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Supporting Role

Alumna’s organization stepped up when Maine’s medical workers themselves needed help
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

When the COVID-19 pandemic was bearing down full force on Southern Maine, the medical professionals there, as in so many places around the world, were taxed to the breaking point. Many struggled with balancing the added demands on their work schedules with caring for their children, looking after pets and even shopping for food. Fortunately, for a number of those professionals, the volunteers of Maine COVID Sitters were there to lend a hand.

The ad-hoc organization, founded by Laura Knapik, ’15, a medical student at the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, Maine, operated from March to June during the busiest stretch in the state’s COVID outbreak. With 60 to 75 volunteers from a variety of UNE’s medical disciplines, the COVID Sitters clocked 1,000 hours of free services to members of Maine’s medical community. “We feel it was a really great accomplishment,” Ms. Knapik said. “I think we were able to provide assistance at a critical time, and we were all very proud of that.”

The Northbridge native was a biology major at BSU, mentored in her undergraduate research projects by Dr. Jeffery Bowen and Dr. Merideth Krevosky. She praises both professors and remains in touch with them, drawing both inspiration and advice.

Ms. Knapik is currently in clinical rotations at a local hospital as she gets closer to meeting her goal of becoming a doctor. However, earlier this year when the coronavirus was beginning to rage across the country, she and her fellow students felt helpless. Yes, they knew medicine, but they weren’t yet certified to practice. “We wanted to help our community, and we asked what can we do to help,” she said.

What they decided to do was play a key supporting role.

The idea for Maine COVID Sitters was based on a similar group in Minnesota. Over a weekend in early March, the group was formed, executive board and all.

Ms. Knapik first reached out to the two primary hospitals in the region, Maine Medical Center and Northern Light Mercy Hospital. The hospitals’ human services departments posted the word about the group of ready volunteers, and the calls for help began coming in from medical personnel in the Augusta-Biddeford area.

The biggest need was for babysitting, closely followed by assistance with pets and grocery shopping.

Because the volunteers were all medical students themselves, they made sure to take precautions against contracting or spreading the virus.

By June, Maine’s fight against the pandemic had eased, and the students of Maine COVID Sitters were returning home or busy with school and clinical rotations. The group suspended its activities at that point.

But, their work meant those on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 enjoyed some peace of mind while they toiled day after day during the most chaotic time any of them could remember in their professional lives.

“I believe we made life easier for them and provided some help in a small way,” Ms. Knapik said. “It felt like I had a real purpose and a way to give back to my community. It was a great way to be involved.”

The Maine COVID Sitters garnered national recognition from the American Osteopathic Association in October, receiving the COVID-19 Initiative Award in the organ­ization category. The group was among more than
100 nominees.

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