RCH CEO: ‘I will never forget our staff here. They truly were heroes’

Bed availability and COVID-19 exposure among challenges for staff

Jeff Helfrich
Posted 6/10/21

Bed availability and COVID-19 exposure have been among challenges for RCH staff during the pandemic.

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RCH CEO: ‘I will never forget our staff here. They truly were heroes’

Bed availability and COVID-19 exposure among challenges for staff


ROCHELLE — One of the most troubling times during the COVID-19 pandemic at Rochelle Community Hospital came when numbers were at a height. 

Patients were coming in that were too sick and they had to be transferred to facilities that could cater better to their needs, RCH Chief Executive Officer Gregg Olson said. RCH doesn’t normally run ventilators. Things got to a point where it was difficult to find places to transfer COVID-19 patients. 

“Where do these people go?” Olson said. “I remember one gentleman was very sick and we called 50 different hospitals and couldn't find a bed. He finally got one in Madison at the VA Hospital. And that took a few days. It was that concern of, 'What do we do with some of these folks?' There was nowhere to put them.”

Olson called that period an “intense, difficult time.” Hospital staff didn’t know what would come in the door. 

“If it was a really sick person that needed a higher level of care, what could we do?” Olson said. “We had to take care of them, and we did. We were successful. All of our staff worked together. Thankfully we got through it, but there were times where you could not find a bed. That's something I'll remember for a long, long time."

Olson talked with the News-Leader last week and described the hospital’s experience during the pandemic. This story is part two. Part one ran in the Wednesday, June 9 print edition. 

Olson said several RCH employees got sick with COVID-19 during the pandemic, which affected operations. He said the administration worked with employees to quarantine and make sure their lives were disrupted as little as possible. 

When things weren’t good during the pandemic, Olson said RCH was honest with its employees. Communication played a key role in supporting them and their families as they went through the process. 

“I think we've been there with information and still are,” Olson said.  “I'm really proud to say that with the vaccination process, 88 percent of our staff is vaccinated right now. That's a very high number. It came through messaging and communication.”

Olson detailed how the vaccination process played out at RCH. The first clinic came in December when supplies were short. The Pfizer vaccine was more difficult to manage because of restrictions on how it could be stored. 

Initially, trying to administer the vaccine was tough. There was a week when scheduled allocations didn’t come in. 

“We were expected to do a clinic,” Olson said. “It was a logistical nightmare initially. To schedule everything and staff things and store vaccines. Pfizer had the 21-day period. Moderna was 28. We had to keep that straight.”

With more supply and more organizations offering the vaccine now, Olson said vaccinations have been smooth lately. He is concerned about seeing demand lessen recently. With organizations like Walmart and Walgreens administering vaccinations, it’s hard to keep track of who has and hasn’t gotten it. 

“Our goal is, I don't care where you get vaccinated, just get vaccinated,” Olson said. “We're here for you. If you want to go to Walmart, that's fine. Our goal is getting more shots in more arms. But when you set up a clinic expecting 250 and you get 100, that can sometimes become challenging."

Another memory of the COVID-19 pandemic that stands out to Olson is the Rochelle Foods outbreak and what followed in April 2020. RCH along with the Ogle County Health Department and KSB Hospital tested 900 employees over a day and a half. 

The testing was done in the parking lot of the Rochelle Foods facility with employees in their cars. Tests had to be shipped out to labs with a 24-48 hour response time and hospital personnel had to follow up with those that tested positive. 

“Rochelle Foods was probably one of the biggest undertakings we took on,” Olson said. “That was an incredible couple of weeks. Everything was so compiled. It had to get done quickly. We didn't have enough staff on our own and neither did our partners. Together we made a plan that worked out very well for everyone. That sticks in my mind. That was huge.”

The widespread loss of life that the pandemic brought was tough for RCH and its employees to see, Olson said. 98 percent of the time, RCH was able to transfer those in dire straits to higher levels of care. But there were times when people passed away before they could be transferred. 

“Any kind of death is tough for any of us,” Olson said. “We tried to keep them alive and they were too far gone. It's very upsetting to the staff. We don't ever like to see that. It's difficult to see death when it's non-COVID-19 related.”

Olson said RCH has employees that lost family members to COVID-19 that lived in other areas. The hospital tried to provide comfort and support to them in any way it could. 

“It's never an easy conversation to have,” Olson said. “I would say the way this virus operated and how relentless it was, it made it hard. It just didn't let up. It's been a very difficult 15-18 months for us."

RCH employees have come to work every day during the pandemic knowing they are going to take care of sick people that could make them sick. And they kept coming in. Olson said the hospital’s employee turnover was “incredibly low” and people weren’t leaving the organization. 

The CEO isn’t on the front lines, but he knows what his employees did and what they’ll continue to do. 

"I really appreciate and will never forget our staff here,” Olson said. “They truly were heroes. You hear that word a lot, but these people were heroes. I can't thank them enough. And for what they did before the pandemic. 

“They save lives.”