Kenneth Jefferson, a critical care unit nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare Tomball, has been at the bedside of the sickest of the sick. He has watched some of them bounce back and has also grieved with the families of patients who lost their battle with COVID-19.
“This is the most challenging thing I’ve gone through as a nurse,” says Kenneth. “Psychologically, physically, and emotionally it takes a toll on you, but this is my God-given talent and I’m here to help other people get through this. I just put my fear aside and do my job.”
Kenneth is no stranger to unexpected and devastating events. In 2005, he was working the nightshift when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. He worked around the clock providing what he describes as “old school care” for his patients in a hospital that lacked power and resources, and was surrounded by rising water.
“Everything was done manually and we came up with innovative ways to suction our patients since we didn’t have power,” he says. “We had to MacGyver some things, but they worked out for us.”
Kenneth, a Louisiana native, started his career in healthcare in 1998 as a respiratory therapist in his home state. When he was in high school, his grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, which led him to want and pursue a career where he could provide hope and healing to others.
He worked as a respiratory therapist for six years before realizing that nursing was his calling.
“This is my passion and what I was called to do,” Kenneth says. “Everyone has many talents, but there is always that one thing you are called to do. Healthcare is mine.”
Staying Connected, Staying Strong
Social relationships can be as important to your physical health as your mental one, but some nurses have made the hard decision to self-isolate in order to protect their families from a virus they have stared in the face for more than a year.
Due to travel restrictions surrounding COVID-19, Kenneth couldn’t see his mother, father, five siblings, daughter, and friends in New Orleans for ten months. In order to stay socially connected, they would FaceTime or host virtual parties when he wasn’t working, but he says there is nothing like the physical touch of your loved ones. He finally made it home in December of 2020 to celebrate his daughter Kynnidi’s 22nd birthday.
Family is an important part of Kenneth’s life. He considers his HCA Houston Tomball team an extension of his New Orleans family. They have formed a unique bond and rallied together to get through some really difficult situations. Kenneth says he is grateful for the support from his work family, but there are times when he has faced enormous mental health challenges and needed to talk with a professional.
“We have the proper PPE we need, but having someone we can talk to during these difficult times has been incredibly beneficial,” says Kenneth. “We talk, cry, and vent as a team, but sometimes you have something you need to talk about that you don’t want to share with the team.”
It’s times like these that Kenneth has leaned on employer-supported mental health resources. Knowing that COVID-19 created unprecedented mental health challenges, HCA Healthcare has provided a variety of programs, including confidential counseling and referral services to help meet the mental health needs of caregivers.
“We don’t know what our PTSD from going through this pandemic is going to be like,” Kenneth says. “We’ve seen a lot of traumatic things and we don’t know how it’s going to affect us down the road. HCA Houston Healthcare intervening and giving us an avenue to discuss those things outside of staff is pretty cool and very supportive.”
But it’s the bond with his team that has truly gotten him through the past year.
“Being here for so long and knowing so many people, I know when someone is having a bad day or a good day. I know everyone’s skill set, so it’s like going to battle with your family,” he says. “It is an honor and a privilege to do all that we can for the Tomball community as a nurse. We are a healthcare team and also a healthcare family.”