In honor Fathers’ Day, we’ve decided to highlight a few of our many dedicated staff members who have been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic (and also happen to be loving fathers!)
OMAR MARRERO, MSW, Director of Respite Operations
Omar Marrero has been the Director of Respite Operations at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program for three years. As Director of Operations, he is in charge of the daily flow and mechanics of our Barbara McInnis House Respite Program which served as one of a few COVID-19 recovery units for individuals experiencing homelessness. Because his work is so integral to patient flow and experience—making sure that admissions and discharges are handled within the context of evolving CDC protocols–his physical presence was often required in our COVID-19 efforts.
Omar speaks of the dueling combination of fear and pride he felt as a parent working every day in a COVID positive unit. At the beginning, Omar says, there was a lot of uncertainty. And uncertainty breeds fear. “I have two kids: a fourteen year old and an eighteen year old. My wife and I had to have lots of open and honest conversations about the precautions I was taking in order to keep my household safe.” He talks of the specific changes he’s made to his daily routine: no longer taking public transit, changing his clothes and sanitizing as soon as he comes home.
His educational background in social work is evident in the warmth in his tone and his deep-rooted affection for his patients and colleagues. “As a social worker I never dreamed I’d be part of a public health crisis like this,” Omar says, “I had a lot of internal questions about whether or not this is the right thing to do. I didn’t want to expose my family to something like this. I love my job, but at the end of the day, they are my responsibility.”
Omar says he trusted BHCHP senior leadership for their fierce commitment to the safety of our patients and staff. “As soon as I left fear, my next thought was, “How can I be supportive and effective and efficient here at my job? How can I be useful? How can I help? Once my brain shifted from fear I felt very proud, very accomplished and very honored to be contributing to this program.”
When asked about his family now, his tone becomes even warmer. “We are a very close family,” he says, with genuine pride, “we have honest conversations about our fears and doubts as it relates to my job. I’m lucky, my kids are old enough that they know what is going on. They have lots of questions, and it’s brought up some really interesting conversations. It was good for me, too, to talk about my work with my family. It gave me a sense of pride to share things with them.”
In the midst of the pandemic, Omar had some bright spots. Omar’s daughter finished up her final year of high school, “I’ve been impressed by her maturity,” he adds, “It’s hard, knowing that her final year of high school was clouded by COVID, but we celebrated her graduation in a really special way with the family.” Omar speaks of other bright spots, “My son is really active, he plays many sports and the stay at home order was really hard on him. So we bought a basketball hoop and he and I have been playing together every night. I’m grateful for that time with my son,” he says. “Overall, this time of COVID has been so uncertain, and the future still holds uncertainty, but I think this period made our family stronger,” says Omar, “I’m grateful for that.”
DAVID MUNSON, MD, Medical Director of the Respite Program
During the month of March, the pandemic spread in Massachusetts and Boston causing alarm for public health experts and clinicians. The question of how to stop the spread of disease among people who live in congregate settings, namely the City’s residents who experience homelessness and live in shelters, became urgent. As more people experiencing homelessness tested COVID positive, they needed a place to isolate and recover. BHCHP quickly converted a full floor of our Barbara McInnis House respite program to the care of COVID positive patients.
Dave Munson first joined BHCHP in 2012 on our Street Team and is currently Medical Director of the Respite Program. As a physician, he was on the front lines in the midst of the pandemic as the Barbara McInnis House Respite Program found itself at the epicenter of the crisis for folks experiencing homelessness.
Dave and his wife, Sarah, are both physicians with two young children (4 years old and 18 months old), so they couldn’t opt to have one parent isolate in a hotel or college dorm room (as has been the case for many clinicians), so they had to learn to live with restrictions. “We’ve made a practice of leaving our shoes outside and showering before we come home,” Dave says. The biggest challenge and stressors have been around childcare when both Dave and Sarah were at work.
“With my kids being young, it has been easier in some ways and harder in others,” he says thoughtfully, “You need someone to watch them and have to plan everything around that. But young children are resilient. My older child has been really good about wearing her mask. She loves her BHCHP mask and my younger one wants to do whatever her big sister does!”
As for the lessons he’s taken from this time, Dave is thoughtful in his response. “In my personal life, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to view this time as an opportunity to slow down. All the extracurriculars that used to eclipse our weekends are gone, so we have this wide stretch of unstructured time to spend together outdoors or all together. We have to create the structure. And that has been nice.”
When he speaks of meaningful experiences at work, he talks about a patient of his who was dying at McInnis House. “The death was a long time coming,” he says, “But in the end we were able to connect the patient with a family member and gave them a peaceful departure.”
Dave and Sarah have tried to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the calamity. “There’s the reality that we don’t really know how much longer this will go on. It’s the uncertainty that is the worst part,” he says. Cultivating that sense of normalcy, Sarah and Dave have tried to eat dinner as a family every night. “There were only four nights since March when I didn’t make it home for dinner,” said Dave, “It’s important for me that I make that time with my children. As my kids get older, I see them watching me as I’m working or going to work and I know how precious this time is with them.”
KWESI OXLEY Manager of Patient Intake Benefits Referral
Kwesi Oxley has been at BHCHP for seven years. “I started out as a housekeeper,” he says, and then worked his way up to the Manager of Patient Intake Benefits Referral for our program and clinic at Jean Yawkey Place, “We’re working on shortening the title,” he says, a trace of humor in his tone.
On any given day, Kwesi is calmly and expertly managing the daily flow of the clinic and the team of patient benefits coordinators who help enroll new patients in the Medicaid or Medicare programs. He’s often called upon to de-escalate patient behavior, and helps keep the clinic moving in a steady rhythm. He is second in command for patient benefits and assists daily in making sure everyone has insurance and can register correctly.
When the pandemic first hit our program, Kwesi was working from home twice a week. But then his wife got furloughed from her job in response to the pandemic and Kwesi started coming into work every day. Most non-emergent, in person clinical services were relocated to telehealth due to the pandemic, but people were still being admitted to the McInnis House. With all the new regulations from the pandemic, managing patient intake and referral was essential.
When asked about his children, Kwesi speaks with such love and adoration for his three children “Two boys and one girl. The boys are 16 and 6, and the girl is 4 going on 45,” he says, affectionately.
In terms of balancing the duties of fatherhood and working in a COVID-positive building he says it wasn’t challenging, “School never really stopped for my kids. The oldest is pretty independent and was really good about getting his work done. My six year old needed a bit more guidance. My wife and I had to check in every day to make sure he was logging in and getting his work done.” Another challenge was that his days were longer than usual, “I was coming home later and not seeing them as much,” he says, “That was hard.”
Kwesi echoes his other colleagues when he speaks of his children’s resilience. “School is teaching them about COVID and how it’s impacting everyone. I’ve been really impressed with the questions they’ve been asking and how much they know about what’s going on.”
He says they are fortunate to have a big backyard where the kids can play outside, “But they’re a little tired of being indoors,” he says, fondly, “My daughter keeps asking, ‘Daddy, when is COVID going to be over?’” This simple, yet insightful question from the mouth of a child seems to be echoing across the globe: when will COVID be “over” and how can we integrate the learnings of this period into the new normal?