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Retired Northeast Ohio nurse answers the call for help during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 5:20 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 19:28:48-04

AKRON, Ohio — When Summit County Public Health put out a request for additional people with medical backgrounds to volunteer for the COVID-19 response, Gillian Solem didn't hesitate. The 69-year-old retired registered nurse from Hudson said nursing was her calling and the pandemic was calling her to step up.

"I know what it's like when things get rough and the demands are high and you need extra hands and I wanted to be able to do that if I could," Solem said. "In a situation like we're facing, where there's going to be an escalating need for people with some level of skill, it is so important to be able to understand where those resources are."

Donna Skoda, the commissioner of Summit County Public Health, is touched by people willing to come out retirement and assist during the evolving coronoavirus crisis. She said the county has heard from about 25 people offering to give their time, but stressed more volunteers will be needed with an expected surge in cases.

She said some volunteers will be part of the Summit County Medical Reserve, which helps in medical and emergency situations.

"These folks, to come out and help us, is indeed heroic," Skoda said. "It's all hands on deck and we need folks to help us."

Solem started her nursing career in the 1970s and worked for Visiting Nurses in Cleveland, other agencies and a hospital before becoming a nursing supervisor at Summit County Public Health. She retired from SCPH in 2016.

Doctors have said senior citizens are at more at risk if they contract the virus, which is easily spread.

However, that didn't dissuade Golem, who said she's in good health and believes her skill set could help patients.

"I'd be willing to do whatever needs to happen that I have the skills to do safely," she said.

Solem is concerned about whether medical personnel will have enough personal protective equipment during the surge. She has a son, son-in-law and a niece who are nurses.

"It is anxiety-provoking just because we don't know much about the virus," Solem said. "The lack of PPE is a real issue for all providers. I am concerned. That needs to continue to be in the forefront of our efforts to try to address that."

Skoda said volunteers, including retirees, will be assessed before they are placed in a location to assist. Some could help out at area hospitals or testing sites, if those are established in Summit County.

"If you're an individual that does have an underlying condition and you don't feel comfortable working in direct contact, there are other jobs that we could have you do," Skoda said. "We may need individuals to help us with traffic control. We may need individuals to help us hang signs."

Solem said she views volunteering as an opportunity to give back to the community she feels privileged to live in. She will stand ready to get back to work when called.

"Everybody has different gifts. Whatever you can give and help, I think that's important to do."

Those interested in volunteering can sign up at by clicking here.