On Aug. 30, the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System based in Muskogee welcomed 40 VA employees from facilities across the nation. The team arrived as part of the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). DEMPS is VA’s main program for deploying clinical and non-clinical staff to an emergency or disaster elsewhere in the country.

The additional staff was stationed at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center to provide aid in caring for Veterans due to an increase of COVID-19 cases across Eastern Oklahoma.

Many of the hospital’s own employees are currently deployed to the Claremore State Veterans Center. There, they provide relief for a staffing shortage caused by an outbreak of COVID-19 at the state-run facility.

Nurses Carol Thompson and Lee Barela discuss supplies in the COVID-19 unit.

Amongst the group of DEMPS volunteers currently assisting in Oklahoma is Lee Barela, RN, from the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In the photo above, Wes DeLong, assistant nurse manager, and Barela, showcase the teamwork between staff at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center and the DEMPS team who deployed to the medical center.

Second deployment for Albuquerque nurse

Barela is no stranger to the Jack C. Montgomery VAMC, as this is her second DEMPS deployment to the facility. The first came in spring 2019 after catastrophic flooding occurred in the area. That disaster prompted the need for additional staffing assistance.

Lee Barela prepares to begin her shift.

“When I was deployed to Muskogee previously, staff throughout the facility were very welcoming and appreciative of the help,” Barela said. “They accepted me with open arms and we formed friendships. There is obvious pride at this VA and apparent compassion for the community of Veterans they serve. When the opportunity came up again for this deployment, I didn’t hesitate at the chance to come back.”

Barela has worked for VA for 14 years. She is assigned to the fourth floor of the hospital, which is the COVID-19 Unit.

No greater feeling than to help and serve

“We are all here at VA to pay back to our Veterans for the services they have provided for us,” said Barela. “I think the presence of DEMPS brings a sense of comfort to Veterans. They know that as a country we are stepping up and doing a great job. We make sure that no matter what is happening, they receive their care without delay. It also brings comfort to the staff knowing that we are here to help and they do not have to weather the storm alone.”

Barela says there is no greater feeling than to help and serve those in need. She encourages her fellow VA employees to participate in DEMPS if they have the chance.

“The opportunity to experience another VA and to assist in times of need is a great and valuable experience. In uncertain times, you never know when one day it may be your own facility that needs the assistance. It’s a great way to pay back to both Veterans and fellow VA staff.”

Appreciating volunteers

Leadership at Eastern Oklahoma VA is appreciative of DEMPS and the volunteers that have taken time out of their lives to provide support at the hospital, and it plans to fully utilize the assistance to benefit Veterans.

“We are thankful for the VHA staff who have traveled from across the country to backfill positions at our medical center,” said Mark Morgan, Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System director. “Their presence will allow us to return more staff back to outpatient clinics and primary care areas which will help expand our face-to-face care for Veterans. One thing this pandemic has shown is that when things get tough, VA health care staff do not waiver in their dedication to do whatever is needed to care for Veterans.”

Tiffani Mathews is a public affairs intern for the Muskogee VA.

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Published on Sep. 25, 2020

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