COVID Response Leader by Day, Student by Night
One in an ongoing series.
Everything had fallen into place for Juanita Way.
The leadership at Einstein Healthcare Network had recognized her savvy and proficiency and promoted her to Associate Vice President for Healthcare Services. She’d begun working towards her master’s degree, inspired to exceed the accomplishment of being the first person in her family to graduate college.
Then came COVID.
That meant working six or seven days a week. That meant answering emails in the middle of the night. That meant completing tasks like filling 3,000 wellness bags for staff who were working so hard on the front lines; helping create and implement contingency plans for the overflow of patients; arranging housing for Einstein staff at an empty LaSalle University dormitory nearby – providing linens and arranging cleaning and troubleshooting problems.
Who could study for a master’s degree in such circumstances? Who would have the time or the focus or the energy?
A Master’s Degree at Last
Yes, she did. At the end of this month, August of 2021, Juanita Way will complete her studies at Drexel University and receive her MHA – Master’s in Healthcare Administration.
“I worked on a schedule,” she says. “On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, when I came home from Einstein, I did schoolwork. I usually didn’t go to bed until 1 or 2 in the morning.”
Way never called out sick or took a vacation day throughout the pandemic. “I just kept going.”
For one thing, she says with typical modesty, nothing was open during COVID to distract her. And her work at Einstein “gave me a sense of purpose; it gave me a sense of belonging; and it helped me to stop focusing on my fear,” she says. “Because I couldn’t think about anything else except I’m working on COVID and I’m going to school.”
Way had the same grueling road to earning her undergraduate degree at St. Joseph’s University in 2009. She took night classes for almost six years while raising her daughter and working full-time – sometimes at two jobs.
Motivated by Father’s Example
She’s quick to attribute everything she’s accomplished to her father.
“I am forever who I am, what I am, what I do, because of the man he was and the way I was brought up,” Way says.
Her father left school after third grade to work on his family’s farm. He became self-taught, read the Bible religiously, was a sexton at his church – and was so dutiful about work that when he retired as a supervisor in the Philadelphia Streets Department, he had accumulated an entire year of unused sick leave.
“He was able to figure out how to feed and take care of five kids without my mom ever working,” Way says. “We didn’t have much, but we were never hungry.”
On her birthday every year, Way travels to Atlantic City to sit outside Bally’s Casino, where he would occasionally visit, and have a conversation with him.
“I sit and reflect,” she says. “I ask him, ‘Did I do everything you expected of me? Are you proud?’ It becomes how I plan what I’ll do the next year. I come away from there with some new ideas and new goals. I am forever honored to have been his daughter.”
An ‘Inspirational’ Leader
COVID has been a proving ground for Way, having been charged with – and accomplished – unprecedented tasks. She rallied staff members to set up two vaccine clinics in six weeks, and she also opened a COVID testing site on campus.
“She is inspirational,” says Lisa McBride, a nurse who works at the vaccine clinic. “The way she pulled this off so quickly and seamlessly is amazing.”
As one hospital executive put it: “If there’s a job to be done, Juanita will get it done and do it well.”
Way’s COVID efforts are also motivated by her sense of responsibility to Einstein’s mostly African American patient community, which was especially hard-hit by the pandemic.
“I was born and raised in Germantown,” she says. “My family still lives in this area. Everyone that’s close to me lives around this hospital. I needed to do what I could to help my community.”
Now, she will continue to do so with an MHA after her name.