LeighAnn Sharp and Claire Quainton, certified medical assistants (MAs), have spent every weekday since mid-November in the parking lot of Eaton Rapids Medical Center (ERMC) swabbing patients for COVID-19. Each morning they don full sets of personal protective equipment—including N95 masks, disposable plastic gowns, face shields, and sterile gloves—and step outside into the temperamental Michigan weather to begin collecting nasal swabs from a line of patients waiting in their running vehicles. Sharp and Quainton do this Monday through Friday, for eight hours in gusting winds, freezing rain, and blowing snow. They do it without complaint, and if you were to praise them for their commitment, they would likely shrug their shoulders and tell you it isn’t such a big deal.
However, to many residents of the Eaton Rapids community, the testing Sharp and Quainton are providing is crucial. Eaton Rapids Medical Center is a rural, critical access hospital providing care to patients who may otherwise be unable to receive treatment due to their inability to travel long distances, and that principle applies to COVID-19 testing as well.
“This is truly a critical need for our community.” said Tim Johnson, President and CEO of ERMC. “We are still seeing long lines of folks showing up to be tested in our parking lot. Claire and LeighAnn have done a phenomenal job of keeping up with that need and making sure each patient is properly cared for despite the harsh conditions of working outdoors.”
Though Sharp and Quainton are both humble about their contributions during the pandemic, they will reluctantly admit the weather does get to them, and it can be the best or worst part of a long shift.
“It’s not so much the cold that gets you, it’s the wind.” Sharp said. “The wind is the thing that makes your fingers go numb after a while—and not feeling your fingers is a tough thing to deal with in this job.”
However, on those rare sunny, Michigan spring days both are appreciative of the view.
“On the warmer days, when the sun is out, we see quite a few more people coming for tests,” Quainton remarked. “But it makes it go by much quicker when the weather is beautiful!”
On the day they were interviewed by the small trailer used as their makeshift office, situated next to a sturdy metal car port where patients pull in, the wind was whipping so hard it slammed the door closed suddenly. As it was startling, both Sharp and Quainton laughed a little. “You get used to it, eventually,” they explained.
Both MAs shared their most memorable moments from their time staffing the testing area. They have truly seen it all: patients asking if their dog could be swabbed, a car breaking down right in the middle of a busy rush which resulted in the pair helping the driver push the vehicle out of the way, and even a full-size semi-truck pulling in for testing.
But mostly, they both think about the immense amount of community support they’ve received. Local businesses have surprised them with hot cocoa on cold winter days, grateful individuals have shared homemade baked goods with them to keep their spirits up, and the entire community has vocalized a resounding thank you, over and over again.
Sharp and Quainton remain ready to serve their community at the ERMC Testing Center Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, in the parking lot next to the hospital on the corner of Main Street and Spicerville Highway. A physician order is not necessary.