Normally Hari Khatri, PhD, is hidden away on the ninth floor of the Donald P. Pinkel, MD, Research Tower on the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital campus. He works as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics.
These days, Khatri is easy to find. As a volunteer in the hospital’s administrative staffing pool created especially for COVID-19 pandemic response, Khatri stands in the doorway of the Marlo Thomas Center, greeting employees with a smile and a series of COVID-19 self-screening questions before they start work.
"Since you were last on campus, have you had any close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or any of these symptoms?" Khatri indicates the symptoms on a sign. They include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, and a loss of smell and taste.
Khatri joined St. Jude in July 2019 to work in the lab of Richard Lee, PhD. An organic chemist, Khatri synthesizes molecules to support lab research, particularly to develop antibiotics that kill drug-resistant bacteria.
But as a volunteer in the administrative staffing pool, Khatri's job is quite different.
"I greet people and remind them to keep 6 feet of distance from one another,” Khatri says, “and I direct people where they need to go for scanning their IDs."
Ordinary jobs for extraordinary times
Khatri is part of a small team of intrepid St. Jude staff who volunteered for the administrative staff pool organized by Human Resources as part of COVID-19 planning and response. These employees welcome staff to campus and guide them through the screening process. The work may be mundane, but it’s essential, and how the logistics came together so quickly is a testament to the extraordinary character of people who work at St. Jude.
“A few weeks ago, we were focused on initiatives such as strategic planning, construction and parking. Now COVID-19 has become a dominant topic,” says Dana Bottenfield, senior vice president of Human Resources.
“One of our tasks was developing a way for employees to optionally apply to help work in other areas,” Bottenfield says.
These volunteers scan employees’ badges and help with parking tags. They also provide order and familiarity during a chaotic time.
“This has been accomplished with a team of people coming together to get things done in a remarkably short amount of time,” Bottenfield says. “We are very grateful to those in HR and across the campus who have pitched in.
“There have been so many moments of laughter, camaraderie and deepening of respect for the people I get to work with every day,” Bottenfield continues. “I have been humbled by the creativity, dedication and spirit of the people around me.”