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It wasn't a lot, but the grant Samantha Stafford received through the Central Missouri Medical Personnel Relief Fund helped her make a car payment.

Stafford was among hundreds of people in the health care field the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected.

She is a phlebotomist at Jefferson City Medical Group, which realized early during the crisis it would be hard-hit.

Health care providers had to cancel elective procedures as the state closed down to help prevent the spread of the disease. Those procedures are medical facilities' bread and butter.

In late March, management at JCMG made the difficult decision to offer furloughs, conduct layoffs and cut salaries. The health care provider was one of the first to enact strict safety protocols during the pandemic, including door screenings, according to Jamie Patterson, JCMG vice president of marketing and business development.

Before the pandemic, phlebotomists like Stafford were drawing blood from more than 400 people a day for routine check-ups and in preparation for procedures.

That number drastically reduced.

"We were doing a lot of blood work," she said. "Even though they were cutting back on how many people were coming in, they were still doing online conferences. The lab stayed pretty busy."

It stayed busy, but the number of clients having blood taken fell to about 200 daily.

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The recovery has also happened quickly, Patterson said.

"Patient volumes have recovered significantly and continue to trend upward," she said. "We have been able to reverse the wage decrease and bring back many of our furloughed employees. We are humbled by and grateful for the tremendous sacrifices employees and physician shareholders have made and their commitment to JCMG during this pandemic."

Stafford felt lucky. She was able to continue working, but she also took a pay reduction. And her bills remained the same.

"Everything was jumbled up. Bills were piling up," Stafford said.

Then a coworker told Stafford about the Medical Personnel Relief Fund, so she applied.

Jefferson City engineering and design firm Bartlett & West and the United Way of Central Missouri developed the fund to provide critical financial aid to health care workers who experienced financial hardships because of COVID-19. To date, it has received about $12,700 in donations and distributed more than $10,000.

Go to unitedwaycemo.org to learn more about the fund, apply for a grant or contribute.

Stafford said the $300 she received made a big dent in her monthly car payment.

"I'm a single parent. Anything helps," she said.

If funds are still available in August, Stafford will be eligible to apply for another grant.

"The payments don't go away," she said. "I'll definitely try to apply again. Anything helps at this point. Even when you're not in a pandemic, anything helps. Every penny counts."

 

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