Hospital volunteer

Steve Anderson mans the front desk inside Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato’s hospital wing. Anderson is often the first person patients and visitors see when they come to the hospital, meaning he’s among the frontline workers helping people get treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MANKATO — Steve Anderson is often the first person people see when they go to the hospital at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

The self-described “old guy behind the desk” enjoys that position and the responsibility that comes with it. As a guest services representative, Anderson helps patients and visitors get to where they need to go. And with the recent changes caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Anderson is at the forefront of taking care of local people.

“It has been very much a learning experience, as you can imagine,” Anderson said.

The 60-year-old Waseca man started at Mayo Clinic Health System in 2018 after spending 25 years at the Quad Graphics printing plant, which shut down the previous fall. For Anderson, the job at Mayo was another opportunity to use skills he picked up working in radio, newspapers and even food processing.

Anderson helps patients and visitors check in and guides them through Mayo Clinic Health System’s various departments and procedures. He also helps train volunteers to assist patients and visitors. As one of the first employees people see when they come to the hospital, Anderson acts as somewhat of an ambassador and cheerleader for the medical center.

“We want to instill confidence in people in what we do at Mayo,” he said.

His job isn’t easy, however. The coronavirus spurred changes to Mayo’s visitor policy, making it tougher for people to visit patients at the hospital. While those restrictions are in place for safety reasons, Anderson said it has been difficult watching people struggle without a face-to-face, personal connection.

“That’s probably the most difficult thing we have to deal with,” Anderson said.

He’d followed news about COVID-19 for months before the U.S. recognized the novel coronavirus as a public health crisis. He remembers texting with his daughter — who has a doctorate in immunology — in January, asking her opinion on whether COVID-19 could turn into a global pandemic.

The virus and its effects resonate with Anderson, who shares his personal connections with people seeking treatment or advice on how to keep themselves healthy.

“My dad lost two siblings in the previous pandemic of 1918,” he said. “I talk to people about that, and I talk about the history that Mayo went through during the same time.”

At the time of the Spanish flu, Mayo Clinic had worked with the Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester to buy and renovate the Lincoln Hotel, a building near Saint Marys Hospital. It was there Mayo staff found the flu was transmitted through sneezing and person-to-person contact.

“They learned early on people needed to be masked,” Anderson said.

Retelling that history, from the mask drives that went on in 1918 to the prototypical “command center” Mayo created inside that hotel, is part of Anderson’s approach to comfort people seeking health care. And it’s also one of the reasons why Anderson garners respect from his coworkers.

“Steve has always been an incredibly warm presence at our front desk,” said James Hebl, regional vice president for Mayo Clinic Health System. “We are just so grateful for Steve’s commitment and are very thankful for his extra efforts.”

Anderson is looking forward to a few more changes in his future. The medical center cut down on so-called elective surgeries more than a month ago, but Mayo Clinic Health System plans to resume much of its operations over the next few weeks.

Anderson and other staff will learn new screening and safety procedures to check people in, which could include taking people’s temperatures in the lobby and ensuring visitors wear masks at all times.

In other words, Anderson will be even more important to Mayo operations moving forward.

“Our guest service staff and people like Steve, they can help navigate some of the nuances of our visitor policies,” Hebl said.

Anderson said he still looks forward to coming in to work every day — a 33-minute drive from his home in Waseca. There are still reasons for hope, such as families having babies during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We tell them they’re going to have one heck of a story to tell their kids once they get older,” Anderson said. “That’s a plus to be able to see Mom and Dad so happy, that they had a new baby, that’s still the awesome part of this job. It’s nice to see a little normalcy.”

And in the unlikely event Anderson needs to take a furlough from the hospital, he said he plans to still help out at Mayo however he can.

“I told my bosses all along, I said if my role gets pushed aside, I will do anything to stay inside and work in this building,” Anderson said. “I’m very passionate in helping people. It’s difficult times right now, and I believe I can bring a calming presence.”

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