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Becky Gerig, speech therapist, has been with IU Health Saxony Hospital since the hospital’s doors opened in December 2011. As a speech therapist, a large part of her role is evaluating a patient’s ability to swallow and determining if it’s safe for the patient to eat solid food. She also performs cognitive or communication assessments on patients who’ve suffered a stroke or have confusion to help determine the best placement for the patient.
By Trudy Odenwald, Marketing Associate, IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region, todenwald@IUHealth.org
When the coronavirus pandemic made its way to Indiana last March, Gerig was working more than ever before.
“Because COVID-19 was severely affecting patient’s breathing and causing them to have cognitive challenges, speech team members were some of the first ones in COVID patient’s rooms,” Gerig said. “I’m on call 24/7 for any patients that come in and need a speech evaluation.”
Over the last year, Gerig watched IU Health Saxony nurses and physicians care for their patients tirelessly day in and day out. When Gerig’s neighbors heard about the fatigue frontline healthcare workers were facing, boxes of snacks began to appear on Gerig’s porch, with notes that would say, “Please take these to the nurses.” So, every other day for the last year, Gerig would refill the tubs she placed on various hospital units with the snacks donated by her neighbors.
“I had three separate neighbors that would make “nurses runs,” and ask me what the nurses wanted. I remember the night shift nurses saying that it felt so good knowing that people were thinking about them,” she said.
The inspiration to become a speech therapist came from Gerig’s nephew and a high school homework assignment about a career she’s interested in.
“Originally, I wanted to be a counselor. So, I set up an interview with a woman I thought was a counselor, and it turns out that she was actually a speech therapist. And then one of my nephews had to go through speech therapy while I was in high school and I just loved seeing the transformation in his ability to speak and communicate.”
As she reflects on the past year, Gerig remembers the first time she ever entered a COVID room like it was yesterday.
“The first time I put on all of the required PPE, my heart was thumping and honestly I was scared. And then I walked into the room and I saw how much this patient was struggling and I thought, I was so worried about myself, but here is this patient that is so scared and needed me. From that moment on, I was never scared to do my job again.”
As COVID-19 cases have started to decrease, Gerig says it was a privilege to be in her role throughout the pandemic.
“At the beginning, there were so many questions about whether COVID was going to affect the hospital, and when it did, everyone just did what they needed to do to provide our patients with the best care possible. I am so impressed with my team members. IU Health Saxony is so special to me because I know the doctors and nurses so well, and they’re all just so kind and incredible. It feels like a privilege to be in this role at this time.”