We’re All in this Together

Before becoming an STA Coach Operator, Colleen Quintana had a long and illustrious career in healthcare. The experience she gained has proven helpful in her new career, especially in the face of the COVID-19 health crisis. 

“I was an EMT in New Mexico for six years,” Quintana said. “I’ve also had hands-on jobs in hospitals, set up new medical labs, and worked in medical insurance coding, among other things. I’m what you might call a ‘medical mutt.’”

Now, three years into her career at Spokane Transit, Quintana sees many correlations between her past and present professions. Both offer a fast-paced, ever-changing work environment and involve working closely with the public.

That’s just fine for Quintana, who enjoys the challenge of driving a complex series of bus routes each day and the great diversity of people she meets along the way. Talking to people is, after all, her forte.

“One important difference is that now I’m not poking the people I talk to with needles,” she said.

Quintana has also noticed that many of the skills she’s honed over her 20-year medical career are proving beneficial in public transit. The ability to stay calm and to calm others are two she finds particularly useful now as she strives to help passengers cope with the lingering threat of coronavirus.

“Some people are truly terrified of COVID-19, but they still need to get out and do things,” Quintana said. “When I am calm and friendly, they tend to relax and mirror that behavior back to me.”

Wearing a face covering on the bus also seems to reassure many of her passengers. Quintana doesn’t mind – it’s another throwback to her medical background and she feels it shows her passengers support.

“We’re all in this together,” Quintana said. “It’s not hurting me in any way to wear a mask and I’m happy to do so.”

Similarly, she hasn’t seen any passengers remove their masks while onboard the bus.

“COVID-19 or not, we have really good passengers, and they try very hard to comply with what I ask them to do,” Quintana said. “If someone comes up to the bus without a mask, I offer them one and almost everyone will take it and put it on. There’s only a very select few who decline or want to give me a hard time about wearing one.”

Even in those rare incidents, Quintana is able to quickly de-escalate the tension with her bright smile and a few kind words. She genuinely cares about her passengers and it shows in the respectful way she treats them.

“There’s always a chance to turn things around,” she said. “You never have a bad day, only a bad moment.”

Quintana recalls one elderly woman who, upon learning she needed a mask to board the bus, looked deflated and turned to walk away.

“She was so happy and thanked me profusely when I offered her a mask,” she said. “Just a small kind act like that can make such a difference in someone’s day.”

Quintana’s advice to her passengers is this: “The pandemic will pass. In the meantime, be patient and be kind. We’re all we’ve got.”

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