Going above and beyond for the veteran patients in their care is routine for the team at the Cape Girardeau VA Health Care Center, but it was put to the test after a recent storm.
In the pre-dawn hours of April 5, an EF2 tornado tore across Bollinger County in southeast Missouri, and it was all the talk when staff members began to arrive at the VA facility. There were several coworkers and patients who lived in the affected area, and something needed to be done to check on them.
Cape Girardeau VA staff consulted with Allen Gulley, a group practice manager at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, to obtain a list of potentially affected patients and staff. Then, medical support assistants began making telephone calls to check on each one. Fortunately, all employees escaped the storm, but one veteran did not.
Thirty-five miles away, in the tornado’s aftermath, Navy veteran Jimmie Foster was left sifting through the rubble of what was left of his sister’s home where he had been living. A portion of the house was destroyed, as were his two trucks, while numerous downed trees laid strewn across the nearby ground.
“Everybody in the house… we’re all thankful we’re still here,” Foster said as he recalled the events of the day. Others were not as fortunate, with local media reporting five individuals did not survive the storm and several more were injured.
It was yet another dark moment for the man who’d been through other tornadoes in his lifetime, but this time would be different. This time, his care team at the Cape Girardeau VA Health Care Center had his back.
“I was surprised they reached out, but I’m sure thankful they did,” Foster recalled, noting he recently moved to the area from Oklahoma City and had only been seen at the Cape Girardeau facility once.
He was missing several important medications, Foster told VA nurse Lauren Butler over the phone, and going without them for too long could be life threatening.
Because of the urgency of the situation, Butler knew something had to be done, and she quickly worked with pharmacist Craig Eaton and others to refill Foster’s prescriptions. Then, it was just a matter of how he could get them in his hands.
“They asked me if I could come to Cape and pick them up, and I told them I would try to get one of my nephews to drive me up there,” Foster recalled of the conversation.
But he didn’t have to.
Libby Johnson, health system administrator of the Cape Girardeau facility, along with leadership at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, decided it would be better to ease Foster’s burdens and deliver his medications to him.
“Once we got the OK, I called him back and told him to meet another nurse and our nurse manager at Woodland High School,” Butler explained, noting a command center had been set up there by emergency response officials.
Primary Care Nurse Manager Kelly McCullough and another nurse, Amanda Schneid, who both live in Foster’s general direction, volunteered to take the medications on their way home, and they met up with him at the school.
“I was just so proud,” said Foster of the teamwork and dedication shown by the staff of the Cape Girardeau VA team. “I hugged those girls’ necks as hard as I could.”
“It really helped him out, and he was able to focus his energy on other things,” McCullough said of the opportunity to deliver his medications. “Our veterans deserve that kind of care, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”
Schneid said her VA team’s actions that day were nothing out of the ordinary.
“It was business as usual here at the clinic,” she said. “We all have big hearts, so the atmosphere felt very heavy. There was a lot of worry and a lot of gratitude for what we have, but we all had a home to go home to and all our loved ones to hug. That area is devastated.”
John J. Pershing VA Medical Center Director Paul Hopkins said the team effort was a great example of the facility’s journey to becoming a high-reliability organization. “This demonstrates how our staff, at all levels, can take charge and make sound decisions that positively affect patient care,” he said.
Regardless, Foster said, he won’t soon forget what was done for him, and although he and his family have a long recovery ahead, he’s looking forward to his next visit to the VA facility.
“When I get up there to Cape next month, I’m going to get ahold of my doctor and nurse, and I’m going to hug their necks also,” he said. “They’ve all gone over and beyond.”
For more information about the services available to veterans at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center, including its Cape Girardeau VA Health Care Center and other community-based outpatient clinics, please call 573-686-4151 or go online to https://www.va.gov/poplar-bluff-health-care/.