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Bakery Owner Returns To Old Job As Nurse To Fight Coronavirus: ‘I Couldn’t Sit Idly By’

Edge of Sweetness owner Kate Merrill left Mount Sinai Hospital in 2018 to focus on her bakery. But she's now back in the North Lawndale hospital's surgical intensive care unit.

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EDGEWATER — While the coronavirus pandemic has caused Kate Merrill’s bakery to temporarily close and change up its business plan, the Edgewater shop owner has found another way to stay busy: Returning to her previous career as a nurse.

Merrill, who owns Edge of Sweetness, has returned to her former job as a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she is helping to treat coronavirus patients.

“I’m a helper,” Merrill said. “I have the knowledge and skills. I couldn’t sit idly by and have people that need help out there.”

Merrill is one of the thousands of former health care professionals to return to the workforce since the start of the pandemic. Gov. JB Pritzker, who put out an early call for former workers to return, said last week that 5,000 former or out of state professionals have applied for temporary licenses to join Illinois’ fight against coronavirus.

Merrill worked as a nurse for 22 years. During that time, she developed the brand Kate’s Cookies, which eventually turned into Edge of Sweetness, the bakery and cafe at 6034 N. Broadway that she opened in 2017 with business partner Paige Tyler. Merrill left her nursing job in 2018, after taking sole ownership of the bakery.

Like virtually all small businesses in the city, the coronavirus has significantly impacted Edge of Sweetness. With a background in health care, Merrill said she did not feel comfortable staying open and possibly helping to spread the virus to employees or customers.

“I was so fearful it would get transmitted somehow,” Merrill said. “Our priority is the community. It was too much of risk.”

So, Edge of Sweetness temporarily closed. That gave Merrill the opportunity to help the community in a different way. After hearing Pritzker’s call for former health professionals to rejoin the industry, Merrill jumped at the opportunity.

Merrill returned to Mount Sinai Hospital in North Lawndale, where she is now working in the hospital’s surgical intensive care unit. The surgical unit is helping to manage overflow in the hospital’s general intensive care unit, which is struggling to handle the volume of coronavirus patients, Merrill said.

Despite working for years at the Level-1 trauma center, Merrill said the coronavirus outbreak is a “different beast.”

“It’s crazy how fast patients can deteriorate,” she said. “The psychological drain, especially for patients who don’t have their loved ones around, it’s a challenge for all health care workers.”

Merrill plans to continue as a nurse for a few more weeks, or until Chicago passes its peak of coronavirus cases.

In the meantime, Edge of Sweetness has re-opened with a new business model. The bakery is hosting “stock up sales,” where the business opens one day for people to pick up orders they’ve placed throughout the week. Edge of Sweetness is also shipping out orders to corporate clients and other customers, Merrill said.

After securing a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Edge of Sweetness has been able to bring back its employees, who are manning the operation while Merrill is working at the hospital.

While Merrill is busy working as a nurse, neighbors and customers have rallied to her bakery business, helping to keep it afloat during this trying time.

“There’s been so much support from the community,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of goodness from so many people.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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