Mark Falk wears many hats.

As a facilities assistant at St. Luke’s hospital, he checks hospital visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, transports people who need assistance or helps direct people when they’re lost. He and his co-workers are basically customer service — and the eyes and ears around the hospital, Falk said.

It’s easy to find people in the hospital who need help, he said, such as folks struggling to find their rooms or the correct building. That hasn’t changed with COVID.

The past year-plus, the position has been “fluid.” Recalling last spring, Falk said, “The clinics closed, and it got really quiet here at the hospital to the point of almost a little ghostly.”

He also spoke of a striking staff meeting. “I’ve never had anybody talk to me about body bags and refrigerator trailers for keeping corpses. That’s the sort of drama that you talk about, we had to go to worst-case scenario.”

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We’ve come a long way since then, he said, adding: “When you think back to it now, it's like a bad movie.”

His interactions with hospital visitors have run the gamut, extra cautious to disbelievers. At times, interactions would lead to talk of calling the authorities, but never escalating past talking. “As facilities assistants, we don’t gear up as a security guy. We’re the soft, friendly side,” he said.

Teddy, 2 and a half months old, waits as mother Amelia King adjusts the mask given her by St. Luke’s Facility Assistant Service employee Mark Falk at St. Luke’s Building A on July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Teddy, 2 and a half months old, waits as mother Amelia King adjusts the mask given her by St. Luke’s Facility Assistant Service employee Mark Falk at St. Luke’s Building A on July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

This is Falk’s “semi-retirement” job.

He’s been at St. Luke’s for three years, and moved to the Northland because of the lake and the land. “I’m a cyclist by nature; this is the perfect place,” he said.

He had friends and family who lost jobs the past year. “We were grateful to have work, to be able to come in,” he said.

Falk took some time to answer questions recently for the News Tribune.

READ MORE ABOUT PEOPLE'S PURSUITS:

Q: One of your duties is to help people get where they need to go on the hospital grounds. Without someone asking for help, how can you tell when we’re lost, and did that change with the addition of facemasks?

A: It's when you have that "far away" look in your eyes, or standing in one place moving around in circles. Facemasks can't hide lost souls!

St. Luke’s Facility Assistant Service employee Mark Falk on July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
St. Luke’s Facility Assistant Service employee Mark Falk on July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Q: Do you have any favorite or interesting spots on the hospital grounds for taking breaks?

A: A favorite spot for a rest is the coffee shop on second floor Building A.

Q: How have you taken care of yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally the past year-plus?

A: Mentally, I have faith and trust in my higher power, whom I call “God.” Emotionally, count on teammates to talk with, and laugh whenever you can. Physically, ride a bike!

Q: Did you connect with other essential workers? If so, how did you support each other?

A: Facilities assistants are a part of the security division of St. Luke's hospital. To support each other, we share with each other. We talk, text or email.

We have great support from administrators to managers and coordinators. They are always available to talk with or get help from, if needed.

Much of this is done daily in and around the hallways of the hospital.

A radio set to St. Luke’s security channel sits on Mark Falk’s desk July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
A radio set to St. Luke’s security channel sits on Mark Falk’s desk July 8, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Q: Name a stand-out positive interaction at work during the pandemic, and how did this impact you on the job?

A: Working in health care provides many chances to experience stand out positive interactions! In many different ways.

One positive that always stands out is when a patient and/or friends and family members sincerely and honestly thank us for the work we do as essential workers.

Q: Any takeaways from working in health care during a pandemic?

A: It goes much smoother if everybody works together.

Q: What does it mean to you to be an essential worker?

A: I'm grateful to be an essential worker. I follow the "Golden Rule”: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be, and why?

A: Ronald Reagan, a great patriot. Sophia Loren, a great date. Ernest Hemingway, my favorite, and great author.

ESSENTIAL WORKER SERIES: Know an essential worker with a story to share? Email Melinda Lavine at mlavine@duluthnews.com or call 218-723-5346.