Service and sacrifice: HCA Healthcare veterans bring specialized skill sets to COVID-19 battle

Woman in U.S. Navy uniform with medical ship behind her

This year November 11, Veterans Day, takes on additional significance, as we honor our HCA Healthcare colleagues who bring their incredible military training, specialized skill sets and preparation for battle to work each day as our organization continues the fight against the coronavirus. Some of our colleagues were deployed domestically to help during the early surge of COVID-19 including Krisjhle Munguia. Others, like Ryan Dixon, leaned on their rigorous military preparedness drills to stay focused on the job or their war zone experience to lead their team through the unknown as Dyra Harris did.

Krisjhle, Ryan and Dyra are among HCA Healthcare’s 39,000 veterans, active-duty personnel and military spouses in clinical and non-clinical roles across our 187 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care.  HCA Healthcare has been nationally recognized as a military-friendly and military-spouse friendly employer for ten consecutive years by VIQTORY.  The Military Times named HCA Healthcare as one of the country’s best employers based on the organization’s military-connected employment programs, benefits and support efforts.

Did you know?

Recently, HCA Healthcare donated $50,000 to REBOOT Recovery, an organization devoted to curbing the epidemic of veteran suicide in our country. Since 2015, HCA Healthcare has contributed more than $302,000 to REBOOT Recovery which provides trauma healing courses, training and online tools for Veterans, their families and first responders struggling with PTS(d) and who may be at risk of suicide.

Meet some of our veteran colleagues and hear how they’re proudly serving our patients and communities through COVID-19 and beyond.

Caring for COVID-19 patients in our hospitals and aboard the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort

Krisjhle Munguia had two days’ notice to pack her bags and board the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort this past March. She says, “We are trained to handle any type of pandemic. Even though COVID-19 is new, I was prepared to accept the mission, so there was no hesitation.”

On left, woman wearing U.S. Navy uniform with American flag in the background. On right, same woman wearing U.S. Navy uniform with medical ship in the background.
Lt. Krisjhle Munguia, U.S. Navy, critical care nurse

She alerted her manager at HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest that she was being deployed to dock outside of New York City to help treat the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 patients. She says thankfully that was the easy part. “My manager said ‘no problem, I’ll handle everything.’ HCA Healthcare has always been very accommodating with my military duties.”

Krisjhle had been interested in the military since high school, serving with the Junior ROTC.  She went to college for nursing and then started the process to join the U.S. Navy Reserve as a nurse core officer. “My specialty is critical care, and that is what I did on the Comfort,” she says.

She says her nursing experience and military training helped her handle the pandemic deployment. “I worked 12-hour shifts in the ICU on the Comfort. We had excellent communication with patients’ family members outside of the boat – we explained everything we could to them – to do what is best for the patient.”

“None of us knew how long we would be on the Comfort, so some of the other crew members and I began making a paper chain adding a link for each day; the comradery and teamwork got us through it, just like we do at my job in Houston,” she says. After just over a month on the ship, Krisjhle was docked back in Virginia, where a big surprise was waiting for her.

“They separated those of us who were treating COVID patients. We had an initial COVID-19 test, and mine was negative but you have to quarantine another 14 days and test again and then you can return home,” she says. “I started feeling very nauseous and asked my supervisor to get me a pregnancy test and that turned out to be positive! I remember calling my husband on FaceTime to tell him he was going to be a dad. He couldn’t believe it!”

Krisjhle’s mother, Urbana Valencia, who also works for HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest as a nurse, first cried for 15 minutes because her daughter was safely coming home, but then Krisjhle held up a Navy Grandma sweatshirt “and she cried another 15 minutes,” says Krisjhle.

Woman wearing blue scrubs standing next to woman wearing orange jacket
Krisjhle Munguia and her mother, Urbana Valencia, both nurses at HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest

She says when she returned to her duties as a float pool nurse at HCA Houston Healthcare Northwest, “I was often asked how it was on the Comfort and I suggested some of the ideas that were used on the ship. I especially wanted to help new nurses and nurses who’d never had this experience before cope with what was going on.

“My goal was just to support them. As a nurse, you want to do what is best for your patient and facing this pandemic – especially since there are no family members who can come – you have patients dying alone, and it takes a toll on the staff to see people passing away by themselves. I experienced that not just in COVID – but in my career – and for a first-time nurse, who hasn’t been through it – it hits them hard,” says Krisjhle. She says just like on the ship, the teams treating COVID patients now have a strong bond – like family.

Krisjhle is excited to welcome her first child, Joanna Grace, this December.

Building on two decades of military training to maintain our systems and care for our patient

Ryan Dixon performs the type of foundational work that keeps our hospitals running.  As a stationary engineer for North Suburban Medical Center in Thornton, Colorado he does electrical work, plumbing and HVAC repair. He’s also worked on boilers, chillers and sterilizers.  Ryan proudly joined HCA Healthcare two and a half years ago, after serving two decades in the U.S. Army and inactive Ready Reserves.

On left, man wearing U.S. Army uniform. On right, same man wearing stationary engineer uniform, face mask and face shield.
Ryan Dixon, stationary engineer, North Suburban Medical Center

Ryan joined the U.S. Army right out of high school, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great grandfather who all served in the military.  During his first few years he focused on learning hand to hand combat, weapons proficiency and being on the tanks.  He enjoyed his annual “desert days”, where they spent a month training in Death Valley practicing maneuvers with live gun fire and tanks.  Ryan was part of the First Army Combat Unit deployed under the Department of Homeland Security established in 2002 following 9/11.  The First Combat Units have dangerous assignments as the “the first in and last out.” Ryan is proud he was part of the Army post-9/11, “After 9/11 there were a lot of people looking to the military for answers and protection, I had a strong dedication to my country to do whatever was asked of me.”

He says once in the reserves he started working as an auto mechanic.  He then became a journeyman heavy equipment operator. He went to school to become an electrician right before his deployment in 2001 – for Operation Noble Eagle.  “We were escorting trucks coast to coast – we had teams in various locations around the states to ensure our supplies were getting out – without any interruptions.”

He says while working at the Denver Federal Center, an HCA Healthcare recruiter called him. “They asked me to come in for an interview and I liked the atmosphere at North Suburban Medical Center immediately.  Everyone was smiling and friendly,” says Ryan.

Ryan says he highly recommends HCA Healthcare to other veterans seeking to transition to a civilian career.  “I am a disabled veteran – and they had no problem hiring me on. If I have a bad day and I am sore or having back issues from my time in the military, they work with me. I have had both of my hips replaced – the last one just over a year ago – and they have been working with me the whole time. There are days I have trouble walking and they will give me tasks that aren’t physically demanding that day.”

Ryan puts the leadership skills he gained from the Army into practice daily at North Suburban Medical Center, “I have a strong work ethic and I learned how to get the job done to the best of your ability – don’t take shortcuts.”

HCA Healthcare veteran on a mission — fighting cancer one patient at a time

Dyra Harris joined the U.S. Army right out of high school. He was first stationed in Germany, then returned to the states to serve in the 101st Airborne/Air Assault at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He met the woman who would eventually become his wife while with the 101st, and the two went on to serve in Desert Storm and Desert Shield in the first Gulf War. They also served together in Korea. Then Dyra started at William Carey University in Mississippi, and recalls how impactful his senior year rotations through radiation were. “I fell in love with radiation oncology,” says Dyra. “I felt you play a higher role in helping the patient recover there by spending more time with the patients and their families.” Early memories of his mother’s best friend dying from cancer also shaped his future. “I remembered the helplessness my mother felt, and I thought this is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. I want to treat cancer.”

On left, man wearing U.S. Army uniform. On right, same man wearing face mask and business attire.
Dyra Harris, director of the oncology service line for the Sarah Cannon Research Institute at TriStar Skyline

Dyra attended X-ray school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and completed Vanderbilt University’s radiation oncology program. He started working at hospitals in Nashville, Tennessee, and soon got a call from an HCA Healthcare recruiter. “They said, listen, you are in the military, you have a strong work ethic, and are a solid leader, we think you’d be a great fit at HCA Healthcare,” says Dyra. “I went and interviewed and the next day I got the job as the radiation manager of oncology at Skyline Medical Center,” he shares.

Dyra says he further honed his leadership skills at Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, thanks to the hospital’s now chief executive officer, Dustin Greene. “Dustin always says, ‘if you need me to solve the problem, then I don’t need you in that position.’ That is the kind of leadership I learned in the U.S. Army—lead, follow or get out of the way.” Dyra is close to finishing his master’s degree in management and leadership. “I try very hard to stay uncomfortable so I can always grow and improve,” says Dyra.

“In the military, everything is compartmentalized. During the first Gulf War, I learned all you have is your piece of the puzzle. Things can change every day. With your little piece of the puzzle you have to be positive and lead from the front.” Dyra says this experience helped him guide his team when COVID-19 hit. “One thing we all know working at HCA Healthcare is there is a lot of change. You have to come in and listen to your team’s concerns. You have to show up and say, ‘I am here with you. I know this is frightening, but we are going to show up every day and take care of cancer patients — this is the career we chose.’”

He’s thankful to be at a company that values its veteran colleagues and provides so many opportunities for them. “Working for HCA Healthcare has been one of the honors of my lifetime,” says Dyra. “I thank God every day that I work at a company that cares about our front line care teams and provided the personal protective equipment (PPE) because those things make a difference in patients’ lives.”

Dyra says he’s happy he’s known at Skyline as the “bald guy who’s always smiling.” “We can choose every day how we are going to live our lives. We are in a time now where we can’t hug, but a lot of patients would say they love the way I hug or embrace them to encourage them. Smiling and being approachable is what has the biggest impact on others.”

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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