Oklahoma nurse resigns from OKC VA hospital over COVID-19 concerns

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After 40 years on the job, an Oklahoma nurse is calling it quits.  

She says she is at the end of her rope after her hospital was unprepared for the pandemic.  

“Their tagline is, ‘They’re here for our veterans’,” said Denise Keeley, an Oklahoma City nurse.  

Keeley is a 22-year Air Force veteran herself. She says the VA has been anything but here for her.  

“This was my way of giving back, and I thought that this was going to be it until 65 at least,” she said.

Keeley is fresh out of the hospital herself after battling coronary artery disease.  

She’s been a nurse since 1981, but when COVID-19 crept into her hospital, she says no one was prepared.  

“We didn’t step on the gas fast enough.”

Keeley says hospital beds started filling up faster than the employees could handle. She says clinic nurses were brought in to help fill gaps, but they were little help.

“Some patients, we doubled up one floor with the beds. Some of them had never seen an IV bag,” she said.

As the COVID patients flooded in, Keeley says she went to her bosses for a plan to keep her safe from the virus.  

She says the only solution they offered her was to apply for Family Medical Leave.  

“I am not sick. I am 63 and if I didn’t have this coronary artery disease, I would don a bunny suit, and I would go in with everybody else and take care of them,” she said.

She says they also offered her the option of applying to a different floor, which she did. However, while it was being processed, her fears came true.

She says her oncology floor was transformed into a COVID unit without warning, overnight.  

“By the weekend, it was packed.”

She says she was left with no option but to resign.  

“You took away my plan. My plan was to take care of these patients until I could retire and you took it away from me because you just insisted I go to that floor,” she said.  

Keeley says now she’s heartbroken and wants change for her former co-workers and patients.  

“You’re trying your best and you’re trying to keep that brave face on and do what’s best for the veteran. There’s good people in that VA with big hearts and some are stuck,” said Keeley.  

The Oklahoma VA Healthcare System offered this statement in response:  

“Oklahoma City VA Health Care System employees have performed amazingly well throughout this national emergency and continue to do so.

During the pandemic, our employees have provided life-saving care to COVID Veteran patients while adhering to safety practices that have limited our employee COVID infection rate to zero percent for employees working directly on a COVID unit.

Oklahoma City VA Health Care System has hired 184 new staff members since the onset of the pandemic and is prepared and staffed to handle current and future demands.”

Due to privacy act restrictions, the VA was unable to comment directly on Keeley’s situation without her written consent.



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