‘Here, we’re family’
When illness struck Jennifer James, Novant Health stepped in to help
When Jennifer James applied to work as a certified nursing assistant at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center back in February, she was determined to get the job. Rather than wait for a response, she began a steady practice of calling every two or three weeks to see if the nursing team had an open spot.
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but James kept calling. Her persistence made a strong impression.
“The last time I called, the woman I spoke to said, ‘You know there’s a pandemic going on right now?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I know. I’m certified. I want to get in there. You need me. I have to get in there,’” James said. “A week later, I had my interview, and I was hired.”
James decided to pursue a career in healthcare because she wanted to take care of people. She traces that desire to a time years ago when a family member asked her to take care of her great-grandmother while her great-grandfather went out of town. At the time, her great-grandmother was 104 years old. James agreed and bought herself a one-way ticket.
“It was a crash course in how to take care of people, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I have to do this. I want to take care of people in some way, shape or form,’” James said.
She’s not used to being on the other side of that care. But as she got to work within the walls of Brunswick Medical Center, she quickly learned that Novant Health is a family. And that family was as committed to her as she was to her patients.
That commitment began soon after she joined Brunswick Medical Center, when she volunteered to take on night shifts caring for patients with COVID-19.
“I knew there was no visitation. Those patients didn’t really have anybody,” James said. “After my first overnight shift with them, I kept volunteering to go down there. A lot of people get claustrophobic in the personal protective equipment we have to wear or they have kids, so I would switch my nights with them. I did that for a couple of weeks on end.”
Soon, James was working five nights a week. She was also saving money. After years of sharing homes with roommates, James wanted a place of her own. She was finally in a position to get it.
“I applied to one of the nicest places that I wanted to live, and I was approved,” James said. “Everything about it is perfect for what I need.”
But not long after she moved in, James started to feel sick. She thought it was allergies at first, but then she spiked a fever of 100 degrees. She got tested for COVID-19, and while she was awaiting her results, she realized she’d lost her sense of taste, one of the signature symptoms of the novel coronavirus. She drank a ginger ale — nothing. She ordered the spiciest meal off the menu of a local Sonic — again, nothing.
“That’s when I panicked,” she said.
She had seen what COVID-19 could do. She understood the potential risks. And at first, those thoughts consumed her. Then, as she realized what quarantine would mean for her ability to work and earn money, her anxiety shifted course.
“The only thing I could think about was getting back to work. Not only was I worried about my health, but I was worried I was going to lose my brand-new, beautiful apartment I had worked so, so hard to get,” James said. “I was working five days a week, and suddenly, I wasn’t working at all.”
She called the employee help line at Brunswick Medical Center, and a nurse sent her information about the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), established by Novant Health foundations at the onset of the pandemic to support team members in need. She applied immediately and, soon after, was granted funds to help with her rent.
“Asking for help is never easy, but I’m so grateful I did,” James said. “I no longer have to worry about becoming homeless or the stress of trying to work as many hours as possible to make up for lost time. I would like to thank the foundation, Novant Health and my medical surgical staff at Brunswick Medical Center from the bottom of my heart for always having my back and being so supportive. I’m never going to leave this company, and I plan to work my hardest for Novant Health as they have worked so hard for me.”
That work allows her to learn every day and to spend quality time with patients and their families.
“That’s the part of the job I love most. I had a hospice patient recently, and every chance I got, I would go talk to her mom. And she said, ‘Even you talking to me about nothing helps more than you know,’” James said. “I’m their visitor. I do the little things that I can. If they need a blanket, I’ll go and get them a blanket.”
Those experiences are challenging but also rewarding — bringing James back to the reason she was drawn to healthcare in the first place: She wanted to help people.
“I’m very happy with my job, and it is so hard to find someone who is legitimately happy with what they do. Novant Health has been accommodating as far as anything I’ve wanted to do — letting me learn and observe every time I ask. Most other places treat you like a number. Here, we’re family,” James said. “I’m never going to leave this company, and I plan to work my hardest for Novant Health as they have worked so hard for me.”
Make a difference today.
You can do your part for team members like Jennifer James by making a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund). Your contributions allow us to care for our front-line workers as they care for our community. Join us, and make your gift today!