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Continuity of Service

Veteran Health Care Providers at Frederick Health Continue to Serve with Honor, Courage and Commitment

Article by Karen Justice

Photography by Tiffany Kowalsky Photography

Originally published in Frederick Lifestyle

It was an honor to spend some time with a few of the many healthcare providers who have served in the U.S. military before serving our community at Frederick Health. Their experience and background have empowered and equipped them to provide excellent care to our neighbors and friends every day. 

Margaret (Peggy) McNeil

Military Service: Air Force, Colonel, 28 years of service, Critical Care Nurse

Current Role: Director of Nursing Quality

Working as a young hospital nurse in New York, Peggy McNeil decided to join the Air Force and began to see the world. Her first duty assignment was in California. She was also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “To be able to care for the 18 and 19 year-olds who went out on patrol and came back injured was a privilege,” Peggy said. “They chose to serve, the least I could do was care for them. Serving those who serve was my mission.” As a colonel, Peggy taught trauma care skills. “Caring and working under adversity is a very transferable skill, she explained. “My war zone trauma experience transferred well to the intensive care unit and to caring during the pandemic.” The military is diligent about continued leadership training. Peggy considers that one of the most transferable skills to her current role as a leader in the Frederick Health nursing team. “Leading people here is much like leading people in Iraq and Afghanistan...Both military service and nursing are more than jobs. They are callings with different motivation for the population you serve...The most important part of my job now is being sure that all nursing personnel have the best skills possible to maximize the care provided to patients. What I like most about my job is the fabulous people I work with—they all care.”

Kerry Phillips

Military Service: Navy Nurse Corp, Lieutenant, four years of service, Intensive Care Nurse

Current Role: Registered Nurse

While Kerry Phillips was in the midst of taking her final nursing school exam, the September 11th terrorist attacks took place. Four years after beginning to serve her local community, Kerry joined the Navy Nurse Corp at 26. Her first assignment was caring for patients in the Traumatic Brain Injury unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital. With that experience and knowledge, she was then deployed twice to Kuwait as an intensive care nurse. Kerry attributes her excellent bedside manner to her military experience. “Experiencing the trauma and hardship of the military patients and their loved ones gave me a greater understanding of how my role as a nurse can ease their woes.” In her role as civilian nurse, Kerry loves the fact that she is caring for her neighbors and taking care of the families in her community. “Service members are from all over. Our relationships were short-lived. Here I care for people I may see next week or next year."

Crystal Gieryna

Military Service: Army, Sergeant, three years of service, Transport Management Coordinator

Current Role: Registered Nurse

Crystal joined the Army for the opportunities it provided to a girl from the Eastern Shore. She was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a nursing home considering a healthcare career in the service. However, the “needs of the Army” didn’t align with her wishes at the time. Instead, she was assigned to logistics. As with Kerry, the September 11th attacks influenced her military choices and career—she was in Basic Training at the time. “Logistics is highly deployable,” she said. “When I signed on, I didn’t realize I’d see the sand.” In time of conflict, Crystal acknowledged again, the needs of the Army come first. She was assigned to the Kuwait Naval Base, then back home, then back to another conflict zone at an air base in Iraq with an involuntary extension of her service. After leaving the Army, Crystal earned an A.A. in human services and went on to nursing school. “Serving others makes me feel good and fulfilled. I like making a difference in people’s lives as they go through a difficult time. I try to ease their lives and make a difference with humor.” Crystal began her time at Frederick Health in the Cardiac Care unit. For the last two years, she has provided care with the surgical team. She works in both pre-op and in the post-anesthetic unit, sometimes in both places the same day and occasionally caring for the same patient before and after their surgery.

Bob Lebron

Military Service: Navy, Lieutenant Commander, 20 years of service, Chaplain

Current Role: Veteran’s Liaison - Hospice

Although trained as a Registered Nurse, Bob LeBron now serves the community as the Hospice Veteran’s Liaison. His career has spanned ten years working in a Veteran's Administration hospital to bedside then surgery care. Eventually, he chose to serve as a Navy chaplain. After retirement, he did pastoral work in Wisconsin, but returned to Maryland to be closer to family. “Honor, courage and commitment are part of serving in the Navy and that translates very well to my current job,” LeBron says. “It’s a sacred honor to listen to a patient’s military story about their service. It’s my commitment to ensure they are recognized and honored for their commitment to serve our country.” The courage he sees during the last years, months or days of a veteran’s life is an example of the courage they showed in their service. Hospice can be provided to a patient and family for a longer time than the public conceives, sometimes for several years. “Hospice nurses are intelligent and compassionate,” he says. “They offer care, comfort and hope.”

CONTINUITY THROUGH COLLABORATION

The hospital and frontline responders often collaborate very closely. The hospital veterans help provide training for the community medics. There is also a relationship with post care personnel such as follow-up services, home visits, Veteran's programs at hospice, even with representatives at health fairs. “We work together for the community as a team with mutual respect and support,” Kerry said. “To a great extent, our first responders are volunteers,” Crystal added. “Support your local fire department and EMTs. They’ll be the first ones arriving to care for you in an emergency.” Crystal added, “We have a continuity of care for the community.” FrederickHealth.org

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