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Published on October 12, 2021

Bruce Schwenck driving van

Avera Chaplain Bruce Schwenck Takes the Wheel to Help Patients

COVID brought shifts in job duties for numerous Avera employees. For Bruce Schwenck, the pandemic meant extending his duties from chaplain to bus driver.

Schwenck, now retired, reflects on his education and life experiences – he worked in manufacturing engineering, has certification as a CNA and earned a pastoral degree at Mount Marty University in Yankton.

He was a chaplaincy associate at Avera Brady Health and Rehab when COVID-19 hit.

“They asked if I would do more – and I said yes,” Schwenck said. “Being out on the roads and stepping to this challenge really changed my perspective on COVID-19 challenges.”

Building Bonds During a Busy Time

When Schwenck started, most of his time at the wheel of the small bus, which is actually an oversized van, were trips between Avera Brady and Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. He also helped dialysis patients get from home to appointments. He noticed how more ambulances were moving around in Mitchell, many bringing pandemic patients to the emergency room.

Bruce SchwenckBruce Schwenck

“It was really a ‘Wow!’ moment for me, to see how serious things were becoming as time went on,” he said. “It was challenging, too. I remember my glasses fogging up due to masks, and the effort needed to help patients in wheelchairs on and off the bus. But driving gave me a connection to the system-wide efforts. I felt like I was contributing as I could.”

In time, his trips grew in scope, and he continued to humbly serve.

“It wasn’t a great thing I did – I was happy to help, as well as keep working,” he said. “Not everyone had a chance to do that during those difficult first months.”

Schwenck was nominated for an Avera Caring Spirit award in the recent Avera Quality Congress. His nomination states: “Bruce took on this role with grace and a smile, facing situations like a lift that would occasionally not work, road construction, deep snow and at least one or two trips to Sioux Falls a week. Bruce took this all in stride and never once said, ‘Hey I’m the chaplain, not a bus driver.’

His willingness was noticeable and part of why he was nominated for Avera Quality Congress.

“Bruce embodies the Avera mission, and he is a pragmatic, compassionate chaplain,” said. Brandi Neugebauer, Social Services Supervisor at Avera Brady. “We were blessed to have him on our team.”

A Good Friend in the Face of Demands

One of the patients Schwenck grew closer to was a retired priest and resident of Avera Brady.

“He helped me realize my role in providing comfort and aid to residents,” Schwenck said. “I was lucky to spend time with him.”

One of those trips did not go as expected. With his elderly patient aboard, Schwenck traversed roads coming back from an appointment when a ground blizzard engulfed them. Small drifts were forming, and at one intersection, trouble arose.

“We tried to turn and as we did, we got stuck. The wheels were spinning and we could not make any progress, forward or backward,” he said. “He never got too upset. I got rattled, but he kept us both calm.”

Contributions to Career’s Conclusion

Schwenck will remember his chaplaincy and bus driving stint, as he served many residents and patients, many who neared the end of life, and the family members who loved them.

“One-on-one work with residents is very rewarding, and when things pop up like driving, I was happy to contribute,” Schwenck said. “I was lucky to have a team that supported me, and give thanks for them, too.”

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