CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – In December, the effort to vaccinate as many people against COVID-19 as quickly as possible became the nation’s biggest logistical challenge in modern history.
Since then, we’ve all seen the powerful images and videos of healthcare heroes and the elderly getting the long-awaited vaccine.
But what might not be obvious in the news reports or social media posts is that those who are giving the shots – at least the Cleveland Clinic – are nurses who have come out of retirement to work the front lines once again.
“When I got my first shot, I actually cried, I was so excited to get it, it just meant so much,” said Cathy DeGross, a former Cleveland Clinic nurse who retired from her 34-year career in 2020.
“As soon as this pandemic started, we had retirees, former people who worked here, reaching out, wanting to help,” said Meredith Foxx, the Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Chief Nursing Officer.
DeGross was one of those people who came back. She retired just before the pandemic and two days later left Ohio for an extended vacation in Florida.
When the reality of the pandemic came into focus, Cathy decided she needed to end her vacation early and come home to Ohio. After nine months of quarantine and distancing, she got a call from her former employer looking for help giving vaccinations.
“I just jumped on it I thought, no that’s exactly what I want to do! I want to get back in, I want to help out I know how to give IM’s (immunizations) and I could be part of the process to help eradicate the virus,” DeGross said.
Many retired nurses are even in the vulnerable population, but that didn’t stop them from going back to work. More than 75 are back at the Cleveland Clinic giving vaccines and helping wherever they are needed.
Working alongside DeGross are dozens of other heroes with inspiring stories.
Rich Woodman is a former 30-year Mentor Schools biology teacher and retired nurse who went back in December during one of the area’s biggest COVID-19 hospital surges.
“The staff was low, they didn’t have enough people, the expectations were high with all the masking and all the gowning,” Woodman explained.
Woodman worked in the COVID-19 units at the Cleveland Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital. Woodman says while it was not an intensive care unit, patients could very quickly deteriorate and need to be transferred to a higher level of care.
“It was pretty much being on your toes and just being ready to intervene when necessary,” Woodman remembered.
Now he too is giving the life-saving and life-changing vaccinations. He says each vaccine is a step toward normalcy, especially for the elderly population who have been most impacted by the pandemic.
“Just incredible to think that here’s a person who has not been out of their home in over nine months, who is now out of their home to get vaccinated so they can be out of their home,” he said.
Nurses like Woodman and DeGross bring more than just an extra hand to hospitals. They also have immense expertise and years of learned experience giving them the ability to give nuanced care to patients that younger nurses have not yet developed.
“Their assessment skills, being able to monitor them after, provide patient education to them around getting the vaccine, and instructions on what to look for has really been instrumental,” Foxx explained.
Woodman has a master’s degree and DeGross spent the majority of her career as a nurse manager.
“For me to go back in the trenches that makes me feel good and it’s an important place to be, in the trenches,” DeGross said.
Retired nurses have also played a pivotal role at the Cleveland Clinic during the pandemic by calling, checking in, and giving advice to COVID-19 patients who are fighting the disease at home.
“That’s everything you work for actually,” Woodman said about the thankfulness from patients and fellow nurses. “To be able to help and know that you are being appreciated,” he said.