Modern technology may make it easy for people to work remotely while quarantined in their homes to slow the spread of coronavirus, but for some like the assembly line workers at Karl Storz Imaging, physically going to work is simply something that must be done.
A manufacturer of endoscopy equipment used to examine the respiratory systems of medical patients, including those who have contracted COVID-19, Karl Storz falls under “healthcare” in the State Public Health Officer’s list of “essential critical infrastructure” sectors, which names industries that should continue having employees operate on workplace premises amid the crisis.
As a thank you to the approximately 100 Karl Storz employees who go into work every day, company President and General Manager Miles Hartfeld surprised them Thursday afternoon by giving each of them a bottle of wine as they departed the company’s Goleta facility.
Like most companies that can do so, Karl Storz has had most of its workers, about 300 of its 400, work from home. However, the remaining portion of employees work on assembling bronchoscopes that have been used in caring for patients diagnosed with COVID-19, so their continued in-person efforts on the assembly lines are critical in fighting the virus.
While speaking to the News-Press, Mr. Hartfeld expressed gratitude toward his employees for coming into work, especially since the group nature of working on assembly lines puts them at greater risk of getting the virus.
“Our employees have been coming in to assemble the products at some risk to their health and their families’ health,” he said.
As the employees departed the facility around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, they stood in four lines to receive their bottles of sauvignon blanc made by La Lieff, a local winery operated by Mr. Hartfeld’s fiancé Gretchen Lieff. In order to maintain necessary social distancing, those in line stood on spaces marked by blue tape spaced several feet apart on the floor of the building’s entrance. Because mass producing bronchoscopes at home isn’t an option, Mr. Hartfeld said he respects the risk his workers are taking by taking every possible precaution to curtail further spreading of COVID-19.
These include adding staff whose sole purpose is walking about the building to disinfect touched surfaces, staggering breaks and lunches to maintain distance between people in break rooms, propping doors open at all times, providing masks and sanitizers, and cancelling all employee events. In his estimation, the biggest precaution is that the 300 or so employees who can work from home are.
“That’s probably the biggest social distancing factor,” he said.
Production and Service Manager Danny Gonzalez concurred that the bulk of work shifting to remote is one of the biggest ways the company has been ensuring the safety of its workers, some of whom are older and at greater risk of getting seriously impacted by coronavirus. Mr. Gonzalez learned of the surprise and found it a nice way of sending the employees off into their weekend. He added that the gesture was just the latest example of Mr. Hartfeld’s kind leadership.
“I think that’s awesome. Our general manager has done a lot of great things for this company since he became general manager,” Mr. Gonzalez said.
From what employees who spoke to the News-Press said, it seems that they were told that there was going to be a surprise after work, but didn’t know exactly what it would be.
Quality Department Employee Connie Estrada first heard Thursday morning that something was happening after work and was very pleased with Mr. Hartfeld’s token of gratitude.
“We all like surprises… I really appreciate it,” she said.
Repairman Luis Mendoza heard about it far later, just before he finished his work shift. He may not have had as much time to wonder about what it would be, but he enjoyed the surprise as well.
“It was like, what was it going to be? It was fun,” he said.
As it turns out, Mr. Hartfield’s gesture of appreciation addresses not just a risk, but one that does indeed weigh on the minds of his employees. Speaking to the News-Press, Mr. Mendoza admitted that facing the possibility of getting COVID-19 by going to work every day is no easy task. However, like his boss, he recognizes that it’s one that he and his colleagues need to take in order to help the greater good.
“Coming to work every day is a challenge, but we know that they need us because there are a lot of issues going on,” he said.