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Mayo in La Crosse gets creative with employee retirement celebration amid COVID-19

Mayo in La Crosse gets creative with employee retirement celebration amid COVID-19

Mayo Health System

Mayo Health System Patient Access Specialist Sue Lay, accompanied by her granddaughters, Elise Bittner, 6, left, and Olivia Bittner, 4, waves goodbye to her co-workers April 3 during a retirement send-off to cap her 39-year career at the health care provider. Practicing social distancing, Lay’s colleagues sent her warm wishes from their cars, in lieu of a traditional retirement potluck they had to cancel due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Despite overcast skies and a prediction of showers, the rain stayed away during Susan Lay’s surprise parade.

Held late morning Friday in the Mayo Clinic Health System parking lot, the retirement send-off wasn’t quite what Lay’s co-workers had in mind for honoring the nearly 39-year employee, but COVID-19 meant the preplanned hospital-wide potluck and party were off the docket.

While social distancing protocols meant conversation over cake and farewell hugs were no longer an option, Lay’s longtime colleagues in Mayo’s physical and occupational therapy department, where Lay works as a patient appointment service specialist, weren’t about to let her dedication go unrecognized.

“She was very sad her parties were cancelled,” says Sara Franzose, occupational therapy assistant.

On Thursday, Franzose scrambled to arrange a memorable celebration for the co-worker she calls “compassionate, caring, loyal and invested.” After a flurry of texts and emails, Franzose was able to arrange for employees and Lay’s family to line up their cars in the Mayo parking lot, roll down their windows and hold up signs as Lay made her way down the row, sharing memories and good-byes from a six-foot distance.

COVID retirement

Stephanie Andersen, a colleague of Mayo Health System retiree Sue Lay, attaches a departing message for her coworker and friend to her windshield.

Those on duty took a few minutes to wave from the building windows.

“I was overwhelmed — I was very moved,” says Lay, 66, who was shocked to see about 20 cars filled with current and former coworkers, her daughter and her grandkids.

Lay wasn’t expecting the fanfare given the chaos of COVID-19, but says Franzose is known for her surprises. And with her last few weeks on the job busy and stressful, Lay was especially appreciative of the recognition.

Since COVID-19 infiltrated the Coulee Region, Lay has gone from taking calls to making them, rescheduling patient appointments or setting them up with Mayo’s online portal.

It’s been hard for Lay to see the halls and waiting rooms near desolate, but she has powered through.

“She is our front line,” Franzose says.

Clocking out for the last time at 2:45 p.m. Friday, Lay will be dearly missed. The kind of person who remembers the names of everyone’s kids and even grandkids, “She takes care of our whole department,” Franzose says.

Lay, in turn, says she will miss the staff and patients she has connected with over the decades, but is ready for adventure. Her travel plans, sadly, will have to wait until the pandemic passes, but she looks forward to a cruise with her husband this winter.

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