Stories from the Frontline

Jun 22, 2020

Story by: Kelli Schrag, MKC communications specialist

The spread of coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the way Americans live, work and learn. Digital platforms have become the primary way for many to work, attend church, continue education and find entertainment. However, as businesses close their doors and people engage in social distancing, essential workers are standing on the frontline to serve the public in this reality of uncertainty. Industries such as healthcare and agriculture have been identified as essential and continue to operate to meet the needs of the population by providing treatment to patients or growing a safe and sustainable food supply. Hailed as heroes, some couples work in both fields and risk exposure to keep the world running.
Josh and Tarah Crosby
A lot has changed in the past year for Wichita-area couple Josh and Tarah Crosby. Both graduated from college. They got married and moved to a new city. Each started a full-time job. And now, they’re serving as essential workers during a global pandemic.

“In a weird way, we haven’t been affected as far as going to work goes,” says Tarah, a nurse at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. “The biggest change is that we’re saving money by not going to Texas Roadhouse all of the time.”

Though the Crosbys had no major lifestyle changes, both of their workplaces introduced new policies to ensure the safety of their employees.

“We’ve really followed standard social distancing and have gone above and beyond in wearing masks, disinfecting workspaces and keeping things clean,” says Josh, MKC’s Wichita Grain location manager. “We’re still working to meet our member-owner’s needs but keeping employee safety as a priority.”

At the hospital, Tarah participates in meetings every morning and dons numerous articles of personal protective equipment before caring for patients.

“The hospital is very protective and has provided the appropriate PPE for us to use,” she says. “We have a floor designated for Coronavirus patients, and before we can go in, we have to check our PPE with a designated PPE observer. We’re required to wear a gown and hairnet, an N95 mask with a surgical mask over it, a face shield, and gloves.”

Once on the COVID-19 floor, nurses care for two to four patients each, depending on how busy the hospital is. A different nurse will run to get an item if something is forgotten to keep contamination from spreading. Through it all, Tarah aims to be a source of positivity for her patients and coworkers.

“We used to make it through the day by seeing each other’s smiles, but since we have to wear masks, we can’t see facial expressions,” Tarah says. “I try to be a light to my patients and co-workers. We’re all in a sticky situation and my co-workers are carrying this weight too. The patients are scared and more isolated than anyone. They’re alone if we’re not in there. I try to update families as much as possible. It’s important to hold their hand through it all.”

Josh says knowing things will return to normal at some point motivates him to continue showing up each day.
“It’s tough and making us work differently,” Josh says. “We’ll get through it, and each day we’re one day closer to it all being over.”

In his position, Josh has seen firsthand the importance agriculture plays in the world. While the rest of the world has slowed, MKC has experienced continuous business during its busiest part of the year.
“Farmers don’t stop,” Josh says. “The work still goes on and even a pandemic isn’t enough to make them hiccup.”
Brandon and Amy Siemens
For many Kansas beef producers, working cattle is a springtime social event; a time to gather with friends, family and neighbors to accomplish hard work and share a meal together. This year, restrictions on gatherings because of COVID-19 caused Brandon and Amy Siemens’ annual event to look a little different.

"We usually have a big group of neighbors come to help us work cattle," Amy says. “This year, we had to do it with just immediate family and our veterinarian. We really missed having that this spring.”

The Buhler-area couple manages a 125-head SimAngus cow-calf operation and Brandon has been farming full-time for 22 years. Amy works directly with COVID-19 patients as a nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center and takes extra precautions to avoid infection. 

“The hospital is diligent about providing PPE and screening patients as they come in,” Amy says. “I wear a mask from the time I walk in the door to the time I walk out. I shower before coming home and leave my clothing and shoes at work, so I am clean and have nothing to take home with me. The community has been very supportive in donating shampoo and body wash for us to use.”

The hospital has allowed one family member to accompany patients through the door but has restricted access to the ICU and patient floors. COVID-19 patients that test positive or are suspected and awaiting test results are quarantined to a certain area of the ICU. 

“This has definitely been hard on families,” Amy says. “Life still goes on and our services still need to be available for routine care, surgeries or accidents, but families aren’t able to come back prior to surgery or go up to visit their rooms.”

For Brandon, operations have continued as normal with agricultural businesses taking necessary measures to provide their services in a safe manner.

“I haven’t had any trouble working with MKC, parts warehouses or seed distributers,” Brandon says. “Supplies have been available and workers have kept a safe distance or set up a screen barrier.”

Throughout the shift in operating procedures, Brandon has continued contact with his strategic account manager, Chris Thompson.

“Instead of face-to-face visits, Chris has reached out through emails and phone calls,” Brandon says. “We’ve had seed delivered to our farm. Everything has continued, just in a different picture than we’re used to.”
Brandon and Morgan Kaufman
COVID-19 has changed the way many view the world. While some have chosen to fixate on the negative, others have sought opportunity in the adversity. Moundridge-area couple Brandon and Morgan Kaufman fall in the latter category. 

“The glass is always half full,” Brandon says. “The biggest thing that most of the world has missed is entertainment. That hasn’t been the case for us as there is a lot you can entertain yourself with in a rural setting.” 

The Kaufman’s children, Sawyer, Coy and Karsyn, have certainly found amusement by playing hide-and-seek in the growing perennial grain field and checking cattle with their parents.

“We’ve spent a lot more time as a family,” says Morgan, who works as a labor and delivery nurse at Newton Medical Center. “When Brandon goes to work on equipment or to check cattle, we all go. It’s a good reason to get the kids out of the house.”

The Kaufman kids, ages 7, 5 and 3, have transitioned to online schooling and take part in several Zoom meetings a day. The parents have helped facilitate these digital sessions and ensure classwork is completed. They also find opportunity from their positions as essential workers to create teachable moments for their children.

“Showing the kids the importance of hard work is important to us as parents,” Morgan says. “As people are losing jobs or traveling elsewhere to meet the needs and demands in bigger states and hospitals, it’s important that I do my part here in my hospital. There’s always going to be moms coming in for labor and I want my kids to see the importance of making sure their needs, and the needs of my family, are met.”

Morgan says the most challenging part of her position is the constant change to comply with CDC guidelines. The hospital has daily updates on new procedures and policies put in place to keep its patients and employees safe. While the Maternal Child Unit has yet to admit a positive COVID-19 patient, nurses are required to wear a mask and sanitize after coming into contact with anyone or anything.

Brandon, a full-time farmer managing a diverse cash crop and cattle operation, hasn’t slowed due to the pandemic either. He has continued business with vendors and his strategic account manager, Chris Thompson, over the phone rather than meeting in-person.

“Chris and I work well together,” Brandon says. “I appreciate that he’s able to think outside the box, especially with cattle and non-traditional cropping systems. We’ve attended several cover crop seminars together over the years because of mutual interest. He’s also got skin in the game on his own operation, so he processes things very similarly, with like goals in mind.”

Brandon has found the pandemic to be an opportunity to build direct markets and commercialize his niche products, such as the perennial grain cropping system.

“I think direct marketing will change the industry when we look at how consumers want their food,” Brandon says.

“With the panic in the processing plants and the dependence on food, we’ve had the opportunity to directly market to consumers. It goes to show that the glass is always half full. We’re very thankful for the opportunities that we have and for the position that we’re in. We look forward to getting back to the ‘new’ normal and meeting with our church family again.”