Blue Water Woman--Summer 2020--Interactive

Blue Water Woman magazine tells the inspirational stories of women living, working and playing in the Blue Water/Thumb area of Michigan.

Blue Water Woman magazine tells the inspirational stories of women living, working and playing in the Blue Water/Thumb area of Michigan.


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keeping us safe


Jessica McLarty, VP, Business Loan Officer; Jennifer Briolat, Branch Manager, Lakeport; Amanda Rose, Branch Manager, Marysville;

Emily Dehring, Branch Manager, Fort Gratiot; Kim Bowman, VP, Retail Banking Manager;

Christi Agostino-Erd, Mortgage Loan Officer; Kathy Wurmlinger, VP, Mortgage Manager


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• 85% of our staff are women

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At Blue Water Developmental Housing,

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We have successfully accomplished

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Blue Water Woman is published quarterly by The Write Company,

511 La Salle Blvd., Port Huron, MI 48060. Circulation 5,000.

Editor & Publisher:

Patti Samar, owner, The Write Company

Advertising, questions, comments or story ideas:

Email Patti Samar at pjsamar@aol.com


Blue Water Woman is the premiere publication

for women living, working and playing

in the Blue Water Area of Michigan.

Its stories and features are written and designed

to be inspriational, motivational and encouraging.


© Blue Water Woman is the property

of Patti Samar of The Write Company

The Write Company is a writing, graphic design

and marketing consultation firm.

View our online portfolio at: www.TheWriteCompany.net





The ad deadline for the next issue

of Blue Water Woman is September 1, 2020.


3 From the Editor

4 Annette Mercatante, M.D.

8 Elizabeth King & Jennifer Michaluk

12 Jessica Totty

16 Sarah VanderHeuvel

20 Christine Robinet

24 Pam Baunoch & Becky Mayes


Business Card Ad: $125/issue

Quarter Page: $250/issue

Half Page: $500/issue

Full Page: $1,000/issue

Advertorial: $1,500/issue

For more information, contact Patti Samar

at 810-300-2176 or email her at pjsamar@aol.com






I began planning this issue of Blue Water Woman a month or so into the pandemic. I

decided to dedicate the issue and the stories to the women on the frontline who were

facing the pandemic head-on in our community. I asked around, discovered some very

good story ideas, and began the process of putting the magazine together.

Then, George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis,


The floodgates of racial unrest, long simmering in this country, finally bubbled and

boiled over.

I knew, as I watched protests and racial equality events take place across both our

nation and the world, that I needed to dedicate a story to race in this issue

of Blue Water Woman. A couple of years ago, when some of the worst public

examples of racism since the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 began

erupting across the nation, I began making a concerted effort to feature a

story about at least one woman of color in every issue of the magazine.

My philosophy has always been this: EVERY woman in our community

has a story to tell. Sadly, I will never get around to telling all of them.

However, it is important to make sure the pages of this magazine reflect the

community in which we live.

It has not always been easy seeking and finding those stories, and not

because there are not an overwhelming number of stories to tell about

women of color. Absolutely, there are. But, I found that, sadly, shamefully, in

my own circle of friends and acquaintances, there are not a lot of people of

color, so I am not necessarily hearing of their stories.

To learn more, I had to contact people of color I do know and explain my

situation: I am interested in shining a light on the stories that need to be told.

It was, at first, awkward. One of the first conversations I had about this was

with my friend, Port Huron City Councilwoman Anita Ashford, who was so

kind and so open to what I’m sure was my very awkward explanation.

You see, in my life, no one has ever talked to me about the color of skin,

just like no one has ever talked to me about the color of my eyes. The color

of my skin is not something that I’ve ever needed to think about when I

wake up in the morning and plan my day.

Black people in America cannot say the same thing. They have to think

about it. They have to talk to their children about it. And that is a damn


In this issue, I share with you my conversation with Jessica Totty, a licensed

practical nurse, who has, in her position at Lake Huron Medical Center, served on the

front lines of the pandemic. Jessica is Mexican American and her husband, Kevin, is

African American. Together, they have mixed race (now grown) children. Jessica was

kind enough to have an open conversation with me about race in our community, and

what it was like for her raising children of color here.

My biggest take away from my conversation with Jessica was when she said this to me:

“I’m hoping, also, that this whole movement does not become a bucket list item,” she

said. “‘I participated in a march…I’m talking to people of color now…’ and that six

months from now, we are back at square one.

“I hope that this is about change, peace and sensitivity.”

I am with Jessica, in hoping for change, peace and sensitivity, too. I am committed

to continuing to share the stories of women of color in this magazine, and working for

change in our community.

Please join me.

Patti Samar

Editor & Publisher

Blue Water Woman




us safe


Just like in any profession, there are physicians who are good at their jobs, and then there are those who stand apart from the

crowd. Their lights shine so brightly, you can see them coming from far, far away.

Annette Mercatante, M.D., is just such a physician. Our community is beyond fortunate that, more than a decade ago, she

left the safety and comfort of private practice to tackle public health.

Though we might not have made note of it, all residents of St. Clair County reap the healthcare benefits of her leadership

and guidance. Sometimes, the brightest lights are shining underground – behind the scenes, if you will – where not everyone

can see them, but where they are needed the most.

And now, in 2020, her leadership has taken on new meaning during this worldwide pandemic. As this story is being

written, St. Clair County has less than 50 cases of COVID 19, no new cases over the previous few days, and no one in the

hospital with this illness.

We wouldn’t be here, righting a listing ship, if not for Dr. Annette Mercatante.

Throughout the early days of the pandemic, Annette Mercatante,

M.D. was sending her staff emails at all hours of the day and night. A

few members of her staff chuckle as they recall arising to emails sent at

2, 3 or 4 a.m.

The entire staff of the St. Clair County Health Department, under

the direction of Mercatante, who serves as both chief medical officer

and the lead public health officer, worked seven days a week through

the early days and months of the Coronavirus 19, also known as

COVID 19, pandemic.

“I’m relying on a village here,” said Mercatante, reflecting on her

nonstop work days and nights since the pandemic hit the nation hard

in mid-March. “I’ve got a great staff. It really does take a village, and

you have to know what sources to trust as you read and research and

look for answers.”

Though her days have been brutally long, and the answers have

been hard pressed to present themselves to her – “The amount of

decision-making is just daunting, with not a lot of answers” – there is

likely no place she would rather be than in her current position.

“I just felt called…compelled…to do this work and maybe, in some

strange way, this is why,” she said of her decision to enter into a life of

public service via public health administration more than a decade


“When you are trained in the medical profession, you learn really

quickly when you get out of medical school, that there is more

ambiguity than answers, so I’m comfortable in this environment.

“This is normal on steroids.”

A Generational Gap

Mercatante noted that anyone middle-aged or younger in the

United States has grown up during a very privileged period of time in

terms of public health.

“In our grandparents age, getting ill and dying from infectious

disease was very common,” she said. “Then we entered the age of

antibiotics and vaccines,” which, she noted, helped all but eliminate

disease that in prior generations had caused much illness and death.

“Every generation prior to the 1950s dealt with this all of the time,”

she said. “It’s the first time in our lives that we’re encountering this, but

this was a common event at one time.

“And that’s why I know it is going to be okay, because all of those

people before us moved on.”

Living as a Social Society

When Coronavirus 19 began infecting people, it quickly became

apparent that it was highly contagious and so social distancing, which,

for many people equated to isolation, became a key component to

stopping the spread of the disease.

Now, in the early summer of 2020, as the United States has begun

reopening its economy, individuals, families and friends are all having

to make decisions, sometimes on a daily basis, regarding the kind of

risks they are willing to take in order to remain healthy and unaffected

by COVID 19, to the best of their ability.

“It’s going to come down to each individual making those decisions

for themselves,” said Mercatante. “If you are the person with a child,


and you want that child to know his grandparents, you have to decide

on what risks all of you are willing to take. You weigh those things into

the conversation.

“A person’s personal capacity for accepting risk comes into play.

“When you choose to live in a society with other people, there is

beauty in that,” said Mercatante. “But this is the price you pay, but I

think it is worth it.”

The Fluidity of Science

One important aspect of dealing with this pandemic is that all

healthcare providers are learning on the fly. Physicians are using their

training as scientists to learn the best way to treat each COVID 19


Mercatante said that science and fact-based training helps medical

care providers learn what works, as well as what doesn’t, along the way.

“One of the things I’ve always valued as being a trained scientist

is that you have a hypothesis, so you start out thinking one thing,

but something comes up that leads you in a different direction, and

therefore your conclusion might end up differently than you thought

it would.”

Though scientists might still be learning many new things about

COVID 19, their medical training and the efforts of scientists over the

past several decades and even centuries all provide a basis of working

knowledge that is very helpful.

“After 30 to 40 years of vaccines, we can feel pretty confident in our

knowledge of how this works,” she said, which will help researchers

who are working on a COVID 19 vaccine.

It’s going to come down to each individual

making those decisions for themselves.

A person’s personal capacity for accepting

risk comes into play.

When you choose to live in a society

with other people, there is beauty in that.

But this is the price you pay.

But I think it is worth it.

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Crisis Within a Crisis: Mass Protests During a Pandemic

Mercatante noted that the protests taking place across the country

regarding a call for policing reform and the end to racism are all part of

larger societal issues.

“We all know there’s a lot that needs changing, certainly with our

healthcare system.”

Brightness in a Dark Tunnel

After the months of working seven-day weeks around the clock,

Mercatante does, indeed, feel as if there is much to be hopeful about.

“I feel like I’ve got my sea legs,” she said of seeing the community

through the worst of the crisis. “I’m hopeful if we’re strong and resilient

– and most people are – that the more we rely and support each other,

we will be a stronger society.

“I think we’ll see some beautiful things. I think we will be in a better


Coming Out of the Tunnel

Mercatante noted that: “Change makes people uncomfortable, but

from that a lot of good can come.”

In her own life, she uses her faith to help her through the most

difficult of times.

“They say ‘thy Kingdom come on earth’…whatever you believe that

Kingdom to be.

“I don’t like to see Heaven as a place to die to get to. I like to think we

can have it here on earth, too.

“I’m proud and humbled to have the opportunity to be a part of that.”

They say ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth...’

whatever you believe that Kingdom to be.

“I don’t like to see Heaven as a place to die

to get to. I like to think we can have it

here on earth, too.

“I’m proud and humbled to have the

opportunity to be a part of that.

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JJennifer Michaluk and Elizabeth King do not remember much of

the months of March and April.

Essential staff members and department heads at the St. Clair

County Health Department, both worked around the clock, seven

days a week, once the Coronavirus 19 pandemic hit the county.

According to Justin Westmiller, the Director of Homeland Security

and Emergency Management for St. Clair County, both women were

key to the county’s successful response to the pandemic.

“March is a total blur,” said Michaluk, the Director of Health

Education and Planning, who holds a master’s degree in health

education. “I felt as if I was in a fog. It was very stressful. I don’t

remember spending much time with my family.”

King, who is both an RN and BSN, and serves as the Director of

Nursing and Community Health, concurred with Michaluk, stating:

“I was working seven days a week, and it’s always on your mind. I

think we’re always very dedicated, but I’ve never been pushed that far.

“I consider myself very experienced. I’ve been here for 18 years, I’ve

been here through a number of outbreaks that I’ve been involved

with, but this was so beyond anything I’d ever seen.

“It wasn’t just St. Clair County, or even just cross jurisdictional into

Macomb County…it was affecting the whole world.

“It’s so hard to conceive of…and we were just running the race and

you don’t really see the Big Picture.”

Michaluk added: “We sat here and thought, ‘Is this real? How did

this happen?’”

Monitoring the Situation

King said the county health department first began monitoring

COVID 19 in December 2019, as cases began appearing around the


Michaluk, who serves as the chief public information officer (PIO)

for the health department, put out the first COVID 19 press release

in January to warn the public that the virus was spreading.

“And we started to meet about it,” she said.

King noted that international airports began monitoring people

who were returning from international travel, and as the news began

carrying more stories, local people who had been traveling began

reaching out to the health department, as well.

Then, it was confirmed that the virus had hit the shores of the

United States with a case in Washington state.

“We started activating things we have practiced in training so many

times before,” said King.

So, did their training manuals and books help them out?

“With this, we kind of wrote a new book,” said Michaluk.

All Hands on Deck

Both Michaluk and King noted that the entire staff at the health

department stepped forward and many took on new roles as the

entire team became focused on addressing the pandemic in some way.

“We have a really strong team here,” said King. “Everyone knowing

their role was helpful, and knowing the chain of command was

helpful. We know everyone’s best qualities, so you can be confident

that person is going to do a job and do it well.

“The staff was incredible. When we asked for volunteers to work on

the weekends, they just volunteered. We’ve had many staff members

working seven days a week.”

“Everybody deserves a thank you,” said Michaluk.

Keeping the Public Informed

Especially in the early days of March and April, the pandemic


presented plenty of challenges as the public’s need for information

was great, and the virus was so new that information being fed to the

county from state and national sources was constantly changing as

more was learned about the virus.

In her role as chief PIO, Michaluk led the county’s outreach to the

media and the community.

“I am always wondering, ‘Am I doing a good job? Are people getting

the information they need?’

“And I’d just like to say that I always welcome community

feedback…please let me know what you need,” she said, noting that

news releases and social media posts were among the primary tools

used to communicate regularly with the public.

“We just want to be the trusted county resource. We were doing the

best that we could with the information we had from day to day, and I

welcome all feedback from the community.”

Added King: “When we get that public feedback, it’s important.”

Moving Forward

Both King and Michaluk noted that the health department staff still

meets daily and still participates in daily conference calls with various

partner agencies, even though the pace of the pandemic work has

slowed as the governor has relaxed the stay-at-home orders and opened

up the economy.

“Things are slowing down,” said Michaluk. “I’m still trying to run

my other programs.” Michaluk is responsible for a wide range of public

health initiatives and grant programs in the county.

King, who also oversees a large staff and numerous health

department programs, said when it began, the pandemic brought

much of her other work to a halt.

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“Most of my programs stopped or we were offering services on a very

limited basis,” she said. “One of the things that keeps me up at night is

thinking about those services that are needed that we haven’t been able

to offer…and how to prioritize what starts again first.”

Though their work on the pandemic is still ongoing, both King and

Michaluk are beginning to once again address other areas of public


“We’re looking forward: what does 2021 look like for our budget,

our programs, our staffing? The after effects of the pandemic will

be felt for many, many years,” said King. “It’s just our nature to look

forward and see what’s coming next. We’re looking at treatments and

vaccines. Hopefully, COVID will eventually just become something

on our vaccine list.”

The Silver Lining

Both Michaluk and King noted there are a number of good health

initiatives that are coming out of the pandemic.

“The public is stepping up with cleaning,” noted King. “That is a

good, positive change.”

“What’s wrong with better cleaning practices?” echoed Michaluk.

“And we all just have a greater appreciation for just going out.

Hopefully, with the warmer weather, we will be outside more and

hopefully we won’t see a recurrence.”

King said: “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m confident that if the virus

comes back in the numbers we were seeing, that we can handle it.

“I think people are ready to go back to normal. I’ve seen more people

riding their bikes and walking the trails near my house. Those things

made me smile on the bad days.”

And Michaluk? “On those bad days, I took a minute to appreciate

nature and I would see the sun does shine.”

It’s just our nature to look forward

and see what’s coming next.

We’re looking at treatments and vaccines.

Hopefully, COVID will eventually

just become something

on our vaccine list.







As a woman of color, Jessica Totty has moved through the world very

differently than her Caucasian/ white counterparts.

She has raised her children differently; she has had to teach them

different lessons about the world around them and the way they will

be perceived.

Every time she walks into a store, she understands she might be

watched as a result of racial profiling.

She knows that every time she meets someone, they might judge her

before they even get to know anything about her.

She knows that every encounter she has with new people will be

based on their personal perceptions and biases.

She knows she will always, first, be judged by the color of her skin.

Adopted Community

A Mexican-American, Totty and her husband, Kevin, moved to the

Blue Water Area 25 years ago and decided to stay and raise their family.

Totty is a licensed practical nurse who has worked at Lake Huron

Medical Center for the past 23 years. Her husband, who brought

his family here to open the then-new Applebee’s restaurant, is now a

program director at the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.

“How can you not love it here, what with the water and all,” she said.

“Our kids, they all call Port Huron their home. And, God has opened

our eyes to the opportunities available here.”

The Blue Water Area has been good to them, and they have

contributed much to the community they have adopted as their home.

During the Coronavirus 19 pandemic, Totty has served the

community as a frontline, essential worker in her role at the hospital.

Pre-pandemic, Totty spent half of her work life as a medical staff

assistant, auditing and compiling data. The other half of her work life

was spent coordinating the Lake Huron Medical Center Breather’s

Club, a support group that assists those with pulmonary issues. When

the pandemic hit, the club was disbanded, ironically, just when a virus

that is known to attack those with compromised lung capacity was


Totty has remained in touch with her Breather’s Club clients, and is

happy to report, to date, no illness due to COVID 19.

“I thank God none of them have contracted it,” she said. “They are

practicing what I taught them, and that time and investment that they

put in has really helped them through this.”

Totty now spends a part of her work day serving as in-take personnel

for people entering the hospital, signing them in, and running through

COVID 19 procedures, such as taking temperatures.

Living a Life of Faith

A number of years ago, Totty and her husband both became licensed

and ordained ministers. Together, they minister to a congregation in

Port Huron that is diverse.

Like other churches across the country, they have had to turn their

ministry toward the internet, but that has gone well, she said.

“God has us gearing toward this virtual church, and we’re really, really

enjoying it,” she said. Their church, which is called #c4yourselfchurch,

is not as structured as other religious services, and that is what draws

people to their offerings.

“We believe that you need to see God yourself,” she said. “There’s

such freedom in knowing you don’t need that structure and ritual.

We’ve really been walking in this freedom. We really encourage an

open, immense amount of trust, and finding God for themselves.”

In light of the racial unrest that has unfolded across the country, they

have spent more time recently discussing racial and cultural differences

with the congregation.


“We’ve had dialogue during our Bible studies,” she said. “We do

bring it up and have a conversation. Some people have said to me, ‘I

had no idea that was still happening.’”

Living Life as a Family of Color

Totty and her husband – who is African American – have, like

every family of color in the United States, needed to share with their

five, now-grown children, lessons different than those of their white


“It has always been important to us to teach the children that our

culture and races are very important,” she said. “We taught them God

doesn’t make mistakes, and He made us.”

She also taught her children that, no matter what anyone else said to

them, they were entitled to the same opportunities as everyone else.

One of the most difficult lessons to teach, overall, though, was

helping them understand that, no matter how wrong it was, they

needed to consider the following: “Are we going to be profiled when

we walk into a store? This is something people of color face on a daily


“I had to be concerned about how my kids dressed and how

that would be perceived. These were things we talked about in our


“It is not the same for us.

“I think of it like this: white people exist; people of color survive.”

Working with the Police

Totty and her husband are chaplains for the Port Huron Police

Department, and she noted that the department is very well trained.

However, with regard to the department in Minneapolis, Minnesota,

I had to be concerned about how

my kids dressed and how that would

be perceived.

These were things we talked about

in our household.

It is not the same for us.

I think of it like this: white people exist;

people of color survive.




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where George Floyd was killed, such brutal actions from an officer

come as a result of a deeply flawed department.

“There is a culture of that particular police department that made

that acceptable,” she said. “How evil is this world? God tells us not to

take a life…how can we be so inhumane that we think it’s okay to take

a life?”

So how does a community – a nation, in fact – begin to heal from

such atrocities?

“By racial reconciliation,” she said. “We need to have these real

conversations and they are going to be hard to have.

“If we keep hiding or not talking to one another, then we are not

going to get past this hate. I would ask, ‘Are you willing to listen? Are

you willing to change?’

“I’m hoping, also, that this whole movement does not become a

bucket list item,” she said. “’I participated in a march…I’m talking to

people of color now…’ and that six months from now, we are back at

square one.

“I hope that this is about change, peace and sensitivity.”

Real Change and Moving Forward

“People do ask, ‘What can we do to change it?’” Totty said. “We can

begin by visiting other churches and reading about other cultures. It’s good

that we can come together and talk about what we are struggling with.

“How can we call ourselves followers of Christ if we are not willing to

look beyond our differences?

“The only way we are going to have a change of heart is through

God,” she said. “He gives us that free will, when He shows up, and we

see the power and grace and mercy of God, that’s when He receives the

Glory. He’s there for us. He loves us so much.

“We have to decide who do we want to be when we wake up?”

We need to have these real conversations

and they are going to be hard to have.

If we keep hiding or not talking

to one another, then we are not going

to get past this hate.

I would ask, ‘Are you willing to listen?

Are you willing to change?’

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Paid for by the Committee to Elect Caryn VanderHeuvel District Judge

2425 Military Street, Building 3 Port Huron MI 48060







EEarly on in the Coronavirus 19 pandemic, if you found yourself

nearly a thousand miles from home, working long shifts among

dozens of people you didn’t know, most of us would hardly call

ourselves “lucky.” But that is exactly how Fort Gratiot native Sarah

VanderHeuvel described herself recently as she discussed her work to

help people stay safe in the fight against COVID-19.

VanderHeuvel volunteered not once, not twice, but three separate

times to work on projects that were critical in the early days of the

fight against COVID 19.

The Port Huron Northern High School graduate was just months

into her job at the Ford Motor Company’s Michigan Assembly Plant,

after earning an Industrial and Operations engineering degree at the

University of Michigan, when Ford asked employees to volunteer to

assist at a personal protection equipment production facility.

“They said we need 30 people in South Dakota in the next 48

hours,” VanderHeuvel recalled. “A few engineers had gone out earlier

in the week to a 3M plant and said if they had 30 or 40 more people,

we could be making hundreds of thousands more masks for people

on the front line.

“As soon as I saw that, I knew I wanted to volunteer because it

was the first couple weeks of the pandemic and I was seeing videos

on social media and on the news of nurses, doctors, and EMTs on

the real front lines not having what they needed to care for people. I

definitely wanted to help and it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

So, in short order, she joined a group of fellow Ford employees, none

of whom she knew, in a 16-hour auto caravan to the 3M face mask and

respirator assembly facility in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Upon arrival,

after a brief orientation, they were put to work on either eight or 12-

hour shifts to fill in for missing members of the 3M workforce.

While she acknowledges there was concern about the health

implications of leaving home during a pandemic, the overall

involvement was worth the risk.

“I had such a great experience being around other people that really

wanted to help and had such a good attitude, and made it such a good

experience,” she said. “It was kind of a scary time, but being around

people that were motivated and wanted to help was a cool thing to be

a part of.”

While working on the production machinery, the Ford team was

encouraged to offer any insight they might have that could help

increase productivity.

“We tried to optimize anywhere we could,” VanderHeuvel said.

“So anywhere we found production where if they could make a slight

tweak or change to increase production or get it out faster, then we

implemented those with the 3M engineering team.”

The influx of the Ford team had a substantial impact on productivity

at the plant as VanderHeuvel pointed out that within three days of

their arrival, production went from 700,000 pieces daily to one million

pieces per day.

The Ford team ended up operating at the plant for two weeks while

3M worked to increase the plant’s labor force.

“We were covering the time it takes to hire people and onboard

them,” she said. “They got a person to replace every single one of us

in two weeks and once they had them trained, they had to send us


Once home, it wasn’t the end of VanderHeuvel’s work to assist front

line workers, however, as she quickly moved into volunteer assignment

number two.

Just a week after returning from South Dakota, VanderHeuvel

volunteered to go to Ford’s Troy Design and Manufacturing plant

where they were making and shipping face shields.

“They called in volunteers because they had a bottleneck in the

process that was holding up the whole thing,” she said. “So they called

in anyone who was available to make and pack boxes of the shields.

The first day there was no plan to make 26,000 boxes and get them


packed. So I set up a tracking system and mini assembly lines and so

that started to work.”

While in the midst of the face shield project, however, the third

volunteer opportunity presented itself.

“At the end of a week we were getting really close to 26,000 (boxes)

and my director called me and said they needed people to come down

to Indiana,” she said.

Asked to drive directly to Indiana that very same day, VanderHeuvel

agreed, and within four hours, she found herself at a Ford plant in


The work there was to assemble PPE kits with face masks, hand

sanitizer, thermometers, lotion and other items for distribution to Ford

employees as they returned to work.

“There was a big push because our Europe plants were opening a

little bit earlier than our North American plants so we wanted to have

the kits ready for their startup too,” she said. “When we got there, it

wasn’t a good setup and the deadline they gave us was in 48 hours. We

needed to have 50,000 kits made, packaged, banded and on trucks,

ready to go.”

So, assembly lines were set up and a call out to other employees was

made. At VanderHeuvel’s suggestion, a call was made to the South

Dakota volunteer team to assist as well.

“A lot of people I worked with in South Dakota came down to

Indiana,” she said.

With as many hands on deck as possible, VanderHeuvel wrapped

up work in Indianapolis and by then had navigated through three

volunteer assignments in a short period of time during the earliest and

more frightening times of the pandemic.



We needed to have 50,000 kits made,

packaged, banded and on trucks,

ready to go.

The deadline they gave us was in 48 hours.

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Of course all of this begs the question about her concern for her own

health. Getting sick had to cross her mind, right?

“Yes,” she answered, “but the biggest worry was going into plants

where they were making shields and masks for people that were already

sick and exposing other people. So I didn’t as much worry for myself or

me getting sick, but just exposing other people.”

She said she wore her mask faithfully, made sure she drank plenty of

water and took extra vitamin C to keep up her immune system. She

also made sure she got plenty of sleep. She said they had a symptom

screening at the beginning of each shift upon entry into the plants.

While the volunteer work was fulfilling in one way of assisting in the

fight against the virus, it had the added benefit of providing real world

experience for an engineer young in her career.

“Actually working on the line, running the machine, was a pretty

new experience,” she said. “And it was a good experience because a lot

of what I do at my job as an engineer affects the people working on

the plant floor. It gave me a chance to use my degree and my problem

solving skills.”

VanderHeuvel is back in Michigan, working from home, as a part

of the new Ford Bronco team preparing for the vehicle’s sales launch

in 2021. However, she said if the call came out to take on a similar

volunteer assignment, she would certainly do it again.

“It was a great feeling just to know even if I helped just a little bit for

so many doctors, even if it wasn’t a huge number, that they got the

safety equipment that they needed to do their job, and help the people

that are really sick,” she said. “The first couple of weeks during the

quarantine I hated feeling like I was sitting there and not being able to

help. So being given the chance to do something about it and get to

help others? I am very lucky.”

Lucky indeed.

Actually working on the line, running the

machine, was a pretty new experience.

It was a good experience because a lot of what

I do at my job as an engineer affects the people

working on the plant floor.

It gave me a chance to use my degreee

and my problem solving skills.







Christine Robinet is a doer.

A nurse practitioner at Physician HealthCare Network’s Macomb

Family Practice, Robinet recently took on two new healthcare initiatives

as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to assist patients and facility


Prior to the pandemic, Robinet’s routine involved working with Pietro

Cavataio, M.D., seeing patients for preventative visits, physicals, sick visits

and follow-up exams. That changed when Michigan Governor Gretchen

Whitmer issued stay at home orders in March. Even though visits to

healthcare offices were allowed, an uncertain and cautious public began to

avoid clinic visits.

“All of sudden, we went from a very busy office to essentially seeing

no patients,” Robinet said. “No one wanted to come in, even if they

were sick, they didn’t want to come in. A lot of

people were scared and confused about what they

needed to do to keep themselves safe.”

At that point, it seemed obvious there would

need to be a different approach to patient care

with a nod to technology.

“So pretty quickly, Dr. Cavataio and I started

dabbling in telehealth,” she said. “I’m pretty

good with a computer, so I can fix most issues

and I kind of took it on that I was going to start

trying it.”

They found a web-based platform that was

secure and HIPAA compliant. As patients continued to phone in with

health care questions, they encouraged them to communicate through the

telehealth website.

As patients continued to be reluctant to visit the office, it became

obvious that all the family care and urgent care providers would have to

become comfortable using the telehealth program.

“It took me a little bit of time to understand the platform,” Robinet

said “Because without understanding it well, you’re not going to give

good instructions to the patient, the staff’s not going to know, so once I

was kind of familiar of how the site worked, I wrote up some guidelines

and an instruction sheet for the providers on how to use it, for front desk

staff on how to explain this to patients, and some basic troubleshooting


While there was a learning curve, Robinet said they feel comfortable

with the system even though they only began using it in March. The

patients also have adapted to it very well.

“They have been extremely pleased with telehealth,” she said, “and

just really appreciative that we were willing to do it. Overall it has been

an extremely positive response. Even continuing now, patients who are

elderly or have mobility issues, it’s much easier for them if they have a

smartphone or computer just to log in.”

And Dr. Cavataio was impressed with Robinet’s work. “Christine was

instrumental in establishing our telehealth care program,” he said. “Her

expertise in the latest technology helped our staff and patients navigate

through technical difficulties that arose especially within our elderly


While telehealth addressed patient and provider concerns related to inperson

visits, the overriding healthcare concern remained the Coronavirus


Of major concern was the lack of testing available. This made diagnosis

and treatment difficult for healthcare providers and patients.

“Immediately when the stay at home order went into place, we were

getting calls about people who were sick,” Robinet said. “They needed

to be tested and it was extremely difficult to figure out how we were

supposed to be doing this.

“A lot of people in healthcare felt like we needed to do more to help the

community and our patients; Dr. Cavataio and I thought coordinating

testing was one way we could really make a difference.”

Fortunately, their office manager found a Grand Rapids lab that could

provide the supplies for testing. That, however,

was just a starting point.

“It’s a lot more complicated than just having the

swabs,” Robinet noted. “You have to know how

to obtain a sample because it is a nasopharyngeal

swab, so it’s supposed to go to the back of the


Issues related to patient safety, staff safety and

other logistics also needed to be addressed.

“After we got the testing supplies in the office,

they sat around for a few days,” she said. “It just

seemed to me there was a need for someone

to step up and be accountable for the process. So I read through all of

the policies and procedures and wrote a policy of how I thought testing

could work in our office. I bought some bins and made some logs so we

could track things and figured out where all the supplies could go, where

the patients would come from, and where our staff would keep PPE.

I educated all the staff, including some of the providers who had never

obtained a nasopharyngeal swab before, on how to do it. We got it up and

running quickly and we’ve been testing since the last week in April.”

They have seen quite a few patients test positive.

“When we get a positive result, that patient gets a call and we

recommend they schedule a follow-up so that we can see how they are

doing,” Robinet said. “We’re just trying to follow-up with everyone as

consistently as we can so that everyone comes through this okay,” she

said. “When it comes to helping your patients and the community, you’re

never quite done with that job, but I think that we have done a great job

in educating our patients about the coronavirus.”

Similar to the telehealth program, Dr. Cavataio noted Robinet’s


“As the pandemic intensified, the lack of available testing became a

source of great frustration for our patients and providers alike,” he said.

“We wanted to be on the forefront of accessible testing in our area and

again, Christine rose to the occasion to make that a reality.

“Her confidence and competence in implementing both of these

projects has provided much needed guidance and assurance to each of our

staff members in these uncertain times which is ultimately passed along to

our patients.”


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who will be named...

Blue Water Woman


due in


of the Year?

Nominations now being accepted

for Blue Water Woman of the Year!

The Blue Water Woman of the Year Awards will honor women who reside in the

Blue Water Area of Michigan who demonstrate excellence and achievement

in one or more of the following areas:


• Volunteerism or personal achievement

• Mentoring other women

• Professional achievement

• Overall Honor: Blue Water Woman of the Year

Award Process:

Nominators MUST complete the nomination form and rules available at


Honoring the Award Recipients:

Those selected for awards will be notified in early December 2020.

All will be featured in a story in the Spring (February) 2021 issue of the magazine.

All will be honored at a public reception on January 29, 2021, pandemic permitting.

Nominator Requirements:

Nominators must be committed to selling a minimum of 20 adult tickets to the awards reception.

Receiving an award is no fun without a cheering section!

Award recipients MUST be available to attend awards ceremony; “must be present to win.”

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Submissions must be received by email or snail mail no later than

Wednesday, November 18, 2020.

Submissions must be emailed in one zipped file to: pjsamar@aol.com.

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Blue Water Woman reserves the right to refuse nominations for consideration without cause. All decisions are final and subject

to approval by Blue Water Woman. Why? Because we said so. ;)






If Pam Baunoch and Becky Mayes are nothing else, they are ready.

Ready and willing to serve, at the drop of a hat, the citizens of St. Clair County.

Baunoch is the Homeland Security Planner for the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security

and Emergency Management Department, and Mayes is the office coordinator there.

Together, they have been among the women helping lead the county through the Coronavirus 19


When the Coronavirus 19 pandemic hit St. Clair County in mid-March, the St. Clair County

Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Emergency Operations Center (EOC)

was activated.

And while the pandemic certainly presented all emergency planning agencies and partners in St. Clair

County with new challenges, activation of the EOC for the pandemic was not something unusual for

Baunoch or Mayes; the EOC is activated on a regular basis throughout any given year.

The EOC activates during weather-related emergencies such as tornados and flooding; during

transportation disasters such as train derailments; and other large-scale incidents that have the potential

to endanger the environment such as oil spills, among others.

Both women noted that, during their normal day-to-day work life, they both complete emergency

preparedness training regularly.


People are able to get out and do things now,

and I think they are getting a little bit

of a false sense of security.

I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us

with a resurgence of the virus.

There are still so many unknowns.

“Once you know your role, you know what to do,” said Mayes.

“A lot of that just kicks in,” said Baunoch.

Baunoch said that once the EOC was activated for the pandemic,

the county emergency planning director determined who needed to

be a part of the EOC to help guide the county through this health care


“We started making a plan and figured out what we needed to do

and who we had to get in the EOC,” said Baunoch. “That was when

we started contacting the fire departments, emergency responders, the

hospitals, the health department and other departments within the

county that needed to be involved.

“We got people in the room who can make decisions.”

While the initial calls were made to front line and first responder

agencies, the EOC quickly moved into public information mode and

began working with its partner agencies to make sure citizens were kept

abreast of COVID 19 activities within the county.

“In the beginning, we were doing updates two times a day,” said


“We were doing conference calls with more than 100 people,” said


Keeping up with the ever-changing information regarding COVID

19 and sharing that with both partner agencies and departments, as

well as with the public, was one of the most important roles for the


“We set up a call center to answer all the questions from the

public,” said Mayes. “That was staffed by the St. Clair County Health

Department. We had to hire interns from SC4 (St. Clair County

Community College) to monitor social media to answer the questions

on Facebook and to correct misinformation.

“That was really important. There were always questions about the

data we were releasing.”

Mayes noted that the questions they received on social media were

helpful because they were able to change the way they delivered the

information to the public in order to better answer questions the

public wanted to know about.

“We’ve changed that several times,” she said. “Then we started

doing Facebook Live sessions so that people could get their questions

answered right away without any delay.”

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the COVID 19 pandemic is

its long term duration.

Baunoch noted: “If a tornado goes through, you go fix the problem

and in a week or so, people move on. With the pandemic, there’s



no break in it. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is constantly


Though Mayes has worked for the county for almost a decade, she

has only worked in the Homeland Security and Emergency Planning

Department for a year and a half. Baunoch said she has adapted well to

the fast-paced and ever-changing environment.

“Becky knows everything about everything here,” Baunoch said.

“She picked it up so fast.”

Mayes noted that she likes to be organized and that she quickly

realized the more she learned about the department, the more she

would be able to be a real resource during an emergency.

“I want to be able to jump in and fill a role if someone can’t be here,”

she said. “It makes you feel good to help other people or to anticipate

problems and have a plan in place.

“We never know what is going to happen, but if you have a plan in

place, you’ll have a better outcome.”

Baunoch, on the other hand, has been training for her role her entire

life. Her father was a firefighter in Burtchville Township, and she

followed in his shoes – she is still a firefighter there.

One of her earliest memories is of an early childhood birthday when, on

that day, her father responded to the tunnel explosion in Lake Huron.

“I didn’t get a cake that year,” she said, fighting back tears at the

memory of one of the most tragic moments in St. Clair County

history. “But serving others, that’s just the way I was raised.”

With regard to the pandemic, Baunoch said she knows and

understands that people are tired of being cooped up and want life to

return to normal, but she is concerned that they will forget to continue

to use caution.

“People are able to get out and do things now, and I think they are

getting a little bit of a false sense of security,” she said. “I hope that

doesn’t come back to bite us with a resurgence of the virus. There are

still so many unknowns.”

As the state of Michigan and St. Clair County begin to open up

again, the EOC has been able to reduce the number of days of the

week and the number of hours it is manned, which is a shift from the

early days of the pandemic.

But Baunoch is ready to continue to address this crisis or the next

with the emergency preparedness team.

“It’s amazing how our entire staff here all work together,” she said.

“Everybody works so well together.”

Mayes noted: “It feels like family here. And the way you feel about

helping others in the community? You can’t get that feeling anywhere else.”


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If you have been experiencing a

health concern or have an emergency

medical need, McLaren wants to

reassure you that you don’t need

to delay seeking treatment.

We are continuing to do what’s

best for all our patients and

employees by following the most

current CDC safety guidelines.

You don’t need to wait any longer.

Because at McLaren, we’re

committed to keeping you safe

while giving you the expert care

you need, when you need it.

To learn more about how

we’re keeping our patients

and employees safe,

visit mclaren.org/safecare

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