February 9, 2021
Helping Stop The Pandemic: EveryStep Nurse Debra Rodgers
Each day, Debra Rodgers is doing what she can to stop the pandemic, whether through her work at EveryStep or as a volunteer at a mass vaccination center in California.
Rodgers, who previously served as the team director for EveryStep Hospice's Greater Regional Hospice Home in Creston, has been in California since November 2020 caring for her mother.
"She'd been signaling that she needed more help," Debra said of her mother's need for additional care at home. "So I'm here indefinitely."
While she's thousands of miles away from Iowa, Debra is still making an impact at EveryStep, working part-time on a virtual basis to help track the organization's response to the pandemic.
Each week, she monitors the organization's available personal protective equipment inventory, checks the Medicare and CMS requirements for staff testing related to visits to nursing facilities and arranges for patient COVID-19 testing if it were to arise.
"When the pandemic started in February and March, I offered to help whatever way possible," she said. In fact, Debra was uniquely suited to provide assistance during the pandemic as she had a strong public health and epidemiology focus when obtaining her nursing license in California.
With the flexibility of her virtual work and the assistance of a home health aide to care for her mother during the weekdays, Debra has recently been able to focus on stopping the pandemic by volunteering in the vaccination effort.
After checking with her directors at EveryStep and asking her on-call backup, Becky Borgman, to cover any possible patient testing calls for a short time, Debra signed up to assist at an Orange County, CA mass vaccination site at Soka University.
"Orange County has 5 million people, that's the total population of Iowa. So the effort to get people vaccinated here is equal to all of Iowa," she said.
Debra started her volunteering experience last week, spending two 12 hour days at the site.
"It's just so incredibly rewarding," she said. "I was so impressed with the organization there."
Debra, who spent one day drawing vaccination into syringes, said that the effort by Orange County Public Health is organized using the same incident command systems the state of California uses when volunteers from other states come in to fight wildfires.
Additionally, the gymnasium is set up to adhere to social distancing recommendations, all volunteers wear PPE and the doors remain open to help mitigate any spread of the virus.
"They have it down," she said. "We show up at 6:45 a.m., do a short overview, and go through the command structure and ask questions. By 8 a.m. the first people walk through the doors to get vaccinated."
The entire process has been astonishing for Debra to see come to fruition.
"People are just so happy to get vaccinated," she said. "It's very emotional, for me, for many of the people who received vaccine, and especially for their family members who brought them in - children of elderly, vulnerable parents. A number of people told me this was the first time they've left their house since March."
Debra said the camaraderie between volunteers was also special to experience.
"I worked with dentists, a periodontist, EMTs, fire fighters, a pediatric NICU nurse," she said. "It is so exciting and rewarding to be doing this work."
She noted that while she volunteers more closely with other licensed healthcare workers, there is a much larger number of "unlicensed" volunteers who are managing parking, directing lines, screening people and escorting them through the process.
"It's kind of a party all day long, and they are all doing amazing work," Debra said. "
Each day, the site completes about 2,000 vaccinations.
"My heart is full, seeing all these people come through, so very happy to be getting their vaccine," she said.
At the end of her second day of volunteering, the incident commander thanked volunteers and told them to keep their lanyards and badges to show their grandchildren and to tell them, "I helped stop the pandemic."
While Debra will certainly share her participation with her young grandchildren in the future, she notes that her colleagues at EveryStep are also stopping the pandemic, by allowing her the flexibility and opportunity to volunteer at the vaccination site.
"They are all helping, too," she said, adding that she plans to continue volunteering twice a week for as long as she can.
While not everyone has the ability to volunteer at a vaccination site, she urges those back home in Iowa to seek out opportunities to make a difference where they can.
"The rewards are incredible," she said. "It gives a sense of purpose and meaning to me. It's very rewarding."