August 26, 2021

When VUMC’s COVID-19 unit opened, Leslie Thompson eagerly stepped up to work there. She’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“Someone had to go clean those rooms up, and I’m happy to do whatever I’m asked to do. It comes with the job. I just wanted to help out and be a team player.”

Leslie Thompson poses for a photo in the sixth floor atrium of the Critical Care Tower at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo by Erin O. Smith 

In March 2020, when her supervisor asked for volunteers from the Environmental Services team to work in the soon-to-open COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit in Medical Center East, Leslie Thompson raised her hand without hesitation.

“I knew others maybe weren’t eager to step up because they were scared,” Thompson said. “Someone had to go clean those rooms up, and I’m happy to do whatever I’m asked to do. It comes with the job. I just wanted to help out and be a team player.”

Thompson said she initially had more anxiety about receiving the COVID-19 vaccination than she did about cleaning the rooms of individuals who were COVID positive. After learning more about the vaccine, however, she was one of the first in line to roll up her sleeve when vaccinations became available to front-line workers in December 2020.

“And I felt fine,” Thompson reported. “I didn’t feel any symptoms. I was just sore, like when you get a flu shot.”

Because of her willingness to go far beyond expectations for both staff and patients during the extraordinary year she spent working on the COVID ICU, Thompson was recognized with a Credo Award during the August 2021 virtual Leadership Assembly.

Seeing lonely patients isolated from their families touched her heart, and Thompson made a point of talking to each of them, especially when she knew the nursing staff was busy.

“There was one man I tried to play cards with,” she said. “One lady told me I reminded her of her granddaughter. It was a hard experience, and I was up there crying with the family even though it wasn’t my family member that passed away.”

“Leslie was always positive and supportive of the staff during a very challenging year – engaging with nursing staff, the nurse manager, providers, patients – everyone encountered on the unit,” said Kim Hurt, RN, MSN, manager of 8MCE. “She was always helping the nurses. She would grab drinks for the patients when the nurse was in their PPE and tied up in the room. In the COVID Unit, nursing staff had to deliver all the trays into the rooms at mealtimes. Leslie would often help us pass the trays. This is just a small example of how awesome she is.”

Another COVID Unit team member noted, “Housekeeping can sometimes be overlooked as front-line staff, and I would definitely call Leslie one of the ‘unsung heroes’ of this pandemic. These sick patients, who are mostly alone, certainly benefited from Leslie’s positive attitude and willingness to go the extra mile.”

Thompson has been an Environmental Services employee at VUMC for 14 years, and her usual assignment is working in the Mother Baby Obstetrics Unit on the fourth floor of Medical Center East. After she gave birth to twins herself in 2008, she took several months to be with her family before returning to VUMC. She then worked in other Medical Center locations before returning to her assignment of choice on 4East.

While working on the COVID Unit was both rewarding and exhausting, returning to her home during the pandemic presented its own challenges, Thompson said. As the mother of five children, ranging in age from 21 to her 13-year-old twins, she had to help four of her kids successfully navigate virtual school.

“I was thankful I had my Mom to help me out so I could come to work,” she said.

Even though she would not hesitate for a second to go back to the COVID Unit if needed, Thompson said she’s happy to be back on the Mother Baby Obstetrics Unit. And her co-workers there welcomed her back.

“On our unit, we often have antepartum patients that stay for weeks at a time,” noted one of her colleagues. “Leslie always gets to know these patients and is invested in their health and well-being. We consider her a part of the 4East family and certainly missed her joyful spirit while she was on the COVID Unit.”

“Leslie is truly a one-of-a-kind employee,” said Environmental Services Manager Gwendolyn Head. “I know that when she’s here, 4East will be taken well care of. Thanks to Leslie for being an outstanding employee and the true meaning of what Credo stands for.”

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.