ACU Senior Giving Back to Verde Valley Community in Local Hospital

Senior Day. A day to celebrate and recognize senior athletes playing the final games of their collegiate careers. On April 21, 2020, Arizona Christian University Softball was scheduled to recognize their seniors against Ottawa University. COVID-19 changed that.

After graduating from Camp Verde High School, Paige Church continued her academic and athletic career at ACU, becoming a four-year starting catcher for the Firestorm. April 21 was a day to celebrate starting in over 165 games during her four-year Firestorm career.

Instead, she was stuck at home, awaiting her next trip to Cottonwood and watching Netflix.

While attending Arizona Christian and being a backbone of the softball program, she would travel back and forth from Phoenix to home in Verde Valley, working at Verde Valley Medical Center or Northern Arizona Healthcare (NAH). Church began working per diem as a patient care technician at NAH in Cottonwood just short of a year ago, putting in as much work as possible to get experience doing what she loves.

“I would work Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights, drive back down as soon as I got off Sunday, go to class, go to practice, go to team lift, come home and sleep and do it all over again.”

Church was born and raised in Verde Valley, home to the rustic towns of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Jerome, and Sedona. Her pursuit of the healthcare industry started young as she observed her father’s work growing up.

“I’ve known that I’ve wanted to go into healthcare for a long time. My dad’s been a nurse for as long as I can remember. I’ve been around it forever and I know that’s what I’m called to do.”

Now, Church gets to have an impact on the community she grew up in during this pandemic, before even receiving her college degree. Even though she isn’t working directly with COVID-19 patients, the impact the pandemic has had on the Verde Valley has put an impact on her.

“It’s made me realize how important good healthcare professionals are. Some of these people aren’t allowed to see any of their family, they can’t talk to any of their family, we are all they have right now. So, being that responsible, reliable healthcare professional, I know that’s what I want to be for people.”

COVID-19 has changed how the facility operates. NAH closed one of the hospital’s units for inpatient care and designated it as a space for anyone testing for COVID-19 or waiting for results. With no more elective surgeries, the regular number of patients has decreased, along with the number of hours available to work at the facility.

“Having school online makes it easier for me to schedule myself more, but with the lack of patients in the hospital, we’re being put on-call a lot more,” Church said. “I might be scheduled for three days a week but there’s a chance I get put on-call all three days. My parents and my family definitely help support me, but it’s hard to count on stuff like that and rely on hours when you still have bills and rent to pay.”

According to redrocknews.com, as of April 15, there have been 29 cases of COVID-19 in Verde Valley, with 12 confirmed cases in the city of Cottonwood.

“I’m blessed to be able to work at all, I can’t imagine not being able to work or having a non-essential position, but it’s hard not having a steady income right now.”

Some of her lessons in softball have directly impacted how she views her career. Church saw three different Firestorm head coaches in her first three seasons. The current head coach, Anna Welsh took the reins of the program in her junior year and has helped Church balance life, school, softball, and pursuing a career in healthcare all at once. Church has been able to relate experiences playing college softball to her career very well.

“It’s definitely shown me how to be resilient and how to focus on the things that I can control. How to work with the people around me and try to lean on people who are going through the same things as I am and not try to tackle and handle everything on my own.

“Never in a million years would I have ever imagined that before I even have my degree I would be working in the middle of this pandemic,” Church said. “I kind of have a little bit of experience and have been able to talk to doctors and nurses and everybody within the hospital and kind of figure out how they’re dealing with it and what they would do differently.”

The NAIA is offering an extra year of eligibility to play sports due to seasons being cut short from COVID-19. To help seniors take advantage of that opportunity, ACU is offering graduate-level classes. None of which are aimed at the healthcare platform.

Church looks to continue following her dream working in healthcare and plans to move back home to Verde Valley in the coming months while pursuing grad school.