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How Gainesville, Hall school employees could help health system
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Northeast Georgia Medical Center staff watch as a convoy of law enorcement drives through the parking lot of the hospital Thursday, April 23, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

Northeast Georgia Health System could be receiving a welcome boost of support in coming weeks from an unexpected source.

NGHS has partnered with the Gainesville City and Hall County school systems to set up a contingency plan that could put local school faculty and students into non-clinical roles at hospitals should they experience a large surge in COVID-19 patients. 

“Our hope is that we don’t have to use these folks,” said Jim Marinelli, NGHS director of talent acquisition. “But we certainly appreciate their support and their willingness, and we want to make sure we’re in a position where if our patient load grows to a point where we need additional support that we have that contingency plan.”

Marinelli got in contact with GCSS after an NGHS meeting discussing the possibility of an overwhelming and sudden increase in COVID-19 patients.

He reached out to Sarah Bell with the GCSS school board, who passed the concept on to Priscilla Collins, GCSS chief professional services officer. Collins got the word out to all potentially interested parties, contacting classified staff like paraprofessionals, bus drivers and substitute teachers. Collins said she believed the potential jobs — which would all be paid positions — would be particularly beneficial to substitutes who have been out of work since schools switched to online learning. 

“We’ve used some long term substitutes for teachers who might be out on medical leave or something like that, but the day-to-day subs, we haven’t had to use them at all actually since we have closed schools for face-to-face and gone to strictly teleworking.”

Hall County Schools faculty have also gotten involved in the project.

Teresa Young, who has worked as a bus driver for Johnson High School for the last 21 years, heard about the program from Johnson work-based learning coordinator Cree Aiken, and immediately signed up. 

“I know a lot of people don’t want to get (COVID-19), but I trust God, and I know that someone has to do the job,” she said. “So why not me?”

Young said she has always been motivated by giving back to the community, making her participation an easy decision.

“They put their lives on the line every day, and I think sometimes as people we take for granted what other people do,” she said. “Why would I expect someone else to put their life on the line when I myself am not contributing?” 

All jobs given to GCSS and Hall County faculty and students would be non-clinical positions. 

One of the greatest areas of need would be hospital entrance screeners responsible for screening all patients and visitors entering NGHS facilities. Collins said she’s been attempting to reach bilingual potential applicants who could effectively communicate with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking patients. 

NGHS would also potentially take on what Marinelli referred to as “material handlers,” who would transport packages or other supplies where it needs to go. 

All temporary workers would be fitted with requisite personal protective equipment, according to Marinelli. 

NGHS has already been contacted by over 30 interested staff members and students, and about 15 of those have already started orientation to be ready if needed. 

Marinelli said the contingency plan is just the latest in a series of community initiatives to support NGHS that have been integral in keeping operations running smoothly throughout the events of the past few weeks. 

“I think it’s very important, and it has to be a two-way street,” he said. “We exist for the community. We need to give back just as much as or more than what our community is giving us. And we very much see it that way.” 

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