By: Nick Santangelo

Taking online courses and/or working from home may feel dull and inconvenient, but Temple University and the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) moved online because it’s safer. It’s safer for students, safer for faculty, safer for staff—safer for everyone. But some work simply can’t be done remotely.

As an occupational therapist for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, Hannah Simko, CLA ’14, needs to be in contact with other people to perform her job. Doing so during the COVID-19 pandemic means Simko has to pull on personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect herself and her patients from spreading the novel coronavirus.

“We wear PPE with every patient, and then the hospital has standards for PPE that you wear with a patient who’s either positive or being tested,” explains Simko. “I think everybody—whether you're in health care or not—worries a little bit about getting that virus and what that would look like for you or your coworkers, your family, your loved ones.”

But the former Neuroscience major pushes that worry to the back of her mind when she’s with her patients. Simko views her patient work as an opportunity to give some of herself to someone in need and ease their worries a bit, though she didn’t always know that’d be part of her job description.

After graduating from CLA, Simko considered going into nursing and several different types of therapy careers before finding her calling. As an occupational therapist, it’s her job to help people get back to doing meaningful and important things. Therapy sessions focus on empowering recuperating patients with bathing, dressing, cooking and taking care of their families on their own. Many of those patients have suffered strokes, brain injuries, and other debilitating diagnoses, and Simko says her CLA Neuroscience degree helps her every day when caring for them.

they have someone close that can help them through this tough time

The COVID-19 pandemic means all of her patients have an even greater need for Simko’s help now than in more normal times. Most hospitals aren’t allowing visitors, so many of Simko’s patients are left feeling isolated right after experiencing a traumatic, life-changing experience like a stroke or a broken hip. With their lives potentially altered forever and family and friends unable to visit, Simko’s bedside manner is of vital importance right now.

“Our staff, the therapists and the nurses on our unit are really trying to be their family right now and to help them through this tough time as best we can, while also providing our therapy services to them,” says Simko. “So, it's a little bit, maybe more than we did before, stepping in and acting as someone's family member, helping to feel like they have someone close that can help them through this tough time.”

Simko says everyone on her team is very supportive of both of her and her patients, which makes her feel “very lucky.” That strong support system, combined with the regular COVID-19 updates her employer is providing, is vital for health care workers like Simko to persevere through the pandemic.

In fact, she likes her team so much that she’s roommates with one of her colleagues, which helps make coronavirus’s disruption of her personal life a bit easier.

“It's definitely been tough for everybody not being able to see your friends or family or people that you'd normally spend time with. But I understand that what we're doing is the right thing and that the social distancing and closing nonessential businesses down seems to be working—at least from the data that I've seen so far.

“So, while it's hard for everybody, I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel that will come out, and this is something that we've gone through collectively together. Hopefully, it will change how people interact with each other, and we won’t take for granted things that we took for granted before.”

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