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Bringing valuable expertise to COVID-19 response

March 30, 2020 | Jason Kuiper | OPPD at work
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OPPD’s Tricia Browning moved to Nebraska from Minnesota in 2014. After spending years as a nurse working in schools, hospitals and at the Mayo Clinic Health System, she started working at an electric utility.

Expert voice

Now she finds herself using her years of experience helping the utility respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been a constant contributor during OPPD’s daily infectious disease team briefings.

“It’s important for our employees and customers to know that none of us are immune to this disease at this time,” she said. “It is critical for everyone to follow the directions and advice of the Centers for Disease Control and local public health officials to prevent the spread of disease.

“This disease can be deadly for some. While those with chronic disease are at greatest risk, those with no underlying health conditions have also become critically ill. It would be naive for any of us to think it cannot impact us in some significant way.”

Browning, who works as OPPD’s occupational health nurse, said she became concerned at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. She said any time you have a novel disease and see such quick spread, there is a “heightened level of concern” and the desire to become educated as quickly as possible.

“As a medical professional, it is my responsibility to provide guidance and be a trusted and reliable resource to help ensure the health and safety of our employees,” she said.

Her advice to everyone mirrors that of other health care professionals: stay home if you can, practice social distancing, cover your cough, wash your hands and stay home when you are ill. Adhering to these guidelines, she said, is critical to protect everyone’s health and safety.

Browning didn’t expect to find herself working at an electric utility but said it “has pushed and driven me in new ways.”

Safety first

One of those ways is OPPD’s commitment to safety. It was one of the things that struck her early on after she started to work at OPPD.

“OPPD does safety really well,” she said. “The more we can promote health and wellness for our employees and keep them safe on the job, the better our business runs. This commitment to safety helps fulfill OPPD’s mission.”

Keeping employees safe is in line with the utility’s core value of caring for each other. Browning said OPPD’s safety culture led her to pursue her master’s degree in Safety and Occupational Health. Her nursing background gives her work in OPPD’s Safety department a different perspective.

She thanks her husband for the move. An opportunity in Nebraska for him to advance his career took the couple out of Minnesota. Ron Browning is originally from Grand Island and works as a hog procurement manager, she said. The couple, who met in Minnesota, have moved several times for jobs. That drove her to keep pushing herself professionally, she said.

Broad experience

In her previous positions, she was responsible for oversight and management of nursing practice within the outpatient setting as well as daily operations. She oversaw a staff of nearly 60 people. Her first job at OPPD was as the nurse at Fort ca, but her work has evolved to encompass anything health-related across the entire utility.

Browning’s role now includes the coordination and auditing of all annual physical exams for employees who serve on fire brigades, rope rescue teams, and other safety-sensitive positions. She also completes crane operator exams, respiratory exams, pulmonary function tests, assists with mask fittings, lead testing, as well as overseeing doctor’s referrals. Browning is the coordinator for OPPD’s corporate and Department of Transportation fitness-for-duty program and serves as the liaison for vendor occupational health services.

Her job also calls for plenty of record-keeping, data-collection and keeping up on various regulations. And she is always looking for ways to improve OPPD’s medical and safety programs.

Jumping off point

Once she joined the safety team at OPPD, “I really started to develop this love and passion for safety.” She went on to pursue her masters degree in Safety and Occupational Health with an environmental management concentration.

“It was the best decision I’ve made,” she said. “It took my true love of nursing and my new-found passion for safety, married the two together, helping me perform better in my role. I’m looking through that medical lens and the impacts on safety and what else we can do preventatively to keep our employees safe. I’m committed to asking questions and advocating for the health and safety of OPPD employees.”

She was the only person in the master’s program with a background in healthcare. The courses played into the foundation she already had about body systems. Advanced courses included toxicology, industrial hygiene, research methods, and safety and accident prevention, among others. All courses impact employee health.

She wants OPPD employees to know that she is available to them as a health resource.

“I love to have those one-on-one conversations with employees who want to discuss different medications, a new diagnosis, or doctor referrals that can impact their overall health,” Browning said. “I want to do all that I can to promote health and wellness and keep employees safe on the job.”

Away from work, Browning kayaks, hunts deer and fishes. She also enjoys spending time at her family’s cabin and in the outdoors with her husband and two sons. She loves a good book or going on walks in her free time. But most of all, spending time with friends and family.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

View all posts by Jason Kuiper >

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