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MGH

Published On November 20, 2020

Your New Job Is ...

The new normal meant new tasks to be done. Those jobs were often filled by very unconventional candidates.

Many of the core functions of the hospital shifted dramatically or went away during the first surge. Research and elective operations, for instance, were largely paused. But the pandemic response also came with fresh needs, and hundreds of existing MGH staff members did what they could to fill the gaps.

Many scheduled procedures were put on hold, so Mitchel Harris, chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, helped out where he could. At least once he took on the role of a medical scribe—the person who keys information into the computer so the primary providers can have their hands free. His two-fingered approach got the job done until more experienced typists could arrive.

Normally Tatiana Sultzbach, director of International Services, helps to coordinate foreign patients. But during the surge, she headed up an effort to cold-call 6,000 residents of Chelsea, a hard-hit city near Boston, to see whether they had COVID-19 symptoms. Callers also asked about supplies of food and masks, connecting households to local resources where they could.

The Gordon Center generally makes highly sophisticated radiopharmaceuticals for medical imaging. But when hand sanitizer became hard to find, Georges El Fakhri, the center's director, shifted its production. In two months the center made 800 liters of the stuff, which was distributed in thousands of plastic pump bottles purchased from a beauty supply company.

Many ventilators were new to the hospital. The alarms weren't connected to the central monitoring system. So Pamela Parker, an MGH surgical technologist at North Shore Medical Center, came to the main campus to serve as a “vent listener”—one of a dedicated corps of volunteers who sat near intubated patients for hours, on high alert for sounds of trouble.