SOMC Medical Laboratory Technician, Maryellen Elliott has worked at the organization for nearly 20 years. During that time, she has seen a lot, but nothing can compare to her experience of living and working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SOMC Laboratory was an integral part of the organization’s response to the pandemic. This team has been one of the behind-the-scenes stars of the testing processes that have come with the new virus.
Dealing with COVID-19 daily was a huge part of Maryellen’s work life in 2020, but near the end of October, she had to face the virus head on herself. She had received a call that she had been exposed and would need to quarantine.
As per the guidelines at the time, Maryellen was getting ready to be released on her 10th day from quarantine. On that same day, November 5, she began to experience symptoms and received the call she never wanted: she had tested positive for the virus.
“I would never want to go through it again,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
Maryellen suffered a long list of symptoms from the virus including exhaustion, excessive coughing, nausea, loss of smell and taste and more. By the time she was able to break out of quarantine and return to work, she still found herself struggling to take a full breath.
Her recovery took some time. As she regained her strength after battling COVID, she was confronted with the reality that she would now have to choose whether she wanted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or not. A time of hope also brought a sense of anxiety to her.
“Originally I was really fearful to get the vaccine just because I was afraid of how I would react to it,” she said.
Through her fears, Maryellen remained diligent in her research of the vaccines and said the education she received at work combined with what she had read from reputable sources helped her reach her final decision. She concluded that getting the vaccine was the right decision for her despite her anxieties.
“A couple days of possibly experiencing side effects from the vaccine is better than being sick with COVID,” she said. “I don’t ever want to go through that again, or have to see my patients, family or friends go through it either.”
Maryellen scheduled her first dose, while she will admit she was still nervous, she was calmed by some of her coworkers who felt the same way but were hopeful about the decision they made. She did experience some side effects from the vaccine but said she would do it all over again.
“I feel confident with my decision,” she said. “I feel like the impact on myself, the community and my family are going to be better by taking it; that is my hope.”
Maryellen also made her decision by concluding that since the long-term effects of COVID are still being determined, this is one preventable measure that we can take to fight against the virus.
“I watched my 88-year-old grandma go through COVID and it was the hardest thing to watch,” she said. “I didn’t know if she was going to survive it, so I would not want to see anyone else go through that.”
If you have questions or would like additional information on the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
Dr. Rebecca Adams’ path to becoming a physician wasn’t easy – but having her family at her side made it a little easier.
It started early in her life. Even as an 18-year-old girl working in dietary services, she had a passion for patient care. She loved sitting with the patients and would take extra time to prepare their trays and keep them company. So it’s only logical that, when she returned to school later in life, she decided to get a degree in accounting.
Yes, accounting. It was the first step on a winding journey to becoming the provider she is today.
“I thought, gosh, this isn’t really what I want to do but I love the numbers and maybe it will get me in the medical field somewhere,” Dr. Adams recalled. That opportunity first presented itself in 2002 when she was offered a job working at the former Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.
She started out working with an OB/GYN named Dr. Shah. She worked her way up from a receptionist to the office manager – and asked plenty of questions along the way. The experience helped solidify her decision to directly pursue her love for patient care.
“I was really inquisitive,” she said. “Dr. Shah would teach me along the way. When she retired in 2008, I decided to go back to school.”
She became a full-time student with a part-time job, who was also raising two pre-teen children alongside a husband with a demanding position at AK Steel. The situation forced her to find study time wherever she could.
“I can remember putting the kids to bed, and sitting in their bed with my books all around me trying to get work done,” she said. “My oldest played basketball, and I would sit in the stands during his games doing schoolwork.”
It wasn’t easy, but she knew it had to be done. She also knew she wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with her kids, so carving out time to juggle both was the only option. After graduating with honors, she moved to Pikeville and started medical school.
“I knew it was a big sacrifice,” Dr. Adams said. “It was a financial burden, then uprooting our kids and things like that… There’s a lot that went into it. I could not have done it without the support of my husband, my kids, my parents and my strong faith in God.”
It was hard, and she admits there were moments when she thought she’d made a mistake. On her first day of anatomy lab, she was confronted with a cadaver and left in tears. “I remember leaving, calling my husband and bawling my eyes out saying, ‘I can’t do this.’”
With the help of a strong support structure, she kept going. Then, because nothing about her path could be easy, the final year of her residency coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to adapt how we were seeing patients,” she said. “Some of us went to the hospice COVID unit. It was very scary. We were hearing of residents who were being sent in and dying in New York, but part of you wanted to be there and soldier through for the patients.”
It was like nothing she’d ever seen before, but – like every other challenge she overcame – it made her a better physician.
“I look at hurdles differently now,” she said. “I’m constantly looking for ways to work around them, or nay way I can improve and be a better physician for my patients.”
Even the financial hardships she endured while returning to school have made her better, as it’s resulted in a more thoughtful approach to patients of limited means. “There were times when we were digging through our car for change so we could buy bread. It has not been an easy journey.”
As hard as it was, though, she is convinced now that she made the right decision. Not only does she love what she does, she loves where she does it. And she loves that she’s been able to do it all while still putting her family first.
“The kids still talk about how proud they are,” she says. “Through it all, I’ve always put my family first. They always come first, regardless.”
Dr. Rebecca Adams practices at the SOMC Family Practice and Specialty Associates located in the Bellefonte Centre in Russell, Kentucky. To schedule an appointment, call 606-324-0098.
SOMC West Union Family Health Center is now offering screening mammograms. It is not necessary to have an order from your provider to receive a mammogram. Walk-ins are accepted.
“This new service makes it more convenient than ever for women in the West Union area to access the same quality of care that is found at the SOMC Breast Center,” SOMC Director of Medical Imaging Ethan McCarty said. “It’s another way that we are showing our commitment to bringing healthcare to patients in this community.”
The screenings will utilize 3D imaging, which allows a radiologist to slowly scroll through images of the tissue, often detecting small masses that otherwise could not be seen. It provides a more accurate and complete picture. It helps patients avoid unnecessary biopsies because it is more effective at diagnosing a mass versus normal tissue.
Annual mammograms are important for women beginning at age 40. They can identify breast cancer early, often before lumps can be felt, which significantly increases a patients’ likelihood of overcoming the disease.
To schedule an appointment, call 740-356-8128. The West Union Family Health Center is located at 90 C.I.C. Boulevard in West Union, Ohio. In addition to breast screenings, the West Union Family Health Center offers primary care, urgent care services, laboratory, x-ray and more. For more information, visit somc.org.
Southern Ohio Medical Center and American Red Cross will partner to host a blood drive from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, March 15 at the SOMC Friends Center.
Text BLOODAPP to 90999 to download the ARC app and use RapidPass to expedite your donation process. You can also schedule an appointment by calling 740-356-8670 or
740-356-8223, by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or by visiting RedCrossBlood.org. Be sure to enter SOMC to schedule an appointment on the website.
Your donation is essential and appreciated. A special group of donors will receive Red Cross T-shirt when you come to give while supplies last.
SOMC nurse Kara Richards was working on the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) when news broke of the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did she know how much her life was going to change all around as Scioto County and surrounding areas began to see COVID cases.
The SOMC Observation Unit quickly became the housing unit for admitted positive patients. Many nurses from around the hospital would float to the floor to assist with extra care as needed. Kara eventually joined this round of nurses who would lend a hand to those who were battling COVID.
Kara recalls that there was a two-week span where she didn’t work any shifts on PCU at all. She had volunteered to take more in the Observation Unit to expose less on her floor.
“I had grown to adore the staff down there, as well as the patients,” Kara said. “After much deliberation, I decided to stay.”
She said her family thought her decision was a bit crazy, but she knew that it’s where she needed to be.
Before COVID, she had no plans of working with patients that were approaching end-of-life care, as she says she gets too attached to her patients. There have been many times, though, over the course of this pandemic where patients reach a certain point where they are unable to be transported to the SOMC Inpatient Hospice Center.
“I would be with them (her patients) for the duration of their stay and their family knew me at that point,” she said. “I wasn’t a stranger anymore and so I would stay. I was with them in the beginning, and I would stay until then end, because that’s the worst part of this pandemic, being alone; and my patients would not be alone at the end.”
As her work life took a path she never intended, her life outside of work also became drastically different than it had before COVID.
“My son and I have a routine every night when I get home,” she said. “He and my husband will stand in the door and wave as I come up the hill and I’ll flick the lights.”
She would then make sure to shower and sanitize her work clothes before she would go in and see her family.
Now that she has been vaccinated, as well as her grandparents, she feels a bit more hope that normalcy can soon be a reality again.
As for someone who has served on the frontlines of this pandemic and faced COVID directly, her advice to others is that we each have a choice on how we respond to this pandemic, and while there are still active COVID case, we must continue to make this choice.
“You may not be scared for yourself, I wasn’t,” she said. “But I love my family, friends and coworkers. I may not get to see them as much now, and when I do things are different. But I’m holding onto hope that this will end, and everyone will still be around to get a hug, share a meal, watch a movie. And I know from first-hand experience that’s not always the case. So, if you don’t take care now, we will do everything we can to help. But it starts with you.”
Southern Ohio Medical Center is hosting a free, virtual career fair for those interested in branching out into a new field. The event will outline the path to becoming a pharmacy technician, which can be navigated in as few as six months. The event will take place on February 23 at 6 pm.
The pharmacy tech program is a unique career opportunity because you can go from trainee to Certified Technician in as little as 6 months.
You can also work and get paid as you go. Trainees’ are paid for the shifts they work in pharmacy to fulfill the required hours. Unlike other programs, when you complete the course work you are certified in the state of Ohio and can work anywhere in the state. Pharmacy technician roles are extremely varied, and range from obtaining medication histories directly from patients to preparing sterile products in cleanrooms, managing automated dispensing equipment and assisting patents to afford their medications.
Working as a pharmacy technician can be incredibly rewarding,” SOMC Director of Pharmacy Rory Phillips said. “This is an opportunity for anyone considering the field, or contemplating a career change, to learn more about the opportunities that are available.”
Pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a pharmacist to provide patients with both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Pharmacy is a growing field with significant demand in southern Ohio. Those who are interested can begin work as a trainee and begin earning money while SOMC mentors and guides them through the program. Once you achieve trainee status, you have until the end of that year to receive certification.
The career fair will detail the day-to-day activities of a pharmacy technician, as well as education requirements and career opportunities. Those interested can register by contacting Charlotte Maillet at 740-356-8565.
In recognition of Heart Month, the SOMC Development Foundation will be hosting a live event to teach the public how to create heart-healthy meals on Facebook Live. The event is created by SOMC and Pastor’s Pantry Cooking School.
The event, “Cooking With Heart,” will take place at 6 p.m. on February 25 at the SOMC Development Foundation Facebook page. There will be cooking, sharing of heart healthy tips as well as a raffle where five purses will be given away.
“Our goal is to provide our community with a fun and entertaining event, while also empowering them to make heart-healthy changes in their everyday life,” SOMC’s Director of Heart Services Amy Fraulini said.
Every raffle ticket purchased will come with an ingredient list so participants can obtain the necessary items to follow along with the class ahead of time. The ingredient list will be emailed the week of the event, so participants must include an email address when registering.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the SOMC Heart and Vascular Fund. It will be used to purchase blood pressure monitors for patients at home. An active Facebook account is required to participate. For more information, contact Hayley Burchett at 740-356-2505 or [email protected] To purchase your ticket today, please visit https://www.somc.org/cookingwithheart/.
Each year, SOMC employees have the opportunity to donate to local charities through a year-long pledge known as the Make a Difference campaign. In October of 2020, 676 employees selected the following charities and pledged a total of $102,000!
Steven Hunter Hope Fund. The Steven Hunter Hope Fund was established in memory of Steven A. Hunter. The goal of the fund is to provide services and goods to the children of the Portsmouth City School District.
Homeless Shelter. The mission of the Scioto County Homeless Shelter is to provide a safe, transitional environment for an individual or family. They also offer services to help these individuals achieve success in finding and sustaining permanent housing.
Southern Ohio Task Force on Domestic Violence. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency provides domestic violence victims and their families a hotline, temporary shelter, clothing, food and so much more.
Salvation Army. The Salvation Army helps people of the community who are in need and preach the Gospel through food pantries, alcohol and drug rehab, veteran services, job training and so much more.
Sierra’s Haven. Compromised of a group of volunteers, these individuals work to find safe and loving homes for adoptable pets. They also treat and spay/neuter animals in need and work to find them their forever homes.
SOMC Development Foundation Funds. This includes funds such as the Breast Cancer Compassion Fund, Hospice Caritas Fund, Pediatric Fund, Nursery Bereavement Fund and many more. The goal of the Development Foundation was established to make a difference by identifying the community’s healthcare and wellness needs while bridging the gap between those needs and the cost of the solutions.
“The recent employee giving campaign shows that SOMC employees are fervent supporters of giving back to our community,” said Angela Wells-Coburn, SOMC Administrative Director of Community Relations and Development. “Our staff is engaged in many ways through hard work, kindness, and philanthropy. The agencies the staff chose to support will benefit from this kindness throughout 2021.”
2020 was a difficult year, but the employees of SOMC were still dedicated to giving back. A special thank you to these employees and all of the hardworking charitable organizations in the community.
To learn more about the SOMC Development Foundation, its funds or ways to give, please visit https://www.somc.org/development/
2020 has presented its fair share of change and challenges, but as we approach the end of this year, we also have reason to celebrate.
At the end of 2020, Dr. Suzann Bonzo will retire from more than 40 incredible years of practicing medicine. She has been a pioneer of change and growth at Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC) and her legacy and dedication to her field will be evident for many years to come.
Throughout her tenure, she has witnessed the hospital grow and expand from Scioto Memorial Hospital, where she served as Chief of Medicine in 1985, to Southern Ohio Medical Center. She has also been a huge advocate and donor to the SOMC Hospice Expansion Project, which is currently underway and will drastically expand the SOMC Hospice Center. Due to her commitment to medicine and hospice and palliative care, countless patient and families’ lives have been touched throughout her years of service.
“Dr. Bonzo is very passionate. She is passionate about what she does, and hospice is a particular interest to her,” said Teresa Ruby, SOMC Administrative Director of Hospice, Home Care and Palliative Care. “Dr. Bonzo inspires us with her commitment, her dedication and she sets an example that other coworkers and our staff to see on a daily basis”
Along with being a trailblazer for expanding the hospice and palliative care programs at SOMC, Dr. Bonzo has served in an impressive number of roles at Scioto Memorial Hospital, US Health Corporation of Southern Ohio and eventually, SOMC. Some leadership positions included: US Health Corporation of Southern Ohio in 1990, Chairs of multiple committees throughout the years including ICU, Critical Care, Oncology and Pharmacy and Therapeutics and she also served as the Chief of Medicine at SOMC in 2004. Her resume includes a number of other committees that she served on throughout her career. She was also a teacher and mentor to many medical students, residents and nurse practitioners over the years.
Dr. Bonzo has been awarded throughout the years for her service. She received the Outstanding Physician Award from the Scioto County Medical Society in 2017. Her commitment to hospice and palliative care has recently been honored by her name being placed on the outside of the SOMC Inpatient Hospice Center.
Throughout the years, Dr. Bonzo has touched countless lives. Her legacy will undoubtedly live on in the years to come as evidenced by the incredible SOMC Hospice Center that she has been an advocate for since its inception in 2007. SOMC thanks Dr. Bonzo for her selfless dedication to patient care and commitment to improving the field for the community. We wish you a happy retirement!
In their daily lives, most people take precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19. For Dr. Ron Miller and his wife, Jessi Miller, that isn’t really an option. Dr. Miller is an emergency room physician at Southern Ohio Medical Center, where Jessi is a respiratory therapist. They both care for COVID-positive patients every day.
Like all healthcare workers, their lives have been impacted by the pandemic since it began. Fortunately, there finally appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel: The COVID-19 Vaccine.
“I feel like the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel leading to getting back to normal,” Jessi Miller said.
“This vaccine is as safe as any other, if not safer,” Dr. Ron Miller added.
It’s certainly a lot safer than being infected with COVID. Over the course of the pandemic, the Millers have seen COVID-19 present in conditions ranging from asymptomatic to dying.
“I’ve seen people with ankle fractures who are COVID-positive and didn’t know they have it, and I’ve seen people who come in and require a ventilator to stay alive,” Dr. Miller said. “It goes from one end of the spectrum to the other.”
“Patients who seem to be doing fine can change quickly,” Jessi Miller added. “Oxygen levels go from stable to unstable very fast.”
The public’s attitudes about the virus have been just as varied, though actually contracting it – or being close to someone who does – tends to be an eye opener. “I’ve had patients laying there and they just look at me and say, ‘If I’d have known it was going to be this bad, I would have worn my mask,’” Dr. Miller said.
Similarly, misinformation about the virus is now giving way to misunderstandings about the vaccine. The most common myth is that the COVID-19 vaccine was “rushed.” The truth is, while this particular strain of coronavirus may be new, coronaviruses themselves have existed for decades – and a vaccine to combat forms like SARS and MERS has been in the works since the early 2000s.
“They’ve been working on coronavirus vaccines for a decade,” Dr. Ron Miller said. “It was intensified with the pandemic, but it’s not necessarily new technology.”
Not only is the technology not new or rushed, the vaccine also appears to be remarkably effective with success rates higher than 90%. While everyone who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine should, Dr. Miller believes it is especially important for healthcare workers. Not only does their profession come with a higher risk of exposure, but when they contract the virus it can have damaging consequences for a community struggling with a still-raging pandemic.
“Our community needs us, and if we’re sick, we can’t work,” he explained. “I don’t want to get sick and sit on the sidelines. I would encourage my entire healthcare team to get vaccinated. That includes my medics, law enforcement, janitorial staff, administrators at the hospital…”
“For us, our risk of getting COVID is so high it’s a no brainer to take the vaccine,” Jessi Miller agreed.
Considering the rampant community spread of COVID-19, it’s not just for healthcare workers that the vaccine should be a no brainer.
For more information about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.