“There’s a reward to serving,” explained La Tara Miller, clinical program manager in VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector. “During the pandemic, I just looked for a way to do what I know best, take care of people.”
Over the past year, Miller (second from left above) has volunteered more than 300 hours providing COVID-19 relief in her community in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
“I needed to be out there serving.”
“I felt like I had to do something,” she said. “I’m a nurse. My colleagues were on the front line in a world-wide disaster. Whether in the nurse practitioner role or a nurse executive, I’m always a nurse.”
In June 2020, Miller began giving COVID-19 tests in a parking lot through the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, part of the Maryland Department of Health. She started by volunteering every other Friday, her day off from work.
Used personal leave days to vaccinate
Then she drew from her bank of “use or lose” leave time and volunteered many Wednesdays. In April 2021, Miller shifted her volunteer efforts to the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at her church, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, Maryland.
With 29 years of service as a nurse at VA, Miller found the abrupt transition to working from home at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic unsettling. She spent most of her career in clinical settings after joining VA’s nursing corps through a scholarship program in 1994.
“Volunteering helped me keep my sanity,” she laughed. “I didn’t feel right sitting in my comfortable home office when other nurses were doing so much. I needed to be out there serving.”
Miller’s health administration role in the Office of the Medical Inspector keeps her inside hospitals. Miller and her team investigate whistleblower complaints and concerns at VA medical facilities around the country.
“When conducting investigations, we’re always on the lookout for local issues with national implications. I realized that by volunteering to give vaccines, I could be a small part of the solution to this national pandemic,” she added. “I think I’ve vaccinated about 300 people. But those numbers are not just numbers. Every single person who sits with me to get a vaccine has an impact on the national COVID-19 pandemic. And every single person who comes for a vaccine has a story.”
Miller said many of the patients she supports with vaccines are relieved and emotional to receive the vaccine, while others are still unsure. “Some people are still very afraid, so I talk to them about their concerns and make sure they look at the CDC fact sheet about the vaccine,” she said. “Most people are grateful for what they can do now that they have the vaccines. Go back to church, travel, see their grandbabies. We’ve learned what really matters.”
Sarah Bartnick writes for Dynamic Integrated Services in support of VHA.