Medical students step up to support healthcare workers during pandemic

MN COVIDsitters pairs students with health care workers in need of services like child care, pet care and grocery runs.

Nurse Johannah Bjorgaard takes her kids Islie (7) and Sullivan (4) to Powderhorn park in Minneapolis on Tuesday, March 31. They live nearby and frequent the park to help the kids get their energy out.

Nur B. Adam

Nurse Johannah Bjorgaard takes her kids Islie (7) and Sullivan (4) to Powderhorn park in Minneapolis on Tuesday, March 31. They live nearby and frequent the park to help the kids get their energy out.

Becca Most

A new program created by University of Minnesota Medical School students aims to help health care workers during the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

MN COVIDsitters matches student volunteers with health care workers throughout Minnesota to provide support to those on the front line. Since starting earlier this month, it has received around 400 student volunteers. The volunteers help with a variety of tasks including child care, pet care or runs to the pharmacy or grocery store.

“Health care workers have families that they really love and care about just like the rest of us,” said Sara Lederman, one of the programs’ co-founders. “And while they’re caring for our family, we wanted to be able to offer some sort of support for theirs.”

The organization offers service to anyone who works in the industry, including nurses, executives, lab technicians and custodial staff.

“There’s a lot we have to figure out, but considering this is a grassroots response to a global pandemic, I’m really proud of all the work our team has been able to do,” Lederman said. 

Students who sign up to volunteer must have a valid college ID, have passed a background check by their school or employer and be up-to-date on their vaccinations.Health care workers fill out a similar form and indicate what kind of care they need, as well as background information and their general location in the Twin Cities. 

MN COVIDsitters pairs two to four students to a household based on the health care worker’s needs and location. The team is also working on developing an app to make the process easier.

Lederman said assigning multiple volunteers to one house helps minimize infection risk and establishes trust between volunteers and families.

Jacob Walling, a first-year medical student at the University, started volunteering a couple of weeks ago for Johannah Bjorgaard, a registered nurse at M Health Fairview.

Walling is one of four students who volunteer to look after her children. He said he also helps them with cooking and homework.

As a single mother of two, Bjorgaard said she would not have been able to afford child care had she not been matched by MN COVIDsitters.

“The fact that I’m able to receive donation-based or free volunteer child care basically enables me to continue working,” she said.

Although it is stressful to continue working and know she may be putting her family at risk, Bjorgaard said not having to think about child care has made a big difference.

Since March, over 70 other colleges have followed MN COVIDsitters’ lead, including Brown University, Columbia University and the University of Cambridge. 

The organization has developed a digital package with templates and tips to help other schools make their own chapters.

“This is a moment where either you step up, or you sit down,” Lederman said. “It’s a momentous time.”