Many military veterans on staff helping Kansas City area hospitals fight COVID-19

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Military veterans spend entire lifetimes confronting hazardous conditions and demanding challenges.

At one Kansas City metro hospital, that experience translates to leadership in the war against COVID-19, as military heroes serve on a different set of frontlines.

U.S. military members train for the worst, and their training is serving them well. The workforce at University Health Truman boasts a large number of military veterans on staff, most of whom have backgrounds that include demanding situations.

“The military prepares you for a different form of life,” Lenton Bailey Jr. said.

Bailey, University Health’s director of public safety, has 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps under his belt. His military service includes experience as a barracks officer. Experience following rules and regulations comes in handy, in a time when stress levels in the medical care industry are at their peak.

“People are hungry. People are angry. We had the mask mandates, and people don’t want to wear their masks. Just change – change is always difficult, especially when you’re the one who has to communicate those changes,” Bailey said on Wednesday.

Jennifer Wilson, a manager in University Health’s emergency department, has 34 years of time spent in the U.S. military reserves. Heath Velasquez, a patient safety risk manager at the hospital, spent seven years in the U.S. Navy, where he was trained as a respiratory therapist. Wilson and Velasquez celebrate their time in the service and the strength it provides them when times get tough.

“In the military, you just kind of roll with everything. In the civilian world, when you work with people who aren’t trained to roll with everything, that’s where you get your added stress. You have to help teach them, and they got it quickly,” Wilson said.

“COVID patients tend to deteriorate quickly and rapidly, and you have to be on your feet to intervene to sustain their life or to save it,” Velasquez added.

These folks are among the thousands of American military veterans who use those spur-of-the-moment decision-making skills to work on healthcare front lines. The University Health employees FOX4 spoke with say the term “hero” might still apply — but it’s different now.

“Everyone comes together heroically, knowing the one job we have is to save the life of these people who come in,” Wilson said.

“The recognition from the public about what healthcare workers have done during the pandemic is something I’m happy to see,” Velasquez added.

On two different battlegrounds, these heroes have risen to the challenge.

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