Family BirthPlace, for example, and Emergency Department staff filled in throughout the building too.

Haag said other non-clinical departments played an important role too. Unit supervisors are expected to be ready to work at 6:15 a.m. At that time, wind gusts exceeded 40 miles per hour and in some areas, drifts stood taller than people. But when Haag arrived at JRMC, the hospital roads and parking lot were already clear.

That’s because of Dave Walz and several members of his Plant team – Mike Blinsky, Neil Widmer and Nathan Stangeland – arrived at 4 a.m. to move snow.

No matter the weather, people get sick and babies are born. Two blizzard babies were born at JRMC in December. Pictured are Marla Wegner and Deb Thingstad.
No matter the weather, people get sick and babies are born. Two blizzard babies were born at JRMC in December. Pictured are Marla Wegner and Deb Thingstad.

It wasn’t long before the phone rang – the lab is hot, radiology is hot. Pretty soon, the plant team was outside in the cold and on the roof. While up in the air, isolating the problem, wind gusts soared to 50 mph. Inside, maintenance issues continued as well.

Swept up in the wind, JRMC’s main entry doors malfunctioned. To repair the entry, JRMC closed the doors to the public. As plant worked to fix it, volunteer Judy Hoyt manned a nearby door, opening it to employees and visitors and greeting them with a smile.

By the end of the work day Wednesday, most issues had a fix, although many of them temporary. With the interstates closed, plant relied on innovation and a little luck to keep things running until new parts could arrive.

“Plant really went above and beyond. Their day started early with moving snow and didn’t end there. They spent the majority of their day outside with an air handler that met its demise and the electronic doors malfunctioning. Plant employees truly are THE difference,” said CFO Bev Fiferlick.

Along with plant, other non-clinical employees also made it in to JRMC. Ten nutrition employees worked the blizzard, meaning the department was three employees short, said department manager Shannon Kilichowski. Team member Jessica Balak pulled a double shift to cover for a staff member who could not make it, she said. With the patients, guests and staff stormed in, the cafeteria was so busy that it nearly ran out of food.

“I am so grateful to all my staff and their teamwork. They worked hard to get everything done and everyone fed,” Kilichowski said.

Four environmental services employees couldn’t make it to work, so team members Jerry Bloemendaal, Taresa Gresham, Patty Rowell, and Rhonda Kamlitz helped cover the facility, said Dane Grebel, support services manager. Linen services worked on a shoestring staff too – Elaine Kuske and Brenda Schrade laundered more than 900 lbs. On a traditional day, it takes four employees to wash that much laundry.

Denine Duffy, OR technician, stayed overnight Monday and Tuesday to ensure the space was ready for surgery.

And Anthony Gurrieri and Rick Erickson both stayed late ensure the Emergency Department, Surgery Center and kitchen were properly cleaned. Erickson even ran another 400 lbs. of linen.

Because of its location and because it is a 24-hour facility, JRMC is prepared for winter weather. But no matter the preparations, it takes dedicated staff to see them through.

“I am truly proud of everyone who was here and pitched in to care for our patients and each other. We never close and our team understands the importance of that. Our team is committed to being here for our community,” K.C. DeBoer, JRMC President and CEO.