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Tektronix Frontline Heroes Reflect on One-Year of Covid

Suzanne Strakna knows that lives depend on her.

She’s not a doctor, not a nurse, but for the last year of Covid-19 she’s been on the front lines. Some months on the road in various hospitals more than in her own house.

Strakna is one of more than 100 Tektronix calibration technicians who travel to service and test life-saving medical equipment for accuracy and compliance.

“The doctors, nurses, clinicians, rely on equipment to know their patients’ bodies are functioning properly,” Strakna says. “You can’t rely on those systems if you don’t know if they’ve been checked.”

When the pandemic hit, hospitals needed more help than ever. Their patients needed ventilators. Their workers needed PPE, and their equipment – in use more often – needed critical calibration services, even if technicians couldn’t physically enter their hospitals. The Tektronix Service Support Organization didn’t miss a day.

“It was kind of stressful, but the teams we have doing it, they just stepped up, knowing we are going to do what we need to do for our customers,” says Tektronix regional service manager Michael Sparrow, who oversees 14 technicians based in Cincinnati.

As Covid cases first began spreading in North America in March 2020, Tektronix announced the company would continue to service all customers. Life-saving patient equipment ­– from heart monitors and ventilators to electro-surgical units and defibrillators – simply need regular testing.


Suzanne Strakna calibrates a digital multimeter at a hospital in Suffern, New York in March 2021.

Empowered to do my job

With a mother who also works in a hospital and a sister who is an EMT, Strakna had several people worried for her safety.

“They were terrified,” she says. “I was terrified,” but she never considered not going where she was needed. She has now traveled across 22 states, servicing hospitals from Kansas to Connecticut, Pennsylvania to Florida since the start of the pandemic. The month of February she was home for only 48 hours.

“I remember getting the official letter from Tektronix. ‘If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it,’” she recalls. “It let me know my employer is paying attention. It made me feel empowered to do my job.”

Strakna was recruited from a hospital in Annapolis, Md., three years ago. While working with the neonatal intensive care unit one day, she noticed an incubator for a premature baby not working properly. The child, born 22 weeks early, depended on it functioning for a chance to live. Nurses were unsure about the source of the liquid leaking from the baby’s incubator. Strakna found it – tubing with insufficient insulation. She verified its safety. The child lived and eventually went home safely. Strakna still gets goose bumps recalling the memory, she says.

“I’m one step further removed from patient care now, but the clinicians can’t do their jobs if I don’t do mine,” she says. “Somebody has to do this.”


Staying Open for Service All Year

Tektronix ensured all 29 of its service locations remained open during the pandemic for precisely the same reason – hospitals and other essential service providers depend on this precision testing and calibration work. Tektronix adjusted operations in accordance with health authorities’ recommendations to keep customers and employees safe.

“You hope each person that goes in with the same quality mindset, because your family members may be depending on them,” says Sparrow, about the dedication he sees in his team of technicians spread across the Midwest “It may not be your family member, but it’s someone’s family member.”

At various times, some hospitals were simply too inundated with Covid patients to allow the technicians inside.

Strakna recalls walking past the makeshift morgues on the city streets of Philadelphia. Other colleagues drove hours on end to New Orleans only to find the hospital had been put on lockdown moments before their arrival.

Ohio-based technician Cody Smith says he walked onto a ward in December in Youngstown, Ohio. Looking out above his own face mask, everyone else he saw on the floor was wearing head-to-toe PPE. The equipment he was to service was literally surrounded by Covid patients. “It was a little awkward. I didn’t know what to think,” says Smith. “We managed to stay in one room the whole day and finished that one day.” He never has developed Covid symptoms and just takes some extra precautions at home, where he has a one-year-old son.

In some instances, hospitals arranged to handoff equipment for calibration. Testing would have to occur in the van or a nearby hotel. If the distance was reasonable, some Tektronix technicians could drive back to their home location, do the work there and return the equipment the following day.

“I’m truly impressed by the dedication and support of our team,” says Jim Kaigh, vice present of US multi-vendor services operations. “All the things we adjusted, the safety protocols we put in place, ensured we could support the frontline workers during a really tough time.”


A Link in a Chain of Care

Back in a New York hospital, the loudspeaker blares. A doctor is being paged. Suzanne Strakna pauses her conversation.

“That’s going to happen a lot,” she warns. She seems to be in a stairwell– the same place she’s taken Tektronix all-employee calls before while working in hospitals where space is limited. For the traveling technicians, this is not uncommon, though the year surely has been.

Her sister, the EMT, contracted Covid twice. In Kansas City, Strakna developed vertigo and briefly ended up a patient in a hospital she was working in just before Thanksgiving, treated literally across the hall from where she had her calibration equipment set up.

For a year of chaos, confusion, and death, Tektronix technicians have brought new meaning to the term essential workers.

“You try not to think about it, and you just get the work done,” says Sparrow.

That commitment and humility maybe a hallmark of these unsung heroes, faceless members of the frontline community with a generally simple view of how their work connects to one of the worst health crises the world has seen.

To Strakna, her role is clear. She is an indispensable link in a chain. “I’m part of a series of people who need to do their jobs so sick people get the care they need.”


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