She worked day in and day out, alongside her fellow VA caregivers and health technicians providing bedside care to Veterans in-need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, she wasn’t alone.
Kailey Wilson, a Nursing Assistant at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center continues to rise to every need. In her nine-plus years at VA thus far, she has worked in the facility’s isolated COVID-19 unit, Community Living Center and Hospice units, and both inpatient and outpatient clinics as well. Kailey is also a caregiver at home of sorts, being a mother to a young son, and a wife to a combat Marine Corps Veteran. “There is no place I’d rather pour my efforts into than here. The trials of the pandemic only fueled my passion, knowing I was needed exactly where I was,” she said. In late 2020, Mann-Grandstaff VAMC expanded its mission by welcoming nearly 50 COVID-positive Veteran patients and in some cases even their spouses, for admission into the medical center’s isolated COVID-19 unit during the pandemic.
An outbreak at the State Veterans Home in Spokane prompted VA leadership to reconfigure the facility’s Community Living Center (CLC) into a COVID unit and moving the existing inpatients from the CLC and Hospice units into the main hospital building for several months. “We truly leaned on each other through the long days and nights of work under stressful conditions. My coworkers became like family. We shared our fears, our struggles, and ultimately our successes while caring for Veterans side by side,” she smiled. The emotions from those long and quite nights still run deep. “A lot of us had the added pressure of kids unable to go to school and having to oversee academics for them at home between shifts.” During the pandemic, she and most physicians and nurses often found themselves isolating at home – because of the uncertainty over the spread of the coronavirus at the time. A look back in time reveals an inside look at Kailey’s emotional state during the pandemic that weighed so heavily on so many.
Kailey submitted this for the VA employee/volunteer newsletter during the height of the pandemic: “Imagine this: the heavy hearts of medical staff holding together a nation. Imagine being told in a week that your whole world will change. Being told to suit up in uncomfortable gear/12-hours a day to face an invisible foe you know nearly nothing about, and possibly say goodbye to your loved ones for who knows how long… feeling like a ticking time bomb of infection. Imagine your heart breaking when another one of your patients doesn’t make it, being unable to grieve, only push on—so another life doesn’t end the same way [but the hurt/pain] catches up to you. You see, politics stop at our hospital doors. There is no race, left or right, sheep or wolf. There are simply hurting people that need us beside them, exhausting our own bodies, hearts, and minds —so they can pull out of a dark place. Please look behind the mask into the tired eyes of the next medical professional you see. Try to be a light. Wave. Thank them and ask them how they’re doing? We are picking up the pieces of a broken nation and healing the hurt with a lot of medical gear, expertise, and even more... compassion and love.”
Each step during Kailey’s journey… was aided in part, by her coworkers and mentors whom she made a personal connection with. One such nurse who worked directly with Kailey pre-pandemic and now again, years later is Christie Fields… a Veteran herself, and like Kailey, a devoted mother and wife. Both are adventurous with their families and have always called the Pacific Northwest their home. Christie has seen many opportunities come her way. She credits VA for the opportunity to care for Veterans. And she credits her 29-years with the Army Reserves for helping expand her nursing knowledge. Together, VA and the Army have “force-multiplied” her ability to lead and encourage others… like Kailey.
“When I see that I get to work with Kailey, I know it is going to be a good shift,” says the outdoor enthusiast who hails from St. Maries, Idaho. “Kailey makes Veterans and her co-workers feel special. We have worked together in Hospice, our CLC, and our Acute Care Unit since she first started at VA, explained Fields. Christie knows talent when she sees it. She’s marched upwards through the ranks of the Army Reserves – all the while working at community hospitals and VA. She’s had six unique assignments as an Army Reservist and is currently the E-9 Command Sergeant Major with the 1395th Deployment Distribution Support Battalion. “It was like the stars aligned for a moment,” said Fields, as she described working with Kailey on the VAMC’s 3rd floor Specialty Clinic. “Kailey offered to assist in the clinics since they were so short-staffed. Finding out I would get to orient and work with Kailey presented a fun and exciting opportunity.” “Kailey possesses empathy, intellect, a good bedside manner, and an understanding of the Veteran community. For years, I have encouraged her to seek out education and advancement in healthcare, selfishly knowing that one day, Kailey could be my provider or nurse.”
Through formal clinical training, to personal leadership development, and a culture focused on “service before self,” VA offers a challenging but highly rewarding career that continues to strengthen the nation’s commitment to its military Veterans. “When I decided to pursue a career in medicine, it was my goal to end up at the VA, said Kailey. “I feel supported every day when I enter our hospital and can’t help smiling through my shift. I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with the people I do… the strongest support system around and I adore them. I have a passion for Veterans (my husband is a proud Marine Corps Veteran himself) and when I began my career here, I knew I would never leave.”