Kirsten Clark Stathes works in the emergency room at Redlands Community Hospital. When she arrives home from her shift each day, she immediately removes her scrubs, puts them in the washing machine, and takes a shower. “I’m always cautious and sterilize everything when I get home,” she says. This routine is just one of the many new “norms”—both large and small—that have become an integral part of her life.
A physician assistant for nearly 20 years, Stathes is no stranger to long days. In the past few months, however, caring for COVID-19 patients has intensified her duties. Still, she says “the biggest hardship is on the home front,” as she fears bringing the virus home to her husband and 6-year-old daughter.
Stathes, a Redlands native, graduated from U of R in 1997 with a degree in biology and a minor in Spanish. As part of a genuine Bulldog-for-Life family—“we are all Redlands through and through,” she says—the months serving on the pandemic’s front lines have kept Stathes away from her extended family, including her dad, Ron Clark, who earned a history degree at U of R in 1969; her mom, Donna Clark, who worked at the University for 30 years; and her sister, Kelli Clark Granillo ’03, who earned a master’s in communicative disorders. Stathes’ husband, Tom Stathes, also earned a bachelor’s in history at U of R in 2000.
While she misses her family’s weekly “Taco Tuesdays,” Stathes is grateful she is able to serve others in need during a time of great crisis. The changes within the emergency room have been both demanding and educational.
“As cases increased in the Inland Empire, we had to convert several rooms into negative-pressure rooms, which made our ER look less like a peaceful setting intended for healing and more like a construction zone,” says Stathes. “I began seeing fear in the eyes of the providers and staff as we kept dealing with the unknown. The fear is not understanding the illness, and that’s scary. I have never experienced anything like this in my medical career.”
With experience comes confidence, however. One challenge has been keeping up with the continuous flow of information from medical experts and health agencies about best practices, changes in policies, and potential treatments, she says. “It’s like going back to school because you want to be sure you have the latest and most current information, and you want to do your best for each patient.”
She’s also grateful to the community for the outpouring of support for those who work in health care. “The crisis has brought light to the important roles in our hospital,” she adds, pointing out that vital personnel includes not just medical professionals but also administration, ancillary staff, and custodial crews. Stathes, who also works per diem at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s emergency room, credits both hospitals with providing its workers with plenty of personal protective equipment.
The ER is constantly fast-paced and impacted, she says, but Stathes and her colleagues hope they have turned a corner. “Yesterday’s shift was almost normal, and I’m feeling better now because I’m more comfortable with the new norm.”
If you are among the Bulldog alumni serving on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic like Stathes, email us and tell us your story.