60 U.S. Air Force nurses from across the United States have been supporting six hospitals in North Dakota including Sanford Health locations in Fargo and Bismarck. The military nurses have been working side-by-side on the front lines of the pandemic with Sanford health care workers since late November. Their help in the fight against COVID-19 has been invaluable.
“It’s amazing to see how overwhelming it is in person,” Maj. Sunil Francis said.
Francis, from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, says the Air Force service members are ready to chip in wherever they are needed at a moment’s notice. They are in North Dakota right now at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“As people, as Americans, we need to come together, help each other out and get through it,” Francis said.
Battling the coronavirus has been extremely challenging, especially in areas seeing a lot of cases and patients.
“The military nurses have been exceptional. They provide not only their clinical expertise but also their expertise from working at other facilities as well to ensure that we, as a team, are providing the best care,” Jane Taber, Sanford Health inpatient nursing director for the special care unit and inpatient behavioral health unit, said.
To honor this special partnership and to show gratitude, Sanford Health is presenting the Air Force nurses with Sanford Health’s challenge coin. It is given to Sanford Military Veteran employees who go above and beyond their everyday commitment to help patients, community and employees.
“It’s a big tradition in the military to get coins. To get one here as well, I was completely caught off guard. I did not expect that at all,” Francis said.
Maj. Sabrina Ahsan, a nurse from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., says the coin already means a lot to her. The coin represents all five branches of the U.S. Military on one side and displays the Lorraine Cross on the other.
“Very thankful that they recognized us, that they recognized our service and I’m happy for that,” Ahsan said.
The fight’s impact
Ahsan, a trauma nurse who has been to war, says treating COVID-19 patients at Sanford Broadway Medical Center has not been easy. Getting to know the patients and seeing them struggle and sometimes die has had an impact on her personally.
“Mentally and physically, very challenging. At the end of the day, some days I feel happy. Some days I feel very challenged. Mentally more traumatizing I would say,” Ahsan said.
Both Francis and Ahsan consider their Sanford Health challenge coins so valuable, they are keeping the mementos in their pockets for safekeeping.
For Taber, the military nurses and their service are priceless during this time of need.
“We are so thankful for their assistance during this awful time for many patients and families,” Taber said. “It really does show that our employees are our most important asset and that we really do care about them. We care about their contributions that they are providing. It illustrates that it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, who you are. We are all in this together and we appreciate every single individual that is working here with us.”
Feeling valued, Francis says he is motivated more than ever to fulfill his mission.
“Definitely gives me a boost of confidence to continue doing the work we need to do here. Until we’re at a place where we can say, yeah we have things under control,” Francis said.
The overall number of nurses in North Dakota was recently reduced. There will still be a small group deployed to five hospitals through early January.
In addition to the coin ceremony, Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North, paid some of the military nurses a visit at the Sanford Broadway Medical Center on Dec. 15. Richardson also met with Sanford Health leaders in Fargo.
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