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Former staff nurse is our 2020 Volunteer of the Year

VOTY 2020 - Former staff nurse is our 2020 Volunteer of the Year

Pictured: Dan administering COVID tests, his wife Paula and him, and Paula registeringa team member for testing.

Annually, Harbor Hospice and Harbor Palliative Care, and the Harbor Hospice Foundation celebrate our amazing volunteers during a Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon in May.  This gathering honors hospice champions who work tirelessly to provide support for our patients and families during their end-of-life journey. Although we were not able to meet this year, due to the pandemic, we honor Dan for his selfless act of service.  Our appreciation and gratitude, for our volunteers, is steadfast and we look forward to celebrating again in 2022.

Dan Poel loved being a nurse, and he made wonderful friends among our staff and patients during the eight years he worked for Harbor Hospice. Sadly, in 2014, after several back surgeries, his nursing career came to an end. Dan missed the work but said he especially missed the camaraderie of the people he worked with.

Early in 2020, as COVID swept into West Michigan, Dan heard about the long hours nurses were working and wished there was something he could do to help.

He had no idea how quickly that wish would be granted.

In order to protect staff and patients from getting and spreading the deadly novel coronavirus, Harbor Hospice needed to bring onboard a skilled medical person with flexible hours, who could administer COVID tests to staff week after week. When Dan heard about the position, he volunteered.

He spent one day with Dr. Harriman, our medical director, who taught him how to do the most invasive type of test, which requires that a swab be inserted deep up into a person’s nose. Because he wanted to understand what the uncomfortable test felt like, Dan had the procedure done to him.

Routine testing for staff began in July 2020 in a tent at the Leila & Cyrus Poppen Hospice Residence. By the second week of testing, the more comfortable throat swab test was approved.

All Harbor care staff working with patients had to be tested once a week, so Dan began by testing half on Monday and the other half on Wednesday. Dan’s wife, Paula, who was volunteer coordinator for Harbor Hospice at the time, worked alongside him registering each person. Dan wore the same protective layers worn by staff nurses – a gown, mask, face shield, and gloves – through the July and August heat. Harbor Hospice bought a portable air conditioner for the tent hoping to make the space more comfortable.

Later, the testing team moved to the basement of the Fricano building where it was cold, and the protective gowns helped keep Dan warm!

When the COVID infection rate in Muskegon County went above 10%, as it did in October 2020, staff in contact with patients had to be tested twice a week. Dan was absolutely essential in making it possible for us to do the high volume of testing needed, and through it all, he used his sense of humor to put everyone at ease, just as he had during his 30-year career as a nurse. Administering the tests week-after-week for months also gave Dan the opportunity to see the staff he had once worked with and to meet those who were new.

Nearly a year after the intense testing program was launched, COVID infection numbers dropped low enough so that the special site and hours for testing staff were no longer needed. Dan went back into retirement and was followed this past June by Paula, his wife and registration buddy. We miss them both!

Dan says he decided to go into health care to help people who are sick – regardless of the threat to his own health. Because of his desire to step in when we needed him most, to work long hours in uncomfortable conditions, and to put people at ease with his characteristic humor, we are delighted to honor Dan Poel as our 2020 Volunteer of the Year.

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