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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida
VA Nurses Make Positive Impact on COVID-19
By Jason Dangel, Deputy Communication Manager, VISN 8
Thursday, May 14, 2020Two-Hundred years ago, on May 12, Florence Nightingale was born. Known as both the Mother of Nursing and the “Lady with the Lamp,” Nightingale’s work as a nurse and research writings largely reformed health care – predominantly in the areas of sanitation and medical epidemiology.
Much of her work is still present in health care today and is particularly evident in the daily operations and care provided by the nearly 10,000 nursing professionals at VA facilities across Florida, South Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now more than ever, our dedicated nursing staff are being tested,” said Rebecca Tiffault, Chief Nursing Officer and Quality Management Officer, VA Sunshine Healthcare Network (VISN 8). “They are not only being tested professionally, but also personally. Many have volunteered to work outside their comfort zones to support the mission and many others are working long hours under difficult circumstances to ensure Veterans can continue to receive the care they deserve.”
According to Tiffault, all VISN 8’s nursing staff have stepped up and have made a significant positive impact across the network. “It is quite remarkable how these dedicated professionals can pull together and get the job done,” she said.
Some nursing staff have gone even further to support the mission like Elizabeth King, a nurse educator at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.
King, who primarily serves in an administrative capacity, volunteered to support a recent mission assignment sent to VA through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The mission called for the establishment of 13 VA health care teams to provide support to private community nursing homes challenged with COVID-19. Since the start of the FEMA tasking, VISN 8 teams have supported 36 community nursing homes across the state.
As a thirteen-year VA employee, King volunteered for the assignment knowing the risk but felt a personal responsibility to help the community and care for those most vulnerable for negative health outcomes.
“When I heard the nursing homes were in trouble, I wanted to help,” King said. “I lost my father in a very good nursing home two years ago, so I know the level of care needed and felt obligated to help.”
During her time with the team, she volunteered for two different assignments. The first was eight days straight in a nearby community nursing home and the other was six. King worked 12-hour days and had a two-day break between the two assignments.
Working with her team, she was able to help isolate the spread of the virus in the nursing homes and helped educate staff on the proper use of personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC guidelines.
“It was very emotional for me,” said King. “There were some days I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, but as we helped the facilities make improvements, I knew what I was doing was making a difference.”
King credits success at the nursing homes to her entire team.
Some nurses, like Veronica Jograj-Ortiz, a registered nurse with the VA Caribbean Healthcare System (VACHS), are equally assisting the mission virtually.
Jograj-Ortiz, who was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and continues to receive treatment, works primarily from home to limit her exposure to patients who may have the virus.
As a performance improvement nurse with the VACHCS’s Chief of Staff’s office, she has been heavily involved in the development of the San Juan VA Medical Center’s COVID-19 screening process and daily operations. Her focus is ensuring the screening points are correctly staffed and that the employees have the supplies they need to do their jobs and stay safe.
“When all of this started, we brought together a team to develop a plan to make sure everyone entering the hospital was screened for COVID-19,” said Jograj-Ortiz. “I think our efforts have made a huge difference. We’ve been able to detect several patients that have been positive for the virus through our screening process. It is worth all the effort when we know we are stopping the spread and keeping others in the hospital safe.”
Despite the difference she is making in her new role from home, she acknowledged feeling sad that she cannot be at the hospital standing side-by-side with her colleagues.
“I want to be there hands on working like the nurse I am,” Jograj-Ortiz said. “But, I am very happy to be helping out in some way. I love what I am doing. I know that what I am doing is making a difference even if I cannot be there.”
Like King, Jograj-Ortiz credits her team for the success the facility has had ensuring the safety and well-being of patients and staff.
“I’ve seen so many staff offering their jobs, duties, and efforts to this COVID fight. It is amazing to see so many people offering to help. I feel honored to be part of it. It is amazing.”
Jograj-Ortiz completes her cancer treatment this October.
Like Nightingale’s trailblazing work during the Crimean War, VA nurses are fighting their own war against a pandemic and protecting the nation’s greatest asset – the American Veteran.
Whether serving on the frontlines or from afar, they are doing this work just as they always have…with a compassionate smile, healing touch, and unmatched dedication to the most noble mission health care.