Houston VA Nurses Lend a Hand to New Orleans - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Nurses Lend a Hand to New Orleans

Nurses standing together at New Orleans VA Medical Center.

Seven critical care nurses from the Houston VA Medical Center traveled to New Orleans to care for Veterans with COVID-19. Photo by New Orleans VAMC.

By Maureen Dyman, Communications Director
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Last month, a group of seven critical care nurses from the Houston VA Medical Center packed up their lives, left their families and traveled to New Orleans to care for Veterans with COVID-19.  These dedicated employees answered a call for VA nurses willing to travel to the New Orleans VA, which was hit hard by the coronavirus. 

“When I heard they needed us at our sister VA in New Orleans, I knew I had a to go and help the Veterans,” said Crystal Morris, a registered nurse who works in the surgical intensive care unit at the Houston VA.  “They were hit by COVID-19 much sooner and much harder than we have been so far in Houston.  I will never forget how grateful the staff were to see us when we got there.”

Jennie Clark, a registered nurse in Houston VA’s critical care unit and an Army Veteran herself, was happy to volunteer as well.  “I think that the adaptability and commitment to a mission that I learned in the military helped me so much when I found myself caring for COVID-19 patients just a few weeks into the pandemic,” she said.   “I think when you join the military, and when you become a nurse, you make a decision to preserve life and complete your mission, sometimes by putting yourself at risk.  It’s just a part of the job.”

Upon arriving in New Orleans, the Houston nurses went through a quick orientation, a short training period and then were assigned to care for COVID-19 patients in the ICU for 14 days.  Most of the Veterans they cared for were extremely ill, but the nurses were able to witness some great stories of recovery. 

“One of my patients, a younger man with a school-aged daughter, was so ill,” said Morris.  “I remember seeing the fear and tears in his eyes when he looked at me, but I just kept encouraging him to keep fighting.  When we left New Orleans, he was being taken off the breathing tube and things were looking so much better for him.  It was very uplifting.”

The Houston VA nurses learned a lot about how to care for COVID-19 patients during their trip to New Orleans.  “At the time we went to New Orleans, Houston had not seen many COVID cases,” Clark said.  “I feel like I gained so many valuable skills in caring for these Veterans that I will be able to use when caring for patients at our Houston VA.  It was eye-opening.”

Morris agreed.  “I came back from New Orleans more confident in my skills caring for COVID-19 patients,” she said.  “I also came back truly impressed by our New Orleans VA colleagues. They did an amazing job caring for the Veterans there.”

All seven of the nurses who volunteered to travel to New Orleans, are now back in Houston, undergoing a 14 day quarantine. They hope to be back to work sometime soon, caring for the Veterans. 

“I love my job and I love my Veterans,” Morris said.  “I’m glad to be back.”

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