NIHD Rural Health Clinic Car Clinic team, Dr. Helvie recognized as COVID heroes

In a month known for strong hearts, Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s Medical Staff could not have made better selections for its COVID-19 Heroes honors. Recognized this month are the Rural Health Car Clinic team, who found themselves at the heart of the coronavirus battle; and, Dr. Charlotte Helvie, the lion-hearted pediatrician whose steadfast leadership united her colleagues in an uncertain time.

Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s Chief of Staff Dr. Charlotte Helvie accepts recognition for her leadership contributions during the pandemic from Dr. Stacey Brown. The District’s Medical Staff chose Dr. Helvie as COVID Hero for the month of February. Photo by Barbara Laughon/Northern Inyo Healthcare District

Anyone who has watched the Rural Health Car Clinic team at work wonders two things. One, how they work outdoors in the Eastern Sierra’s ever-changing weather, and two, can their protective gear prevent them from catching the coronavirus.

Dedication has always driven Physician Assistant Tammy O’Neil, Nurse Practitioner Sarah Malloy, and Medical Assistants Emily Smith, Hardeep Khurana, and Tiffany Cruz to do what they do. With the District’s full support in combatting weather challenges, this team has endured summer heat, autumn winds, and winter chill to serve those who needed them.

As for the PPE, the numbers speak for themselves. This team conducted more tests than any other group at the District, and none came down with the virus. “That alone speaks the power of PPE when properly used,” noted Dr. Stacey Brown.

“This team was critical to the development of the car-clinic, diagnosing patients early, and keeping the rest of their coworkers and local community safe and isolated from potential infections,” Dr. Brown continued. “Their early work developing telephone triage workflows and refinement of drive-through logistics were invaluable, not only to be successful but safe and efficient as well.”

The Medical Staff of Northern Inyo Healthcare District recognized the Rural Health Car Clinic team as COVID Heroes for the month of February. This team is responsible for testing hundreds of patients for COVID during the course of the pandemic. From left to right are team members Sarah Malloy, Tammy O’Neill, Emily Smith, Hardeep Khurana, and Tiffany Cruz, along with Rural Health Clinic Director Dr. Stacey Brown, who presented the certificates of appreciation. Photo by Barbara Laughon/Northern Inyo Healthcare District

Dr. Brown said the team also helped develop a parallel process to assist the County of Inyo in contact tracing, establish return-to-work protocols for NIHD employees, and scheduled testing of employees as mandated by the State.  Most recently, they helped identify and screen COVID-positive patients for potentially life-saving monoclonal antibody treatments.

“There is no doubt in my mind that their efforts in the past year were directly related to preventing loss of life from this virus in our community,” Dr. Brown said. “We all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.”

As for Dr. Helvie, her peers surprised her with special recognition for her commitment to the District during the pandemic. Speaking for the Medical Staff, obstetrician Dr. Martha Kim referred to Helvie as a mentor and touchstone for so many.

“Charlotte has worked quietly and effectively to improve the healthcare of the children of this community,” Dr. Kim said. “Less acknowledged, but just as important, she has provided calm, steady leadership for the Medical Staff for years. She has brought important subjects to both the Administration and Staff and get important improvements to our Healthcare District accomplished.”

Dr. Kim noted that when COVID hit, Dr. Helvie stepped up to be part of the District’s Incident Command team. “She also took over Dr. Brown’s tenure as Chief of Staff when he was needed in other areas to ensure the safety of our hospital staff and patients,” she said. “It should be noted Dr. Helvie took this on, on top of her already crazy-busy schedule and multiple commitments as Chief of the Pediatrics department, Peri-Peds department, and member of the Medical Staff’s credentials, bylaws, and interdisciplinary committees. She worked tirelessly and never complained.”

As Dr. Helvie prepares for a new career opportunity in New Hampshire, her colleagues chose to recognize her for her commitment, not only to the District during the pandemic, but also to the community during her tenure in Bishop. “We thank Charlotte so much for all the work and love she has put into our community,” Dr. Kim said. “Thank you for making us a safer, better healthcare district.”

The Medical Staff plans to recognize NIHD team members with this COVID Heroes honor each month for the near future.

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