Milwaukee VA Medical Center
New employees step up as SRT stands down
It’s almost time for the SRT at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center to stand down.
The COVID-19 Incident Command Staffing Response Team, formed in response to the pandemic, is moving to the background, as workers reassigned to the team return to their normal jobs.
In their place, new employees are being hired to fill the jobs – jobs that didn’t exist four months ago – that SRT members handled, including screeners and monitors throughout the hospital.
It’s all part of dealing with something many hoped would be temporary, but now appears will be part of our lives for quite a while.
The SRT was formed in order to address needs brought on by the hospital’s response to the pandemic. Team members were used to staff all the screening stations throughout the hospital, including the entrances and various temperature-monitoring stations outside specific hospital wards. It also included a nursing pool formed to help on COVID-19 wards.
It was May 27 when Rob Wareham, mobility manager for the Milwaukee VA’s Veterans Transportation Program, was given the task of finding, hiring and onboarding more than 41 new employees to fill the SRT roles.
The first interviews took place June 29, and by July 8, some of the new employees were already in place.
The plan is to have the SRT stand down by Aug. 1, Wareham said.
“The response was huge,” Wareham said of job applicants. “There was no posting of jobs. … The only way I know it was advertised was a General Broadcast within the facility.
“The VA family came together and spread the word, and we got over 100 applicants.”
Wareham worked in conjunction with Human Resources, New Employee Orientation and many other departments in the hospital to streamline the onboarding process.
“I can’t say enough about how the way the rest of the organization has come together to do this,” Wareham said.
“I can’t think of one VA-imposed hurdle. I felt like I was running a race and people were moving the hurdles out of our way. It was great; it really was.”
Wareham said the new employees are a mix of college students and others who lost their jobs when the pandemic hit.
They are technically temporary employees, but when their jobs will end is unknown; it’s dependent on the ongoing response to the virus and when officials feel the hospital can return to normal.
Those assigned to SRT will continue to work with the new employees to provide training and to smooth the transition. And while the SRT won’t go away, its role will be diminished.
“The leads and experienced people are staying on for a while to make sure we don’t have any issues,” Wareham said. “At one point, the SRT staff will start to fade to the back, and facility access staff will stand up and start doing the jobs.”
“All of the staff who have filled in will be returning back to their departments sometime in August,” said dentist Dr. David Kachelmeyer, task commander for facility access through the COVID-19 Incident Command, who was pressed into a new role when the pandemic closed the hospital’s dental clinic.
Kachelmeyer lauded the employees who stepped up to fill the SRT jobs.
“They have been extremely valuable,” he said. “They have gone out of their way to do things beyond their comfort zone to meet the needs of the hospital and to keep the hospital and Veterans safe.”
One of the unexpected results of the SRT was employees from different areas meeting and working together – people who normally wouldn’t see each other during a workday.
The result has been new friendships and increased understanding of how the hospital works.
“Some beneficiary travel person gets put at the East Entrance with a physical therapist and an MSA from cardiac. And throw in a painter,” Wareham said. “Those people would never have met, and now they are sitting there together, eight hours a day.
“I really think this has made the VA family a more aware and tighter organization.”
Wareham sees future job opportunities for the new hires beyond their current assignments.
“This sets them up to be the next generation of people working for the VA,” he said. “While they’re here, they’re going to find out about other jobs, and I fully anticipate replacing the staff two or three times if this goes on for a year.
“But if I’m replacing them because they’re moving on to better opportunities, it’s a good thing. It’s a great opportunity for these people.”