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Debra Tibbetts (BSN '84)
This Baylor Alumni Spotlight is part of a 2020 series featuring alumni who were working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
Debra left her home in Deer Park, Texas, and her three college-aged children to serve in New York City and meet the critical shortage of health care professionals as the city faces the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. An alumna, Debra is also the proud mother to a Baylor Bear, Lindsay, who received her BA in 2017 and is currently enrolled in the MSW program in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.
Q: Debra, what led you to leave your home in Texas and go to the hospitals of New York City?
A: “When I started hearing about (the severity of New York’s COVID-19 outbreak) and seeing what was going on, God just laid it on my heart really hard that I had the right skill set and the right background and the right experiences that I really needed to help. So, when the call went out on (social media) posts on Twitter and Facebook, I responded.
We are working with the New York City Hospital System, which operates the public health care system in New York. The city sends us where they need us, and we work 12-hour shifts of either days or nights, and most of us are ICU and ER nurses. When you get here, you go where you're told, because, like I said, we're working at the discretion of the city, and they have 17 facilities, and they know what their needs are. In my 15 days, I have worked ER, ICU, and then this week, I've been in a rehab facility, because it is starting to hit there as well, and that staff really needs augmentation because they're not set up to handle such an overflow of patients, much less the needs of COVID patients.”
Q: Louise Herrington School of Nursing, your alma mater, has a motto, Learn.Lead.Serve. It sounds like you really took that to heart. Your background is as a flight nurse in the U. S. Air Force, and you recently retired. What has this experience been like for you?
A: “I talked to a fireman when we first got here, and he said that they normally respond to 1,000 to 2,000 calls a day in the city of New York. And the day before, they had responded to 5,000 calls, and that had been going on for days.
And so that tells you the kind of volume their emergency rooms were dealing with here. I have an Air Force background, and in the Air Force we train for these kinds of contingencies and responses. But the best I can explain it is, and what I tell people is, this is like an extended mass casualty exercise for a month. Whereas most mass casualty exercises are five or six hours and then it slows down, this hasn't. So, it's been long hours — you're in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) from your head to your toes.”
Q: You have six more days on your contract. What comes then?
A: “My plan is to go ahead and go home for two weeks. I have family members that have medical conditions, I feel like I need to go home and check on them. I am considering coming back up again, and that option is there for me. I'm supposed to start on May 5th on my doctorate in nursing with Baylor. So, I want to get that started before I decided whether to come back up here or not.
Another thing that I would like to bring up, you were mentioning the LHSON motto is learn, lead and serve.”
Q: Yes, please go on.
A: “I have reached out to all of my many friends and family members, many of which are Baylor (alumni) – my sorority sisters from Alpha Delta Pi and my Baylor friends from all the various things I did when I was at Baylor – my band friends and others. And they have been sending us care packages to the hotel, which has been awesome. I get cases of water, protein bars, Clorox wipes, candy, pocket size snacks, aspirin, Tylenol, vitamins, tuna packets, everything under the sun that you can imagine because nothing is open here in Manhattan, and we're not able to buy these things for ourselves. I have to be on the bus at six in the morning and I don't get home until eight at night, and nothing is open for us. So I make sure everybody on my team has all the protein bars and snacks and vitamins and water that they need, and then what's left, I take and I put down (at the donation table) for other people. The nurses are so appreciative. They're just amazed that people care enough to send them things.”