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Fri, July 10

VERDE VALLEY CORONAVIRUS HEROES: VVMC nurse practitioner by day, disaster worker by night

VVMC Nurse Practitioner Irene Forrest Bassett (second from left) with her National Disaster Medical System team members while on a two-week assignment at a hospital outside Atlanta, Georgia. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

VVMC Nurse Practitioner Irene Forrest Bassett (second from left) with her National Disaster Medical System team members while on a two-week assignment at a hospital outside Atlanta, Georgia. VVN/Vyto Starinskas

COTTONWOOD - When Irene Forrest Bassett’s phone rings, the Cottonwood nurse practitioner is ready to jet off in a moment’s notice to a world hot-spot that most people are fleeing.

National Disaster Medical System members respond when disaster strikes to provide patient care in large-scale catastrophic events.

On April 18, the Verde Valley Medical Center nurse practitioner, Forrest Bassett got a call from her NDMS team again.

She has been part of the NDMS system since 1997 and has been to hurricane disaster recoveries in Puerto Rico, New Orleans and other locations.

But this time it was coronavirus and Forrest Bassett was needed to supplement medical staff at a hospital outside Atlanta, Ga., for two weeks. “We get called just before we go out the door.”

She was resting recently at her Cornville home after returning from a stint in Georgia.

Her team has 100 members, doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists and about 35 respond to each disaster, she said. She responds as a nurse/nurse practitioner.

Forrest Bassett said since she was working directly with coronavirus patients, she was suited up and wore protective equipment. She also had to get used to working a night shift for two weeks. At VVMC, she works during the day as a nurse practitioner in the discharge specialty clinic.

“We were extremely well supplied with PPE gear,” she said. They stayed in an isolated hotel.

“We supplement the ICU staff,” she said of her last two weeks. “We cared for them.”

“We’re very lucky here” in the Verde Valley, Forrest Bassett said as far as the number of coronavirus cases show, compared to Georgia, or even Flagstaff and the Navajo reservation. She said the good job people did of isolating in the Verde Valley was helpful.

Forrest Bassett said she is glad to be home, but she is glad that she was able to help ease the burden for the staff in Georgia a little bit.

Forrest Bassett said this response was different. Usually, they are responding immediately after a natural disaster and setting up the MASH-team type of response. This time they were joining in something that was already in place.

One of the teams was testing the passengers on cruise ships, she said.

When she responds, Forrest Bassett travels in a military uniform because when she’s with NDMS, she is a federal employee of U.S. Health and Human Services. NDMS units are stationed in every state.

Forrest Bassett said she spent two weeks at the airport in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She names off other hurricanes she has responded to, as if those were the names of old friends.

The VVMC nurse practitioner said employers are great to let them go on these disaster assignments and they fill in for them.

“I’m glad I’ve done it,” she said. “It’s been a great experience.”

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