By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, email@example.com
Harvey Cooper Jr. was just 18 years old and a recent graduate of George Washington High School in Indianapolis when he showed up for his first day of work at Riley Hospital for Children.
It was 1974, and he was two hours early for his 8 a.m. shift start because he rode into work with his mom, Elizabeth. She worked in sterile processing for more than a quarter century.
He knew better than to mess up, he said.
“Everyone I worked around was like my parents. If I did something or got smart with someone, they’d tell my mom. Back then it really was like a village raising a kid. It’s not like that today.”
FROM YOUNGEST TO OLDEST
Now 66, Cooper, a logistics specialist, is Riley’s longest-tenured employee on the supply chain team, and this is a chance to celebrate him and all of his colleagues during National Health Care Supply Chain Week.
It’s no secret that the past 2½ years have been challenging for healthcare, and that includes supply chain, an extensive network of systems and processes that collectively work to ensure that medicines, masks, gloves, bedding, bandages, sutures, surgical instruments and other healthcare supplies are distributed throughout hospitals.
Within IU Health and its multiple hospitals, it’s a huge operation, with more than 450 team members working to keep supplies flowing through hard work, creativity and “dogged persistence,” according to Sam Banks, the system’s chief procurement officer.
Cooper’s part in that process is stocking the operating rooms at Riley.
“It’s been real challenging in the past couple years with not being able to get our hands on supplies,” he said, “but we had to make do.”
That can-do attitude is a hallmark of Cooper, who spends his time bouncing from the basement of Riley up to the operating rooms on the second floor, troubleshooting as needed.
“We make sure the OR teams are taken care of so they can take care of the kids,” he said. “The staff up there is good. They love what they do, no matter the stress.”
PRAISE GOES BOTH WAYS
Pediatric surgeon Dr. Brian Gray says he couldn’t do his job without Cooper.
“Harvey is a legend around the OR at Riley. Any time we need something for surgery that isn't readily available next to the OR, the nurses call down to supply chain, and we all hope that Harvey is there,” Dr. Gray said.
“He knows where to find everything and can always get us what we need to complete the operation and care for the child. Plus, he's super quick at getting the equipment up to us to prevent delays in surgery.”
Cooper, whose plan 48 years ago was to join the military if he didn’t have a job by the following January, is certainly glad things worked out the way they did.
“I got this job in November of ’74. When you consider back then all the things we had going on war-wise (Vietnam), I might not even be here today.”
But 48 years at the same place?
“I enjoy the people, and I enjoy working,” said Cooper, who has three daughters and seven grandchildren with his wife, Carol.
And he had something to prove. He was the youngest member of the team when he hired on. Now he is the veteran. His parents taught him a strong work ethic, something he appreciated more as he got older.
“It made me realize what it means to work at something and not depend on someone else.”
Now surrounded by younger people, Cooper does his best to lead by example and show them the right way to do things.
Dearrell Higgins appreciates the training. The 29-year-old recently moved to Cooper’s area from sterile processing.
“He teaches me,” Higgins said. “He lets you build yourself up. He has given me the knowledge to be able to function when he’s not here.”
Even when he’s not nearby, Cooper seems to always be aware of what needs to be done and what supplies are running low, Higgins said.
“I love working with him. He’s a great teacher, a great leader.”
When it comes to technology though, Cooper says he’s a dinosaur. Sure, computers have replaced the pencil and paper he used to rely on to do inventory of the hospital units, but he doesn’t much like it. And he prefers face-to-face communication over email.
But he knows his job and most of the staff. And they know they can count on him.
“I act like I’m in charge of everything,” he laughed. “I’m not and I wouldn’t want to have a title, but if you need somebody out in the trenches, just call me. I’d rather go out there and take care of the problem.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org