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‘Don’t wait until it’s too late’
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Yellow Spring native mans the stressful, emotional frontline in Myrtle Beach

She grew up in Yellow Spring, watching her Aunt Marsha, a nurse, take care of and nurture her family. Brooke always had the same desire.

Brooke, 27, is now a nurse herself in Myrtle Beach, on the frontlines of the Covid pandemic. And it’s far from the relaxing, fun-filled vacation the name “Myrtle Beach” so often implies.

“My job has always been stressful,” Brooke admitted, “but that stress has multiplied since this pandemic began.”

Stress is a given as far as a nursing career. Brooke said she loves being able to impact and give back to others, so she tries to take the stress in stride during her job at Conway Medical Center.

“People never forget how you made them feel, and I strive to advocate and give them my all,” she remarked. “It’s so rewarding to know that you’ve touched someone’s life during such an unknown time for them.”

An “unknown time” can definitely describe the last 2 years with the Covid pandemic, and Brooke said Myrtle Beach has experienced multiple waves, not unlike her childhood home of Hampshire County.

And not the kind of “wave” you would want to experience at Myrtle Beach.

This is the 3rd wave of the pandemic, Brooke said, and it’s grim.

“Patients tend to be much sicker this time around, with a much younger population,” she explained. “Patients are coming in on admission, able to walk and not be on much oxygen.”

And just a few days later, she added, they’re in the ICU on a ventilator.

Myrtle Beach has about a 57 percent vaccination rate. For comparison, Hampshire has 40 percent of its population fully vaccinated.

With about 33 new Covid cases per day, Brooke said the hospital situation down south is similar to the Eastern Panhandle’s, with a common refrain: not enough beds.

“We’re having to hold patients in the ER for 3 to 4 days just to receive a bed,” Brooke described. “Our ICU is packed with about 5 to 10 patients waiting per day to be transferred to them.”

It’s an emotional time for frontline workers, having to constantly cope with stress as well as heart-wrenching experiences in the workplace.

At the beginning of 2021, Brooke was caring for a Covid patient who was in her mid-30s, admitted just 2 days after the patient’s husband died of the virus.

He left behind his wife and 2 beautiful daughters.

Brooke said the woman didn’t want to be admitted to the hospital. She wasn’t feeling the best, and the next thing she knew, she was in Brooke’s unit, requiring maximum oxygen therapy prior to ventilation.

“At times, she was hopeless,” Brooke said. “With everything going on in her life, I just wanted her to know that she didn’t have to be isolated from everyone.”

Brooke spent the majority of her shifts gowned up in the Covid pod, giving the woman company during her stay.

Brooke said that seeing people lose their spouse due to the virus has been nothing short of “heartbreaking.”

“There are families unable to visit their loved ones during their last hours,” she said. “We’ve sometimes been able to arrange end-of-life visits or (video) calls, but for the most part, staff is the only people that get to be around patients at this time.”

Managing stress is hard, and Brooke said with her job at Conway and her 2nd job at a wound center once a week, she’s always just going, going, going.

She also spoke on behalf of her fellow nurses in Myrtle Beach, Hampshire and everywhere in between.

“You may have had Covid before, but that doesn’t make you invincible. Our numbers continue to increase, as well as hospitalization numbers,” she said. “Us nurses are unsure if we can handle it all over again.”

And when it comes to the vaccine?

“Everyone has a choice in the matter, but I strongly recommend you getting your vaccine if you’re on the fence about it,” Brooke said. “The amount of people that have begged for it when it’s too late is just heartbreaking. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Jobs go begging
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As employment here soars, state agencies are scrambling to hire

• The Division of Highways has billboards along U.S. 50 looking for workers and a hiring event next Wednesday, Oct. 20.

• The Division of Natural Resources’ law enforcement operation is conducting its Physical Agility Test here in November to qualify new officer candidates.

• The Division of Corrections has a walk-in hiring event next week at the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Augusta.

Development Authority Director Eileen Johnson told her board in September that unemployment in the county was down to 3% and employers were struggling to fill positions.

The numbers have only gotten better — or worse, depending on your point of view — since then.

Workforce West Virginia estimates that Hampshire County’s unemployment rate was 2.7% in August, the 2nd-best in the state, trailing only Pendleton (2.4%).

While participation in the labor force lags across West Virginia, it’s never been better in Hampshire.

The state had a participation of 55.4% in August, meaning just over half the population age 16 and older is either working or looking for work.

During August though, Hampshire County had 11,480 people in the labor pool — 59.3% of the county’s estimated 19,350 people age 16 and older.

The 11,480 people either working or looking for work is a county record. So is the 11,150 people employed. Employment has topped 11,000 for 3 months in a row, the 1st time ever here. 

As has been the case for years, most of the 11,150 Hampshire County residents who are working travel outside the county for jobs.

Workforce West Virginia says the county has 3,750 civilian non-farm jobs available. Almost a third of those — 1,240 — were government jobs in August.

DOH has specific needs it’s trying to fill in Hampshire and Mineral counties — and a process in mind, says the district’s human resources manager, Leslie Staggers.

The hiring process begins online, so anyone interested in a position needs to start there, Staggers said.

District 5 is looking for road crew members, mechanics and entry-level construction technicians in particular.

Applications can be filled out online, making the Oct. 20 event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the District 5 headquarters in Burlington a 1-stop experience — and interview, drug testing, explanation of benefits. 

“Do everything soup to nuts in one day and make those decision for who we’re going to hire and get them in the door in a couple weeks,” Staggers said. 

Corrections is touting a streamlined hiring process at its 1-stop recruitment events. Guaranteed raises and a defined career path are part of the deal.

People who qualify can walk out of the recruitment event with a job offer for officers and non-uniform positions at prisons, jails and juvenile centers across the state.

The event at the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 21. The jail is at 355 Dolan Drive in Augusta.

Walk in or call 304-496-1275 to let them know.

Minimum qualifications include a high school diploma, a valid driver’s license and passage of a physical agility test (bring suitable shoes and clothing) and a drug screening.

Pay starts at $30,664 and rises 7% the 1st year, to $32,810.

The Natural Resource Police are starting officers a little higher, at $38,524.16 annually, but DNR is looking for college graduates or people with law enforcement or military experience.

Anyone interested must apply for a position online at wvdnr.gov/lenforce/employment.shtm before taking the physical agility test.

That test will be offered at 9 a.m. Nov. 13, a Saturday, at the Hampshire Wellness and Fitness Center on Sunrise Summit.

To pass a candidate must do 18 push-ups in a minute and 28 sit-ups in a minute; run 1.5 miles in 14 minutes, 36 seconds; and swim 37-1/2 yards fully clothed (bring long pants and a shirt).

A written test must be passed too. It’s being offered at DNR’s headquarters in South Charleston on Nov. 15.

Driving the point home
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Bus driver shortage strains ‘amazing’ transportation team

While the list of substitutes and drivers is getting shorter, the list of duties remains the same, which results in high stress, reworked routes and a need for teamwork between administrators, drivers and families.

See has been in the department for over 20 years, and he said he has never seen the need for drivers so high.

“Trying to get sporting events and athletic trips covered, that’s where (the department) is having most of the trouble,” See said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

See is the transportation supervisor, but he has been behind the wheel for the majority of the school days this year, simply due to lack of drivers. The pool of substitute drivers is almost depleted too, he said, which has led to shifting routes around.

There are 52 route buses in the county, and they drive just under 3,000 miles a day, See said. Nearly all of the buses transfer with another bus, making the routes seem like a puzzle.

A puzzle that, See admitted, takes teamwork and flexibility to solve.

“If you could just see it all in action, it’s just wonderful what the team does,” See praised. “They’ll do just about anything I ask. They’re a team. If one goes down, there’s 4 or 5 willing to pick it up.”

Right now, many of the substitute drivers are either folks who have other jobs elsewhere, or are retired bus drivers.

“They don’t want to drive every day, but I’ve been using them every day,” See remarked. “This is the worst I’ve seen it.”

In some states, such as Ohio, counties have been working with members of the National Guard to haul kids to and from school, but See said that that’s not likely to be a viable, sustainable solution here.

“Those people aren’t doing buses, they’re driving vans,” See explained. “It takes hours and hours to be certified.”

In order to become a sub, CDLs (commercial drivers licenses) are needed, as well as 40 hours of class and 18 hours on the road.

Usually it takes a few years to become a full-time driver, See said, but times are a little different now.

“It took me 4 years to get a full-time run when I first started,” See recalled, “but now, if you walk in and get certified, you can probably become full-time in a year.”

There are opportunities for folks to take steps to join the transportation team as early as Oct. 18, when there will be a training session at the bus garage in Augusta (located at 800 Delray Road). The training will run from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. For more information, interested folks can call the garage at 304-496-1504.

See sang the praises of his staff, calling the work they do “amazing.”

“They’re a professional bunch,” he said. “I appreciate each one of them. We couldn’t do it without them. Bus drivers are very unique, special people.”

While teamwork among the transportation staff is important, cooperation from families is just as necessary, and See said he was also grateful for the flexibility of parents during this “crazy busy” time.

“I appreciate the parents working with us, and I ask them to continue to work with us,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

Is your number up?
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Council member drives to identify Romney’s addresses

Her goal?

 See how residents are complying with the town’s 2-year-old ordinance requiring visible street numbers.

Her mission?

“It saves lives,” O’Brien asserts.

Romney’s first responders — the rescue squad, fire company and police agree.

“It delays services sometimes minutes when seconds count,” Fire Chief G.T. Parsons said. “It is a major issue in the county not only in the city.”

Romney Rescue Chief Donnie Smith agrees the problem of small, hidden or missing numbers is widespread.

“I would say on average only about 50% are clearly marked and large enough to see from the road way,” he said.

O’Brien pegs compliance a little higher.

She said 90% of the residences in Romney are in compliance with the March 2019 ordinance.

But, she notes, “Over 130 residences do not meet the display requirements outlined.”

The ways to not meet the ordinance are many.

“Have a number missing, shrubs or decorations in the way, not visible due to distance from the street, numbers are too small,” O’Brien lists.

They’re all in the ordinance.

The point is to have street numbers large enough for a police officer or fire crew to see from the street.

For a house that means numbers at least 3 inches high on the front or entrance, visible from the road. If the house is set back from the street, the number has to be at the street.

For businesses and apartment buildings, the size is larger — 6 inches and on the side of the building facing the road.

Noncompliance can have consequences that haven’t kicked in yet in Romney.

After being notified of the requirement, a property owner has 30 days to comply or face a fine of $50 a month.

O’Brien said she hopes her effort gets some property owners taking action.

“I’m anticipating some people are going to get out there and straighten their letters, trim their shrubs or so on,” she said.

The consequences could be costly, not just in fines, but in lives lost.