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ON THE FRONT LINES: ACC Graduate Conducts Screenings for 200 Employees

Emily O’Dell, a 2016 ACC graduate, conducts employee screenings for the coronavirus at Elevate Textiles. Photo contributed.

Emily O’Dell, a 2016 ACC graduate, conducts employee screenings for the coronavirus at Elevate Textiles. Photo contributed.

Emily O’Dell, a 2016 graduate of Alamance Community College, is an alumna making her mark on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Alamance County. As Human Resources Manager at Elevate Textiles in Burlington, she is assuring the employees are safe to work their shifts. And she credits the College with the skills she needed to become an advocate for the 200 workers for whom she is responsible.

Prior to enrolling at ACC, Emily had earned a B.S. in Business Administration and Economics from Greensboro College and was working as an accounting clerk at a law firm, but she wanted advancement and additional knowledge in accounting.Emily O'Dell

“I wanted to be more of an asset to the business office there, and was excited that I could learn right in my backyard through the extremely convenient program at ACC,” she said.

While working her day job at the law firm, Emily completed two credentials in 2016: Certificates in Financial Accounting, and Accounting and Income Tax. Shortly thereafter, her supervisor retired and the law firm went from four people in the business office to only two. Emily used her new accounting skills to help out.

“My proactive measures after my ACC education helped the firm reduce our overhead in the business office. I showed the partners that I was truly a team player and willing to do what was needed to get the job done efficiently,” she said.

Emily’s newfound leadership skills and essential accounting knowledge proved valuable not only in the firm’s business office, but when she later moved into human resources (HR) at a construction company, a challenge she found uniquely refreshing.

“Knowledge is power, and I was determined to spread the love and be an advocate for people who had never had one before,” she said.

Last December, Emily was hired as Human Resources Manager at Elevate Textiles in Burlington. Coming from an entirely different sector, the textile industry was brand new to her, and she was faced with learning a totally new system, production standards and an employee base of roughly 200 people.

“I was excited for the challenge and opportunity ahead of me, having no idea that this pandemic would expedite my challenges exponentially,” she said.

Elevate Textiles—Burlington Finishing Plant is part of a world-wide business that manufactures medical “barrier” fabrics for operating theaters such as surgeons’ gowns and scrubs. When the coronavirus pandemic reached crisis status in March, the Burlington plant ramped up production of the medical fabric. For Emily, only on the job as HR Manager for three months, the need to keep the doors open during the pandemic was crucial.

“Safety being our top priority meant we needed to implement a temperature screening process for all employees on all three shifts ASAP,” she said. “We immediately ordered Tyvek suits, gloves, N95 masks and face shields, as well as non-contact thermometers and adopted screening questions based on CDC guidelines. I came up with a schedule based on our employee roster, and rounded up a handful of employees to help in this procedure.”

Emily, in conjunction with the management team, set up an entrance pathway for all employees to receive screening upon arrival on their shifts. They made protective masks from the company’s fabric and distributed one to each employee. Due to the shortage of hand sanitizer, the plant engineer secured isopropyl alcohol and mixed it down to a 70% solution to provide each department with multiple spray bottles.

“This was due to an absence of hand sanitizer and to ensure our employees had the tools they needed to create a safe, sanitary working environment,” said Emily. “This process has proven to be important. I make it a point to call each and every employee that does not show up for work, every day, every shift. During these unprecedented times, to me it’s more important now than ever to build those relationships with the employees, and make sure they know they have the support of their employer, and maintain an open-door atmosphere.”

Emily distributed flyers with websites and contacts for reputable sources of COVID-19 information. She contacts the Alamance County Health Department every other day to make sure the company is aligned with proper guidelines and expectations.

“This has been quite the challenge to take on in such a short tenure with people I never knew prior to December, but COVID-19 has truly brought our employees together and created a semblance of unity,” she said. “We have been doing this screening for about a month now, and have no plans to cease screening anytime soon. We truly have embraced life on the front lines together, one temperature at a time.”