Mayo Clinic Labs @ Work
Thousands of people in hundreds of different roles work at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. Mayo Clinic Labs @ Work offers a glimpse behind the scenes into this busy reference laboratory, featuring staff from throughout the organization talking about what they do and why they do it.
I’ve been with the Office of Decedent Affairs (ODA) as an ODA specialist for a year and a half. I was in the Division of Cytology before that, so I’ve been at Mayo Clinic for two and a half years now.
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in mortuary science, and I had worked in the industry for some time. When my son was born, though, it became clear to me the hours involved in that type of work were going to make work/life balance difficult, so I switched to an 8-to-5 job. During the time away, I found that I missed working in the field. My children are older now, so when this opportunity came up, I felt like I could once again use my education and the skills that I developed as a funeral director, with the additional benefit of continuing to work for Mayo Clinic.
We’re a 24/7 office, with two staff members always present. The ODA specialist’s primary focus is to serve as a point of contact for family members who have had a loved one die or who are near death at the hospital. We answer any questions they may have and make them aware of the process that happens when death occurs. This includes helping to facilitate transport, if necessary, of a loved one who will be buried in another state in the U.S. or internationally. The process can be complicated, and we’re able to assist with the logistics. The ODA also coordinates and schedules the autopsies at Mayo Clinic for both hospital inpatients, as well as outpatients whose families would like an autopsy performed at Mayo Clinic.
The biggest impact to our process was that for the first few months of the pandemic, we didn’t meet with families face-to-face, which was a challenge. We would work with the patient care staff on the units to get contact information for the family, and we could reach out to them after they left the hospital. We would go over all of our usual information, but it would have to be done over the phone. Even after those first few months, the limited visitor policy at the hospitals was still challenging because the few family members who were there would often leave before we could get to the unit to meet with them. We were still doing most of our conversations over the phone. With the kinds of conversations we have, it’s much easier to discuss things in person. It’s such a sensitive and difficult time, and such a personal conversation, that the inability to meet face-to-face impacted our ability to serve them to our greatest capacity.
We did prepare for our caseload to go up, based on what could have happened with the pandemic. We did see an increase, but thankfully, it never got to the point that we thought it might. We were able to handle it and provide the same level of service to all our families that we always do.
What I find when I meet with families is that they are surprised we offer this kind of service at all. Very few people realize Mayo Clinic has dedicated resources to a group who specializes in focusing on the needs of families and loved ones at the time of a death. In most hospitals, it’s a nurse or a doctor who handles this. But Mayo provides for them a group that knows about and is focused on this type of care. We answer their questions and provide direction when many of these families are in shock and don’t know what to do. They’re usually still trying to process what happened. We’re able to come in and help them understand what’s going on and what’s going to happen next. Sometimes they can’t even think of questions for us because they are so stunned with grief. That we offer experts who can care for them in that time is surprising to them, but it’s also often a big relief and a weight off their shoulders — especially if they haven’t been through the death of a loved one before.
For me, it really is the support I provide for the families. The reason I went into this field in the first place was my interest in helping people through a difficult time in their lives. When I saw Mayo Clinic had this position open, I thought, “This is perfect for me.” Providing assistance and that interpersonal interaction is why I’m here. When I go home every day, I’m grateful that I’m able to help others. I had never imagined feeling this way or getting so much fulfillment from a job. It’s really not just a job for me. Truly, it’s a joy for me to go to work and serve our families.
Connie Ohnstad is the supervisor for Mayo Clinic Laboratories Inventory, which includes Mayo Clinic Laboratories Packaging and Specimen Kit Orders (SKO). Connie wears many hats as a supervisor at MCL, and she has a long history with Mayo Clinic, which has employed several generations of Connie’s family. She takes pride in ensuring that every day she offers her best for her employees, patients, and clients.
Heather Zovnic is a region director of sales of gastroenterology and infectious disease with Mayo Clinic Laboratories (MCL). Heather leads a team of clinical specialty representatives who meet with hospital laboratory and clinic staff across 20 states in the western United States. They help ordering providers learn about Mayo Clinic Laboratories’ comprehensive test catalog and specialty test offerings.
Tim Plummer is an operations administrator at Mayo Clinic Laboratories supporting the Division of Anatomic Pathology. He supports his team members by providing them with tools and resources to innovate and succeed. He has worked at Mayo Clinic for over 36 years and is driven by the determination to help people solve problems, help others be happy and successful, and be a part of solutions.