Within and Beyond the Borders of Eliot: Essential Workers – Part 1 of 2

This column features businesses or people in Eliot and just beyond our neighborhood’s borders. This issue we focus on essential workers who have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to thank them for their commitment, service, selflessness, and putting their health and lives on the line to bring us the essential services the rest of us need to survive day to day. Sue Stringer and Monique Gaskins contributed to this column. NOTE: All interviews were conduced prior to the protests and the opening up of Multnomah County to Phase 1. Therefore, some situations, restrictions and details are now different than stated in the articles. Read with this in mind.

Dr. Qian Liya Leng, Physician

By Monique Gaskins

During the month of April, National Public Radio estimated that 1.4 Million health care workers lost their jobs. Although we’ve heard about joblessness concerns, the impact on healthcare workers isn’t as widely discussed. Ironically, these frontline workers, many of whom are seen as key to combating the pandemic as they continue to go to work, are also feeling anxiety about the possibility of passing on a dangerous illness to their families and job security. These layoffs have impacted people across healthcare, from hospital cleaners to physicians.

Qian Liya Leng has practiced medicine in Portland for 10 years. She is currently at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in the Eliot neighborhood. As a Hospital Medicine Doctor, Dr. Leng’s patients include anyone who is admitted to the hospital; she does everything but performing surgeries and delivering babies. Lately, this also includes treating patients with COVID-19.

Dr. Leng thinks about ensuring she doesn’t expose her elderly mother to COVID-19. In response to safety concerns, the medical center closed employee entrances, requires temperature checks and a health survey, and has updated their PPE protocol. There are silver linings to fewer hospital admittees; before the pandemic, Dr. Leng juggled a high patient volume. Now, with fewer patients, Dr. Leng is able to connect more with the people in her care. She continues to look for further ways to serve her community. 

Qian has taught Yoga for 13 years. After her own pregnancy, she started to specialize in movement for pregnant and recently pregnant women. Amidst all of the concerns about physical proximity, she is starting an online movement and yoga studio focused on prenatal and postnatal women. Dr. Leng wants to provide resources and expert advice for women in this phase of their lives without requiring physical proximity. Her studio will be available at Bump.health in mid-June.

During the pandemic, Qian encourages Eliot residents to do two things: 1) Wear a mask when outside of the house to cut down on the spread of the disease. 2) Devote some time to their mental health by getting some fresh air. After all, very few instances of COVID-19 have been traced to outdoor transmission.

Terra Dudley, RN

By Sue Stringer

At Legacy Emanuel Medical Center all departments have been touched by COVID-19. The newly created COVID unit is staffed with nurses volunteering to work in that unit as well as those that are “floated” from departments that have an excess of nurses. Terra Dudley is one nurse who has spent a number of shifts in the COVID unit. After graduating from Duke University’s registered nursing program, she started with Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in February 2019 and she is really glad that she had some “normal” nursing experience before the pandemic hit.

Terra normally works in the Medical/Surgical department. Terra has only had to work on the COVID wing for a few shifts so far. Work there is challenging because of the intensity of patient’s symptoms and the level of detail that needs to be exercised with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Nurses are only assigned one to two patients so you can really focus on those patients. It takes so much time to work with patients because of the PPE. “It is not getting the PPE on, it is getting off that takes so much time. An additional nurse must watch as you take off your protective equipment to make sure you are removing it properly so you are not exposed to the virus. You have stand next to the door and take off your gown pulling it forward and into a trash can so it doesn’t touch anything. Take your gloves off inside out a very specific way. Hand sanitize. Put on fresh gloves before leaving. There’s a very specific order and that’s what’s breaking down in those medical staff that are getting sick. If you don’t take the time and do it properly then you get exposed,” says Terra.

At first, before the rapid testing kits were available it took 3 days to get test results back. Not every patient was being tested unless they were showing symptoms. Patients on the Med/Surg unit after a couple of days post-surgery would start showing fever and cough which made for paranoia amongst the staff. However, it is very common for those surgical patients to develop those symptoms post-surgery because of lying in bed and easily developing pneumonia from not moving around enough. Since many of the patients were treated before all the PPE was in place it is lucky that no one in the surgical unit developed COVID.

Now the patient population in Med/Surg has changed. They are post-COVID patients. Most patients started in ICU COVID unit then transferred to Med/Surg after they were taken off the ventilator which was sometimes 30 days after they were first admitted. By that point their bodies are so decompensated from being on life support and ventilators for that long that they are very weak and have a lot of recovery and rehab to do to get back to somewhat normal. One bright spot is the discharge parade the medical staff give when the patients finally get to leave the hospital.

Terra said that at first when the virus hit it was really scary. She felt weird being with people and there was this uncontrollable element and couldn’t call in sick or skip a shift. She is also one of the people who the N95 mask does not fit so she had to wear this electronic filtration machine which looks like a hazmat suit. It was definitely scary because a few nurses got COVID and she felt so vulnerable even with all the PPE.

The silver lining in all of this, that seems to be a resounding theme, is that it is nice to reset to evaluate what activities in your life are important and which ones you are willing to keep or forego.

Terra says, “There is a universal “time out” in surgery to recheck what you’re doing to make sure everything is going correctly and now this is happening with our lives. This is really nice but would be nice if there were not so many consequences.”

Some unexpected highlights were the nightly 7:00 pm pots and pans banging to honor the essential healthcare workers, Nurses Appreciation week where different neighbors with signs would stand outside Emanuel and also the fly over by fighter jets.

Terra says it is hard to do your job every day with all the new complications but the city’s residents appreciating the medical staff’s hard work really makes a big difference and easier to put your life on the line.

Douglas Matthews, Police Officer

By Sue Stringer

We think of most essential workers as being part of a business that supplies us a specific item like food or perhaps keeping us healthy like medical workers or pharmacists. However, keeping our streets safe and enforcing traffic laws falls to the police officers.  They are on the front lines having to work with the public in sometimes not so physically distanced situations.

Doug Matthews is a police officer at the North Precinct who works patrol in North and Northeast Portland. He has been a Portland police officer for over 26 years. As Officer Matthews describes, “I answer emergency calls for service. I’m the guy who wears the blue uniform and drives a marked police car.”

The challenges have changed throughout his career. “In my mind, the biggest challenge to our community is the homeless, mentally ill, and drug affected. Our society hasn’t quite figured out how to effectively deal with these demographics.”

Despite what you read on the internet, the citizens of Portland value their police officers. Matthews says, “The overwhelming majority of people I come into contact with thank me for what I do. I get a lot of satisfaction out of assisting citizens in all things whenever I can. And…I still like putting criminals in jail if they commit a serious crime.”

The job of a police officer has changed in a lot of ways, according to Matthews, from the traditional law enforcement oriented police officer to a social justice warrior. In the end, our primary role will always be to protect people when they can and assist in holding people who break the law accountable for their actions.

Now because of COVID-19, the police bureau is handling most of the calls by phone and the officers decide if an in-person response is needed. People may not like that, but it’s necessary to reduce everyone’s exposure. When it comes to serious emergency calls, the police will respond immediately.

One thing that is different during COVID times, is that traffic has been much better since the pandemic started, however, the police have seen a substantial uptick in drivers driving at excessive speeds.

One bright spot is as of today, there haven’t been any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Portland Police Bureau. Matthews admits, “I have always been a good hand-washer, but I’m a bit OCD about it now due to the pandemic.” Also, most citizens are adhering to the Governor’s restrictions related to the pandemic. The Police Bureau isn’t enforcing the Governor’s restrictions, instead, the Police Bureau has chosen to educate the public over enforcing.

Office Matthews would like to thank Portland residents for your continued support. “Citizen involvement is crucial to solving crimes in the community. You would be surprised how often a person breaks a cold case for the police or points us in the right direction to solve a serious crime.”

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