Kate Merrill spent 22 years as a surgical intensive care nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in North Lawndale. She stepped back from her position in 2019 to instead focus on her Edgewater Bakery and her three children. Then, the pandemic hit.
"It stunned our bakery," Merrill said. "My biggest concern was my community and my employees."
Merrill made the decision to furlough her staff and temporarily close "Edge of Sweetness," putting the health and safety of her employees, who spend time in a shared kitchen, first.
Merrill isn't out of a job, though. Instead, she answered a call to go back to work where first responders are desperately needed to treat coronavirus patients.
"There are sick people. I have the skills. I have the knowledge. And so it’s what I should be doing, I think. Morally, it’s the right thing to do. I didn’t think about it much,” said Merrill.
Merrill is one of thousands of former healthcare workers across the state to return to practice. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation confirms, to date, they have received approximately 6,000 applications for reinstatement of Illinois health care licenses and out-of-state temporary practice permits.
Of those, about 1,000 are for reinstatement of Illinois healthcare licenses. At Mt. Sinai, Merrill’s former supervisor confirms 12 nurses have returned, eight are in the intensive care unit.
“We’ve expanded our ICU. We have two surge units. That has required us to hire on or source more ICU nurses,” said Michele Mazurek, the Chief Nursing Executive at Mt. Sinai Hospital. “It has meant everything not only to the hospital but to the patients. We could not service and do what we do without these nurses and staff who have come back,” she continued.
While Merrill is working 12-hour shifts in the COVID unit, she has temporarily brought back her staff to fulfill weekly “Stock Up Sale” orders at the bakery. She was able to secure a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. She hopes to get back soon, but say she’ll continue helping at the hospital until she is no longer needed.
“It’s definitely different,” Merrill said about working in the ICU during a pandemic. “There are a lot of very sick patients. There’s a lot of death, lonely death. They don’t have their family with them. That’s the thing that’s the most heart wrenching for all caregivers,” she said.