Meet the amazing crew of St. Cloud VA’s Building 50, 1st Floor, pictured above.
In March 2020, “50-1” was a 43-bed long term care unit hosting 43 Veterans who had felt like family. Those Veterans who had family and friends became ours as well. Some of the residents had been with us for years. 50-1 was a busy place: constant visitors, bingo, outings, birthday parties, anniversaries, laughs, hugs and smiles.
Then COVID-19 arrived.
We were faced with the unthinkable but were ready to fight the fight. When the Minneapolis VA was designated as a COVID-19 site, the St. Cloud Community Living Center (nursing home) assisted it by admitting Minneapolis CLC residents so that they could have more space to care for COVID-19 patients.
To make this effort successful, the St. Cloud CLC designated one unit to admit all the Minneapolis residents. All of the residents on 50-1 were transferred to other units to create this space for the city of Minneapolis.
Over two days, 39 Veterans were transferred off 50-1. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort. Nursing, recreation, social work, chaplains, providers, PT/OT, administrative staff… the list goes on. Everyone helped make the transition happen.
Sad waving goodbye to Veteran family
Each Veteran who was going to a different unit had a “buddy.” This person helped them pack and unpack as we tried to make the experience the best we could. Despite the teamwork and energy we had those two days, the sadness overwhelmed us as we waved goodbye to Veterans who had become our family.
The unit was empty. No more visitors, birthday parties or bingo. Smiles were seldom but always covered by a mask. Hugs were no longer acceptable and laughs… well what was there to laugh about?
50-1 was ready for the next task. Over the next few weeks we admitted numerous Minneapolis Veterans. Veterans who we knew very little about. We were determined to make it the best experience possible, as we knew how scary this had to be for them too.
Over the next few months, these Veterans quickly become our new family. Then COVID-19 reared its ugly head… again.
Needed to create COVID-19 unit, more Veterans transferred
The St. Cloud area was seeing a large increase in cases and we needed to create our own COVID-19 unit. Half of 50-1 was transformed into a COVID positive area. We again had to transfer Veterans off of 50-1 to make room for the COVID unit.
Then our CLC faced an outbreak. Many Veterans who were previously on 50-1 for long term care were being transferred back to us – but it was because they tested positive for COVID-19. Many came to us asymptomatic.
Days passed until we started seeing symptoms. Their symptoms continued to get worse. The workload was so great that nurses from across the facility and our VA network came to our aide. The staff working on this COVID-19 unit watched as numerous Veterans succumbed to COVID-19. Veterans who were our family. Immense sadness covered this team again.
But they refused to let it take them down.
Faced change and sadness but came back again
When things slowed down, 50-1 helped stand up the facility COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic. Six days a week, nursing staff from 50-1 would administer vaccines to outpatients. It was a tremendous undertaking and they were a big reason our facility vaccination efforts went so well.
I cannot express how proud I am of this team. They faced constant change and uncertainty and never backed down from a challenge. They gave everything they had for the Veterans, faced sadness and defeat, and bravely came back to do it all over again on their next shift.
In the midst of a crisis, this team had the innate ability to navigate challenges, adapt to limited resources and work long hours to ensure Veterans received excellent care.
This is 50-1.
Jodi Larson, RN, is the nurse manager for the Building 50 first floor in St. Cloud, MN.