Wyoming Nurses Return From Deployments Into COVID-19 Hotspots With Powerful Stories

Jul 31, 2020

As COVID-19 puts stress on the country's healthcare system, Wyoming medical workers are heading to overwhelmed places with high amounts of cases to help out. Sheridan VA Health System nurses are being sent on two-week stints to veteran and community facilities. LPNs Mike Gatewood and Erin McDaniel, who work at VA satellite clinics in the state, speak about the toll COVID-19 took at a nursing home for veterans in Maryland.

Mike Gatewood: The facility there is a 400-bed facility, and they were operating pretty much to capacity called to go there and they were in a rough state when we got there.

Erin McDaniel: Almost half of their residents, plus half of their staff had COVID or had recovered from COVID. And, and that, at the time, was just about as many that had been diagnosed here in the whole state of Wyoming.

Gatewood: One out of every six people at that facility has passed away from COVID and the staff there saw that. These are people that they've been taking care of for years. So, the emotional trauma on the staff, not to mention the fact that half of them got sick and one of them died, so it's rough for them to even want to walk in the door. So, they're under stress, the residents are under stress, the administration is under a lot of stress and our job was to take care of all of them. So, we gave the nurses there somebody to talk to. We gave the people who live there all the help they needed so that everybody could kind of collect themselves, get back together and then, you know, come in and go back to work. And kudos to every one of them that was there because they worked hard through some just very debilitating things and didn't quit. They didn't give up.

McDaniel: It was pretty smooth, even going in. Although, you know, I was pretty nervous when I hit the floor. They gave me a few hours of training. And then from there you were just on your own, you know. It was hitting the floor running the hell out of them. But that's, that's what we did. That's what I was expecting. That's what we were there for.

Gatewood: So, the floor I was on, either they hadn't got [COVID-19] or they had recovered from it. And there was the shortage of nursing staff. So, basically, we're there to assess the patients, take care of their needs, pass their meds, and make sure that their needs are met. And sometimes that can be difficult when you have [a] short staff. So. you might be taking care of 20 to 40 patients. And that's the kind of stuff we were doing.

McDaniel: I had a lot of fun with it. That's kind of probably a weird word to say while a disaster is going on, but you make the best of the situation. I made friends with a lot of those nurses because we did let them know that we were there for them and the veterans in the nursing home. So, you go in there thinking the worst and then you make the best out of everything.

Gatewood: I'll tell you, it's kind of a humbling experience for me because like I said, I was a soldier. When I got deployed, then you knew that there were people trying to kill you. Here, it's a disease. It's trying to kill not just you, but everyone. It's war, it's combat, and that's what we got deployed for. And there are people that don't understand that. So, it was humbling for me because these are people that were living and working in that environment. And seeing people that I've known for years drop like flies, and they still kept going. And these are civilians. They're not people that have been trained to deal with this kind of trauma. Yet, they're doing it. Wear a mask. Just wear it. Just wear your mask. Put it on when you're around somebody. It's that simple.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at ccwheel11@uwyo.edu.