FORT CAMPBELL, KY. – Blanchfield Army Community Hospital is home to hundreds of nurses who devote themselves to providing care for Soldiers and Families, ensuring medical readiness across Fort Campbell.
National Nurses Week, observed this year May 6-12, was established by the American Nurses Association in 1993 and expanded into National Nurses Month three years ago.
The 2022 National Nurses Week theme, “You Make a Difference,” was selected to encourage nurses, individuals, employers, other health care professionals, and community leaders to recognize and promote the vast contributions and positive impact of America’s nurses.
At BACH, staff members created 16 nurse spotlights with video messages or quotes and photos posted on the hospital’s social media pages throughout National Nurses Week.
Additionally, BACH nurses and their important contributions to the wellbeing of Soldiers and their Families was celebrated with events that included a bagel breakfast, Puzzle Day, Blessing of the Hands, hand messages, a scavenger hunt and a cake cutting.
"During National Nurses Week May 6 to May 12, we took time to spotlight many of our Blanchfield Army Community Hospital Nurses who are united in service and rooted in strength,” said Col. Vince Myers, BACH commander, adding he is also proud to be a nurse. “Nurses help with the Department of Defense priorities to protect our service members, their Families and our workforce; maintain military readiness to defend the nation and its interests; and support the national COVID-19 response. Our hospital team is appreciative for all nurses do to support our patients and our teams in the hospital, the field, and combat across the globe."
Below are the personal stories of four BACH nurses featured in the social media spotlight.
Jonathan Simmons – Licensed Practical Nurse, LaPointe Army Medical Home
Jonathan Simmons has worked at BACH for just over a year, but he has already established himself as a team player who was instrumental in decentralizing the installation’s COVID-19 screening procedures.
As a licensed practical nurse at LaPointe Army Medical Home, Simmons provides immunizations and testing for Soldiers and can often be found providing customer service at the front desk or assisting primary care providers as needed.
“It’s an awesome job, and my wife was actually military, so this gives me a chance to give back,” Simmons said. “I get to help Soldiers and Families and I get to be their rock, because sometimes they come in and they don’t know what’s going on with their health. I’m able to calm them down and help them get ready to go into battle, the training field or whatever else they may need to do.”
Simmons’ career began in 2010 when he became a certified nursing assistant, and he has been an LPN for approximately six years. He said nursing has been a part of his life since childhood.
“I grew up in the country where we were always taking care of our elders,” he said. “We’d help them across the street, help them with their groceries and things like that. My aunt was also a nurse, and over the summers she would take me to the nursing home with her and I would help out.”
Thanks to those experiences, Simmons knew from an early age what to expect from a job in nursing – and that he would enjoy every minute of it.
“My best advice for newly practicing nursing professionals is to have compassion,” he said. “The books can teach you etiology, progression, treatment, and skills. But caring and loving what you do is not in the books, and [it] is a major part of nursing.”
Heather Claus – Family Nurse
Practitioner, Woodson Health Clinic
Heather Claus has a distinct role among BACH’s nurses, serving as one of two health care providers at Woodson Health Clinic, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.
Claus serves as a primary care manager for the clinic, but she works with hundreds of additional patients as an occupational health provider and mentors nursing students during their clinical rotations.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping people,” Claus said. “I see all of the active-duty Family members and take care of their primary health care needs. Just getting to meet the Families of our service members is great, and I see anywhere from 15-20 patients a day.”
Before joining the Military Health System, Claus spent more than 20 years working in civilian clinics and hospitals, including an intensive care unit near Rock Island.
“When I was working in the ICU, I always wore my hair in a French braid,” she said. “One of my patients was intubated, but on the day she was extubated, she told me that [she recognized the braid and] it always gave her comfort knowing it was me who was taking care of her.”
Working in the ICU also led Claus to her job at the Woodson Health Clinic, then known as the Rock Island Arsenal Health Clinic, 10 years ago.
“At my prior clinic we had some of the National Guard Families that weren’t assigned to the Rock Island Arsenal Health Clinic,” she said. “I really found their stories and their service to the country interesting, and I thought there was no better place to do my part than with a military clinic.”
Thomas Tharp – Licensed Practical Nurse, BACH Medical Specialty Clinic
Thomas Tharp is the only nurse serving the dermatology section at BACH’s Medical Specialty Clinic, but he is always willing to take on extra responsibilities to support Soldiers and Families.
He recently cross-trained to the clinic’s allergy section to assist during a staff shortage, and he continues to support other sections through safety checks including clearing out expired medications.
“As Army nurses, we are proud to provide care for our service members and their Families, as well as our retirees and their Family members,” Tharp said. “We are rooted in strength, as evidenced by our ability to face obstacles such as the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to provide top level patient care.”
Tharp said the pandemic brought many challenges to the nursing profession, and ultimately showed that being flexible and providing quality care go hand-in-hand.
Thanks to his extensive experience after nearly 40 years in nursing, Tharp was ready to meet that demand, and said it will be important for future generations of nurses to stay willing to learn and adapt.
“My hope for the next generation of nursing professionals is that they have a passion for care and the ability to merge new technology with traditional standards of care,” he said. “Effective time management is crucial to success in nursing, and you need to ensure you have all the supplies you need in order to perform patient care.”
Karen McKee – Licensed Practical Nurse, Byrd Soldier Medical Home
Karen McKee plays a vital role in the installation’s mission readiness as one of BACH’s subject matter experts on Soldier immunizations.
During a time marked by staffing shortages, she took on the challenge of reviewing, scheduling, documenting, and reassessing all TRICARE Prime Remote, or TPR, patient physical requirements – a task that requires coordinating patient care across seven states.
McKee’s efforts help ensure Soldiers across the installation are medically prepared to deploy, and physically ready for whatever mission awaits them.
“We as nurses are united in caring for our patient’s mind, body and soul,” she said. “We are rooted in our pride, in our work and each other, and our amazing ability to work in tandem for the betterment of the whole patient.”
McKee said working together through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic brought BACH’s nursing teams even closer together, and she is impressed with her coworkers’ strength and selflessness.
“We were working out of our specialties in overtime at the COVID-19 clinic, still smiling and still going,” she said. “Some of us were ‘tele-everything’ ... and the rest were seeing patients at either the clinic or at COVID-19 testing sites. And although fearful themselves, [they were] smiling the whole time because that’s what the patients needed to see.”
Putting patients first is essential in the nursing profession, McKee said, even if they make it challenging. She remembers giving patient education to a non-compliant dialysis patient whose doctor had written in her chart that her refusal to listen would soon prove fatal.
“In trying to find a way to get through to her, I explained everything in tangible ways from fluid restriction shown with saline bags to how I would be truly hurt if she were to pass too soon,” she said. “Within two months she was at goal. She still had some occasional struggles for the next two years, but the fact that I actually made it through to her still makes me so proud ... remember, ‘they may not remember your name, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.’”
For more personal stories featuring the nurses who serve this Army community, visit https://www.facebook.com/BACH.Fort.Campbell.