“Best care anywhere” is a mantra for Dave Aragon, who uses the phrase frequently in his role as a national healthcare recruitment consultant for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). But those words have taken on a much greater and more personal significance since his battle with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and pneumonia complications – and the care he experienced firsthand in a VA COVID unit.
Aragon was no stranger to the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System in Las Vegas. He has supported VA recruitment efforts for the facility since joining VA and continues to help them attract “hard-to-recruit” health care providers for positions considered critical to Veteran patient care. In fact, Aragon had recruited one of the physicians who recently attended to him during his five-day COVID ward stay. But he had never experienced an inpatient stay at a hospital there or anywhere else.
“Health care takes on a whole new dimension when you’re an inpatient,” said Aragon, an Air Force Veteran who has been a VA employee for a decade. “This experience has underscored the critical nature of what it is health care providers really do.”
Aragon’s initial symptoms – a tickle in his throat and a slightly elevated temperature – quickly gave way to chills, hot flashes, trouble breathing and a fever that spiked to 104 degrees. When he went to lay down and couldn’t breathe, his wife – who also contracted the virus along with their daughter – drove him to the VA medical center and dropped him off.
“I was immediately escorted to the emergency room, where I was attended to by medical staff, including an emergency medicine physician, infectious disease specialist, critical care registered nurses, and pulmonology and radiologic technologists,” Aragon said. “They immediately administered medicines to treat the pneumonia and expand my airways.” He also received a regimen of vitamins, liquids and medicines to combat COVID.
Angels on earth
As an inpatient, Aragon got to know hospital staff on a more personal level, including physicians, nurses – who he refers to as “angels on earth” – nurse assistants, and nonclinical support staff and custodial workers. He also got to observe the personal interaction between Veterans and staff members, who “visibly demonstrate a sincere level of care, compassion and capability.”
“What really sets one VA experience apart from another isn’t just a new building or new technology, but the level of compassion received at the point of care,” said Aragon. “I felt very well taken care of and cherished as a person – even honored.”
Especially moving to Aragon was that staff were able to focus so intently on patients amid all the trials and tribulations accompanying the COVID pandemic. “To listen to their own personal stories of pain, challenge and loss – while continuing to demonstrate courage, compassion and commitment in attending to the pain and suffering of their patients – was truly a humbling, yet inspirational, experience.”
Better than before
Aragon’s prognosis is good, and he said he feels even better now than he did before he got the virus. Back to work, his personal health ordeal enriches his conversations and interactions with potential job candidates and the VA stakeholders and customers he supports.
“My inpatient experience has given me a depth of personal gratitude that will definitely better define my customer interactions and lend credence to our call for others to join our VA health care teams to better serve our Veterans,” said Aragon. “My work and personal testimony, I hope, will send a message of inspiration, hope and honor of public health service when I communicate with my recruitment customers in the future. The best care anywhere is more meaningful now – it represents something different to me because of this deeply personal experience.”
Aragon hopes to use his experience “to continue to advocate for VA and speak about the incredible dedication, care, compassion and professionalism demonstrated by my and other VA and non-VA health care providers. We must support, honor and uplift them at every opportunity,” he added.
Work at VA
Recruiters are looking for highly qualified physicians, nurses, pharmacists, mental health professionals, health care executives and others to join VA in its mission to care for our nation’s Veterans. VA is also hiring talented recruiters and human resources managers to support its nationwide recruitment and hiring efforts.
VA offers excellent benefits, including generous paid time off, robust health insurance and retirement plans, loan repayment assistance, continuing education support and telework opportunities.