GW Nursing Alum Serves as Team Lead in Field Hospital

April 14, 2020

Alt Text

Leah McElhanon

Like millions of other Americans, Leah McElhanon, FNP-C, was furloughed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike most of them, she is not spending April on the couch with Netflix. Instead, Ms. McElhanon is working 12-hour night shifts as a health care team lead in a Santa Clara, Calif. field hospital dedicated to taking care of COVID-19 patients.

The Dallas resident graduated from GW Nursing’s online RN to B.S.N. option in 2018, then earned a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) from the school in 2019. The new family nurse practitioner worked in a Dallas wellness clinic until it temporarily closed last month to avoid unintentionally exposing COVID-19 negative patients to those carrying the virus.

Having heard about Team Rubicon through a friend, Ms. McElhanon signed up to offer her health care skills to the volunteer organization. In late March, she arrived at the Santa Clara field hospital, run in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We were called in to prepare for the worst-case scenario, given that this is unprecedented, with a rapid spread and high rate of mortality,” Ms. McElhanon said. “We’re learning from New York. How do we ensure that doesn’t happen?” 

The Team Rubicon volunteers’ first challenge was turning the Santa Clara Convention Center into a hospital. After a few days of setup, Ms. McElhanon said the convention center is now home to a functional hospital, with lines of beds, hot and cold zone protocol and health care providers donning appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We’ve taken every precaution, down to the smallest detail of what door we enter, she said. “We try to minimize breaks just because the more you don [PPE], the more you doff [PPE], the higher the risk. Basically, we’re in head-to-toe PPE for 12 hours solid.”

Amid a highly-publicized global shortage of PPE, Ms. McElhanon said she feels blessed that such equipment is available at the field hospital. “A lot of the equipment is donated. Whenever things run low, we reach out and our needs are met,” she said, describing friends who have shifted their 3-D printing business to focus on printing face shields.

Staff at the field hospital care for low-acuity COVID-19 patients; those who are recovering and no longer in need of intensive care, but not ready to return home. This frees up the Santa Clara health care system to care for those patients needing more intensive care.

As health care team lead, Ms. McElhanon manages volunteer nurses, paramedics and emergency medical technicians from all over the country.

“Each profession has a different scope of practice. I asked everyone what their strengths are, what they like to do. We weren’t sure what we were about to walk into but we’re drawing on everybody’s strengths,” she said.

Ms. McElhanon is planning to work at the hospital as long as she’s needed.

“Everybody is so positive and so appreciative of one another, it’s made this experience so much better. Even though we’re facing some very frightening things, I feel proud and confident every time I step into the hot zone. I know my team has my back,” she said.

Please consider honoring the work that nurses do each day by making a gift to support GW Nursing scholarships. Your gift today will support a student entering our accelerated B.S.N. program this fall.

This story includes information provided by Team Rubicon.

Submit your story!