PerfectServe’s Nurses of Note awards program focuses on the many nurses who deserve recognition for the dedication, sacrifice, and resilience they bring to work every day. For the inaugural Nurses of Note Awards, we have the privilege of highlighting a new level of commitment, strength, and integrity in nurses from around the country who have battled on the front lines of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.
The actions of this diverse group of nurses highlight the extraordinary among us. Their stories give us a glimpse into the unique ways our nurses have fought this pandemic and made a difference in the lives of their patients and the communities they serve. Out of hundreds of nominations, we selected three nurses and one team of providers to spotlight as recipients of this award.
Honoree 4: Chief Operating Officer Erica Johnson and the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, Hampton Roads Community Health Center (Portsmouth, VA)
Erica Johnson and her team at the Hampton Roads Community Health Center (HRCHC) are not just nurses—they are educators, community liaisons, and friends to the people of Portsmouth, VA. This team of five nurses, dubbed the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, worked with unwavering resolve to serve the underserved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Their names are Nicol Franklin, LPN; Daira Person, MA; Lawona Smith, RN, BSN; and Shaye Spellman, LPN. As Chief Operating Officer, Erica (who has been with HRCHC for 14 years) is the spokesperson for the team and shared how the facility had to adapt to continue providing the quality care they always strive for.
HRCHC is a federally funded, non-profit care center. Erica and her team serve an underserved population and pride themselves on being a “one-stop-shop” for “cradle to grave” care for those who would not normally have routine, accessible healthcare resources. As early as March 2020, the HRCHC was one of the first testing sites in the area for COVID-19. Dr. Vladimir Markovic, HRCHC’s Chief Medical Officer, implemented the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, and Erica led the team through 11- to 12-hour shifts, sometimes five to six days a week. The team updated their COVID-19 policies every weekend, adjusting to keep pace with the rapid flow of information and new understanding about the virus.
As a community health center, HRCHC couldn’t afford to stop primary and general care—the needs of the community didn’t cease to exist simply because COVID-19 was around. Erica and her team were able to continue seeing regular patients thanks to their rigorous attention to detail with infection control best practices. They were able to screen people and see regular patients as well as provide triage care over the phone. Amazingly, they had no in-house COVID infections thanks to their diligence.
As soon as the vaccine became available, HRCHC was one of the first vaccination locations in the area. But, as you might expect, they didn’t stop at just vaccinating those who came to their center—they also provided transportation to the clinic. They carried out community outreach and education about vaccination for those who were scared or nervous. Erica and her team acted as community liaisons, taking federal updates and translating them to make them more digestible for the people they serve. Erica’s team prioritized their outreach to the most vulnerable, striving to educate and encourage conversations about vaccination to alleviate hesitancy among their patients.
The Hampton Roads Community Health Center’s nominator wrote this about Erica and her team: “The due diligence and resiliency of HRCHC’s COVID-19 nursing team are undeniable, as they continue to be a living embodiment of our mission: serving as frontline, healthcare safety net professionals, delivering much-needed, accessible, quality healthcare to tens of thousands throughout the Hampton Roads region.”
What is one positive thing you and your team learned from COVID-19?
The team learned the value of talking and listening to people; in a pandemic, every vulnerability, every concern—everything was heightened. Heightened apprehension, depression, and anxiety. It made every word that everyone said potentially critical. We also learned that creating a learning environment is important. We realized that nobody knows anything when we’re supposed to know everything!
What was your team’s outreach strategy to encourage vaccination?
The most significant thing we’re doing is asking, “Why?” Everyone has their own reason for being skeptical. We approached the vaccines from an unbiased point of view and encouraged conversations around it. Once we talked to people about the vaccine and why it works in general terms, then we’d ask, “So do you want the vaccine?”
If you had to think of a word to describe the work your team has done during the pandemic, what would your work be?
Relentless … resilient. There have been so many challenges and barriers where we could have stopped. But for so many people, we are the only healthcare outlet they have. We couldn’t stop. We had to persevere.
What is your advice for new nurses coming into the field?
Do not expect anything particular; appreciate everything that happens, even the challenges. There’s no facet of healthcare that can’t utilize nursing in some capacity. Be open to different experiences. All of your patients are important, everyone is valuable, and everyone has something that makes them unique. Even COVID has made us stronger providers and practitioners of caring and healing. Always focus on the healing component of nursing.
Thank you, Erica, and the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team at Hampton Roads Community Health Center!
Erica, your team’s service to the Portsmouth community has been impressive, honorable, and inspiring. Thank you for your dedication to underserved communities and for leading a relentless and resilient team!