Adapting to the COVID-19 environment has meant something different for all VA employees. For three Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Community Care (OCC) team members, selected for the same detail, at the same time, it involved taking on unique roles in an unusual setting far from home.
“I was sitting at my desk one day in March and I saw an email asking for help in the response efforts,” said Brady White, a program manager working on the deployment of the Community Care Network (CCN) across the nation. The call was for VA staff to consider applying for a deployment with the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Emergency Management Coordination Cell (EMCC) as part of the COVID-19 response.
“With a background in safety and emergency response, I sent my resume right away. Then, I had to back up a bit and talk to my wife about the possibility of being selected.”
Randy Rothleutner, an administrative officer with OCC Resource Management and a Veteran with 24 years in the Air Force, Army National Guard, Air Force and Army Reserve Forces, received the same email. Once selected, he and White spent six weeks together at OEM headquarters in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Susan Schavee, a systems redesign coordinator, was also selected for a detail at the same time. She returned June 10, after serving three consecutive months.
The photo above shows, from left: Brady White, Susan Schavee and Randy Rothleutner.
Placing people where they need to be
“Our duties were across the board,” said Schavee, who has been with VA more than 12 years and is also a certified Lean Black Belt. “We analyzed data and developed processes. Eventually, our team took on the role of figuring out the deployment of people, placing them where they need to be as part of the COVID-19 effort.”
“Our roles, as part of this team, involved doing a little bit of everything,”Rothleutner said. “Our team was there to help fill in the gaps. They have some amazing leaders and people who had been preparing for six or seven weeks before we even got there.”
“Once I was accepted, I had to leave within 24 hours. It was exciting to be selected and to assist VA during these times,” Schavee said. “I remember walking into the command center for the first time and seeing a very high-paced, fast-moving environment and thinking this is going to be an experience to remember.”
White said the work was anything but ordinary. “OEM normally deals with localized disasters that might span a region or a VA network but COVID-19 involves the entire country and all of VA.”
“Improved my ability to be more innovative.”
While in Martinsburg, both Rothleutner and White applied to the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS) program. They completed training and the physical exam and are now qualified for deployment.
Rothleutner credits his fellow leaders in Resource Management for helping to prepare him for the role. “Being part of the RM leadership team has improved my ability to be more innovative. It also has greatly added to my personal growth and professional experience,” he told his team when he returned home.
“I initially was assigned to the plans section and provided daily updates and tracking and medical facility reports of new employee and Veteran patient COVID-19 positive results. I later assisted operations with the DEMPS volunteer program. There, we managed current volunteers, tracking and matching the requested skills for the areas asking for additional volunteer support.”
“We are going to take care of patients.”
Both men continue to reiterate how their deployment was one of the more meaningful points in their careers. “People in our position don’t always engage with leadership at that level,” White said. “Hearing from Dr. Richard Stone, VHA Executive-in-Charge, and others each day and being a part of this enormous effort solidified for me why I’m here at VA.”
“We worked long hours, and I feel we made a difference in the COVID-19 response,”Rothleutner said.
Schavee said she will miss her time in Martinsburg. “This gives you a whole different level of respect for the work we all do for VA.”
White wrote down Dr. Stone’s words one morning during one of the many calls they attended: “We need to give hope to Veterans and families that have none. We are going to take care of patients and do everything we can to keep our Veterans and employees safe.”