Nurses volunteer to work in BACH’s COVID-19 clinic

Genesis Franco, a licensed practical nurse in the COVID-19 Clinic at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, takes Julio Ramirez’s temperature. The Army retiree went to the clinic June 19 after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and developed symptoms.

It was a Friday evening in March when Blanchfield Army Community Hospital leadership decided to open a COVID-19 Clinic.

The staff knew they had to act quickly, said Angela Strohl, clinical nurse officer-in-charge of BACH’s COVID-19 Clinic.

A clinic area, computer systems and a triage hotline had to be set up and nurses were needed.

“We are trying to protect our emergency room staff so almost all our respiratory patients would be sent over to us instead of going into the emergency room,” Strohl said.

Head nurses from outlying clinics across the installation were asked to support the mission and a call went out for volunteers both to man the clinic and the triage line.

“That soon changed to actually assigning very specific people to just work in this clinic to see the patients, so it was really overwhelming, the amount of people at Blanchfield that wanted to volunteer,” Strohl said. “They wanted to come here. They weren’t afraid of the pandemic. They knew this was a mission that had to get done and they just said ‘Sign me up. We need to take care of our Soldiers.’”

Scary situation, good company

The majority of volunteers who started at the COVID-19 Clinic are still there and have formed tight-knit groups with others on their shifts, Strohl said.

Despite the dangers of COVID-19 and the sacrifices they would have to make, the number of nurses who volunteered to work at the clinic was amazing, she said.

“You take a very scary situation where people in New York are dying, and hundreds are being admitted every day and you don’t know what it’s going to look like and you say, ‘We need volunteers, who wants to help with this mission?” Strohl said. “It’s going to be scary.”

Although the nurses have Families and others to worry about, many did not hesitate to volunteer.

Amanda Goyette, licensed practical nurse, was one of the first to volunteer to work in the COVID-19 Clinic and can still be found there working 12-hour shifts three or four days a week.

“This is what I signed up for as a nurse, to help people,” Goyette said. “At first, we didn’t know much about it. Now the numbers we are seeing is concerning, just because of the volume.”

There are 48 nurses assigned to BACH’s COVID-19 Clinic, Strohl said.

Soldiers and beneficiaries often go for testing after calling the COVID-19 triage line, where a nurse from the team asks about symptoms and exposure.

At an appointed time, they arrive outside a cordoned off area of BACH’s parking lot, where they drive into a large tent for temperature checks and COVID-19 tests.

Over time, the nurses also began to go offsite for COVID-19 testing, where they take supplies, work with trained medics and test Soldiers in larger groups.

“We’ve done up to 309 at once,” offsite, Strohl said.

Goyette said the work she is doing is vital to ensuring Soldiers are healthy and mission ready. Her approach with each patient is different, depending on how comfortable he or she is and is happy to talk a Soldier through the process.

“Some are nervous,” Goyette said. “Really, it’s just understanding where they come from, what they have going on.”

The goal in all of this is to protect the community at large, she said. A healthy-looking Soldier could test positive and potentially spread COVID-19 to others if he or she is not tested.

“Originally, I volunteered,” Goyette said. “This is now my permanent station until further notice.”

Sacrifices

Most of the nurses worked eight-hour shifts until those were changed to 12-hour shifts so the testing tent could be open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, Strohl said. Nurses work three days one week and four days the following week.

She said the nurses have willingly given up their normal schedule for the good of the clinic and the people they test.

Genesis Franco has been a civilian licensed practical nurse for two years, whose husband is stationed at Fort Campbell. She started working at BACH in March and went through orientation just before the COVID-19- pandemic.

“Since our clinic was going to be designed to be the COVID-19 Clinic, I volunteered to help in any way and then I was assigned to the COVID-19 Clinic,” Franco said. “My whole reason for wanting to work at BACH is because it’s an honor to serve those who give their freedom to serve us and our Families.”

As a military spouse, Franco said she is doing what she can to help and give back to the military community.

Melanie Miller, registered nurse. works with four LPNs on the night shift, 10 a.m.-10 p.m., in the COVID-19 Clinic. She said it is often busy, especially with more mass testing for training, deployments and moves.

Miller sends out rosters for testing, prints labels for Soldiers who are coming, gets testing kits ready, prepares for appointments and puts in orders and documentations into patients’ charts, among other tasks.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot but the other night we wound up doing over 230 appointments in four hours with minimal manning,” she said. “This team is giving all they have.”

Miller was selected to be part of the team because she is low-risk and has emergency room experience, she said.

“We’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” Miller said. “I think this is definitely keeping Fort Campbell mission ready, especially with it being one of the biggest installations in the Army.”

‘A new, exciting challenge’

Alisa Rivers, licensed practical nurse, has been part of the team since the start and has worked outdoors in the heat of summer and the rain and cold in March and April.

That first weekend Rivers helped set up the COVID-19 Clinic and still rotates between working in the clinic and the testing tent.

Her husband served in the military and she wants to help Soldiers and their Families stay as safe as possible. With Rivers’ seven years of experience and no risk factors, she felt it was her duty to be on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I definitely knew when they asked for volunteers that I wanted to help,” she said. “It was a new, exciting challenge.”

One of those challenges is the almost daily changes to safety protocols and guidance that come as more is learned about COVID-19.

“I think the biggest challenge is to not get frustrated,” Rivers said. “You’ve just got to roll with the changes. You can’t get upset about it.”

The experience has changed her and could change her career, Rivers said. She works with a great group of women and has wants to become a registered nurse.

“This has given me the encouragement to pursue that when I can,” she said.

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