March 2-8, 2001
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U.Va. at night: a blend of tranquility and trauma
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U.Va. at night: a blend of tranquility and trauma

Courtesy of Alumni News
The moonlit Lawn is a familiar sight for many of the 258 University employees who work nights, as well as the students and faculty who live there.

By Rebecca Arrington

A workforce of some 1,600 strong keeps the University's fires burning and minds turning from dusk 'til dawn. Among the staff are nurses, librarians, mechanics, lab technicians, housekeepers and telephone operators. Here's what several had to say about working the evening or night shifts, which for all is their preferred time to work.

Jennifer Sorensen, the night supervisor at Clemons Library stays busy. "The pace is most hectic between 10 p.m. and midnight, especially on Sunday and Monday evenings," she said. "But there is a pleasant aspect to working the evening hours. Patrons seem a bit more relaxed and conversational."

Pleasant turns into "bizarre" at times — even when there's not a full moon. "People come into the building in gorilla suits and robot costumes. I've seen the P.U.M.P.K.I.N. Society award a pumpkin to a student, and the IMPs retrieve one of their new initiates. And there are countless scavenger hunts," she said of occurrences she's witnessed in the library, open nonstop from Sunday through Thursday nights, closing at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Illuminating
Courtesy of Health System Marketing & Communications
The night view of University Hospital is what greets some 1,350 Medical Center employees who work during the evening or night shifts.

Sorensen has worked at U.Va. since 1994, first as a student employee at Alderman Library, then becoming a full-time staff member in 1998. Always "something of a night owl," she prefers working night shift so she can draw during the day. A cartoonist, she has found she is "much more productive with this schedule, as opposed to working 9 to 5 and coming home too tired to be creative."

Shirley Raines has been answering telephone calls as a U.Va. operator for 12 years. For the first five years, she worked the evening shift, from 2:30 to 11 p.m. or 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. "I like the pace of second shift better because of the variety of work, but due to family obligations I work the [day] shift now," she said.

During the day, her McKim Hall department averages 3,000 to 4,000 calls. In the evening that number decreases, but there's a large volume of paperwork and computer data entry to do, she said. The most calls she ever recalls logging is when Christopher Reeve was injured and brought to the University Hospital for treatment several years ago.

TheThe total years of service for the seven U.Va. classified-staff employees featured in this article is 102 years, an average of 15 years per person.

The best part of her job is helping people. "It's a good feeling to help a patient or family member locate a doctor when they only have partial information, or help when a school calls and you can locate the parents of a sick child," she said.

Emergency room nurse Anne Ripley also gets "great satisfaction" from helping people. "I had a 40-year-old patient several years ago from the U.K. He was just a few days from returning home when he had a heart attack. I treated him, then was off for several days. I didn't get a chance to follow up with him. But he sent me flowers and a card that said, ']thank you for saving a life.' It still brings tears to my eyes," she said.

Ripley, a clinician III who has worked either the second or third shifts since joining U.Va.'s staff in 1988, works in the emergency department's Chest Pain Center, a five-bed unit, and "floats out into the ER if needed." She helps with patient evaluations, does EKGs, starts IVs, draws blood, puts in catheters, and performs various other procedures, as well as providing patients with emotional support and information. "There's no secretary on my shift, so I also have to answer the phones and stock inventory too," Ripley said. "It's always busy. The stress level can get really high." Sometimes to relieve the pressure, her department has pot-luck dinners. "We include the ER and radiology staffs, clerks and housekeeping," she said.

One of the perks of working nights is parking for free. When she works evening shift, however, she parks in the garage and pays about $50 a month for her space. Ripley feels safe on the job but said "U.Va. security or police should be more visible when nursing shifts are changing and Health System employees are walking to and from their cars."

When asked if there was a particularly busy time of the month, Ripley said, "We joke when the ER is hopping that there must be a full moon."

Gwen Ferguson, who's worked at U.Va. for 18 years, always in the labs, is now operations supervisor for all Medical Labs open at night ‹ the Blood Bank, Core Lab and NICU Lab. Her office is based in the hospital's Blood Bank. "There's lots of activity at night," she said, running tests for in- and out-patients, filling orders for post-operative patients, and preparing for the next days' surgeries. "It's busiest at the beginning and end of the shifts, and Wednesday and Thursday are our busiest times, as they are heart surgery days." Ferguson likes working night shift, which she's done since 1988, so she can be off in the morning. This is the time she spends as a court-appointed special advocate, working with juveniles, a job she's done for six years.

Health care providers aren't the only employees who deal with emergencies. Raymond Moton, a shift mechanic at the Medical Center, was called to the ER on one occasion to advise doctors on the best method for removing a washer that was stuck on a child's finger. Moton's emergency calls don't usually deal with patients, though. They usually deal with power outages in the 30 Medical Center buildings he and one other mechanic are responsible for from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m., including the hospital, Stacey, McLeod, Jordan and Cobb halls and MR4. During the day some 70 Facilities Management employees cover the same areas, he noted.

"I get lots of calls when the power goes down," Moton said, usually from concerned researchers whose experiments could be in jeopardy. An electrician by trade, Moton has to handle everything from electrical, plumbing, HVAC, locksmith and elevator problems to maintenance of a new tube system that distributes medicine. "I like the challenge and variety of the work," he said. He also likes the hours, because he can be at home with his daughter in the mornings, and because at night he gets to know his "customers" better.

Another individual who keeps his customers happy and warm among them employees, patients and students is Sopal Enn, chief supervisor B at the Heating Plant. A U.Va. employee for 12 years, Enn works the third shift, from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. He and the other four employees that make up the night crew are busiest between 4 and 7:30 a.m., when people start arriving for their daytime jobs. Throughout the night, "we have to keep an eye on the gauges and computers and boilers at all times," he said. Their job is to monitor the more than five miles of underground steam tunnels that provide heat to various parts of the University, including the Health System, dorms and classrooms.

Things run smoothly at the plant, but Enn does worry when on occasion a student emerges from the steam tunnels. "It's very dangerous," Enn said. If something were to malfunction, "steam travels at 300 miles per hour."

A Cambodian refugee who has lived in this country since 1981 and is now a U.S. citizen, Enn began work here in 1987. "U.Va. offers great job security, and I get along really well with my co-workers. We're like family."

Jeanne Steppe also enjoys the interaction with co-workers and students that her job as a housekeeper affords her. "I enjoy the atmosphere, and I can get more done in the evenings," said Steppe, who's worked at U.Va. 24 years 17 in Private Clinics and nearly eight on Central Grounds. "I enjoy working in housekeeping. I've learned a lot, and made lots of friends. I really enjoy the students." Steppe covers Monroe Hall and Pavilion VIII, and also works with the cleaning crew in Cabell Hall. Parking at night isn't a problem, she said, but more lighting on Grounds is needed.

Another employee who also enjoys keeping late hours and interacting with students is economics professor and Lawn resident Kenneth Elzinga. "I usually work most nights until 1 or 2 a.m., sometimes at my study in Pavilion IV, or else at my office in the basement of Rouss Hall."

Returning home one night from Rouss, a group of student Lawn residents commented to him, "ŒGosh, Mr. Elzinga, watching you come back home so late makes us think you work harder than we do.' I told them that it had never entered my mind that I, or other professors, did not work harder than they did. I think it was the first time they realized that professors log long hours," he said.

"Working late on Friday or Saturday can be a bit noisy at times. And for some reason, inexplicable to me, when students streak the Lawn, many of them find it necessary to scream. I have rarely seen a student streak. But I have often heard them doing so," he said. "All in all, it is a delight to live on the Lawn among some of the most interesting and engaging students in the country."And, he might have added, among some of the most dedicated employees.


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