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Giving back when it means the most

Charlie Tupper administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a Veteran at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Photo by James Arrowood.
Charlie Tupper administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a Veteran at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. Photo by James Arrowood.

Volunteers are often what moves a project from certain failure to triumphant success.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center this past year, Veterans have continued to receive health care services at the hospital, while remaining socially distanced and taking precautions where needed, as we all adapt to changes that are necessary to beat the pandemic.

As the medical center staff began to transition to the challenge of implementing a vaccination plan, the need for volunteers to assist with the effort became evident. Charlie Tupper and Mary Fraggos are two of those volunteers and both have deep ties to serving Veterans and to Charleston VAMC. Tupper, a nurse, retired in 2017 from his position as Emergency Manager at Charleston VAMC and Fraggos led the VAMC as the Nurse Executive for more than 13 years before retiring in 2017.

Mary Fraggos, retired Charleston VAMC Nurse Executive

As the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center staff and volunteers sprang into action with vaccination clinics at each of their outpatient clinics, the need for designated vaccination staff and volunteers increased. Both Tupper and Fraggos have over 40 years of service to the nation, in uniform and out, and were well on their way to enjoying the next chapter of their lives when the pandemic hit. It is in trying times that the bonds of community and the relationships that we build become most important. Tupper and Fraggos demonstrated this by answering the call and joining with Medical Center staff to help with vaccination efforts.

Immediately volunteering to take shifts distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, Tupper was drawn back to a younger time in his life, saying that he “remembered being in the lines for the Polio vaccine in New Jersey. Standing in line with my parents waiting our turn to become vaccinated, I knew this is where I needed to be.” With years of experience in nursing, Tupper relished the opportunity to give back to the Veteran population. Fraggos’s experience was much the same. As she reflected on her nursing career, she mused that “if you have the skills, why would you not come back during this time.”

It is this drive and determination to help each other and the community, shared by medical center staff and volunteers, that has been on constant display. With over 62,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered, it is easy to lose track of the countless hours of service given by the staff. With a volunteer team that includes individuals like Tupper and Fraggos, working alongside the amazing staff, the rollout for the first dose was completed smoothly. The second phase of the vaccination rollout is moving quickly, with the goal of providing every Veteran along the Georgia and South Carolina coast the opportunity to be vaccinated.

As the effort rolls along, teamwork and service to the community will continue to be important factors of success and volunteers, like Tupper and Fraggos, will know they played an integral part in helping to combat this threat to public health by keeping their fellow Veterans healthy and safe.

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