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Valerie Concepcion: An Unexpected Path to the Frontline

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, our staff have been working hard on the frontline to keep our community safe.  Among those doing so at The Floating Hospital is Valerie Concepcion CCMA, Medical Assistant Supervisor and Clinic Flow Manager. Here, she opens up about the frontline experience.

Valerie lived in London until the age of twelve, when her family moved to the United States. She has wanted to work in the medical profession ever since she was a child, grateful for care of her own doctor, who not only treated her asthma, but whose personal concern for her overall well-being made her feel better.

She recounts an instance where her father showed her a drawing she made for a school assignment asking students what they wanted to be when they grew up; Valerie drew herself wearing a nurse’s uniform.

While she was on track to reach this goal after completing a medical assistant training program in high school, the high cost of college tuition forced her to take a detour into military service with the Army National Guard.

Valerie was stationed at Fort Eustis, Virginia during Operation Enduring Freedom, training for her deployment to Iraq where she was assigned to work as a finance specialist. When her tour ended in 2006, she fulfilled her dream of completing her medical assistant training, and joined The Floating Hospital—her first job in the medical profession. She never left!

Making a difference

For Valerie, the fact that she enjoys her job makes all the difference. “When you go into a job that you actually love, you can do more, not just the basics.”

While Valerie sees her job as having a strong customer service component, she believes that there are also teaching moments where the patience and respect she shows to patients can influence their attitudes and well-being.

When staff help parents keep their children calm and happy, take the time to explain a medical procedure, relate to patients as individuals, Valerie believes that— just as she did— these patients carry that experience with them long after they complete their visit.

Describe a typical day at The Floating Hospital during the COVID-19 crisis.

Let me start out by saying that there was no such thing as a “typical day” during COVID!

There were constant changes every day. We were also constantly responding to government mandates and changes that then directly affected the clinic changes we were making.

Every day there were questions, such as “Do we have enough PPE (personal protective equipment)?” “How do we protect staff?” “How do we protect patients?”

I was also managing uncertainty: “How do we separate COVID patients from other patients?” “How do we keep the clinic afloat?”

The biggest fear of staff was catching COVID. I spent a lot of my time reassuring staff and working to keep them safe.

Has the experience changed you, professionally or personally? If so, how?

I’ve always treated my patients with respect, but now I feel even more empathetic towards them. I want to embrace them, make them feel comfortable and safe here, not feel like they are “lepers” if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus. I want to make them feel even more welcome at TFH. 

Professionally, this experience has made me a better MA (Medical Assistant). I find myself doing my job even more diligently (and I was diligent before!)—being on top of everything—staffing, safety protocols. Now I recognize even more the importance of policies and procedures. 

Personally, I’m more cognizant of my surroundings. I caught COVID and from this experience I realize how precious life is; I realized that we can’t assume and don’t really know if we are going to see the next day. 

We must enjoy our families and not take them for granted. And friendships are very important—just to have social interactions is very important, mentally. 

Has there been any moment during the crisis that inspired you? Any kind of a defining moment?

What is inspiring to me is when I see family members come in with one another, and they are truly trying to take care of one another.

For example, you see a daughter in her 40s wheeling her mother, who is in her 80s, into the clinic and worrying about her. The look on her face and the care you see in the moment is very touching.

I saw a couple in their 70s come in, so nicely dressed and well put together. But the fear you saw in their eyes behind their masks was so palpable – the fear of the unknown, of COVID, that they were not going to make it. For me, after I saw that – that terror in their eyes – that was a defining moment.

The whole impression was so overwhelming and powerful for me. I promised myself that I didn’t want them to feel alone. I wanted to let them know that we cared and that we were here for them. It was a turning point for me to do everything in my power to make patients feel comfortable, welcome and cared for at TFH.

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Have you learned anything about yourself or your team?

From the pandemic I learned that I could be very strong, mentally strong. I learned that I could take on all aspects of a load on both my home and work fronts and keep pushing through. I learned that I could be strong for my team as well as bring them along.

Early on, I realized that I had to be strong for my team because if I wavered, they would have wavered. I also learned the importance of having knowledge. If you have facts on your side, the team will back you up.

I learned that I was able to hold things together and could pass on my information to my staff, which I think my team appreciated. What I learned from my team is that they held everything together. They were strong. They had each other’s back and had my back, something I really appreciated. We became a real unit.

Do you have any rituals to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy?

Yes, sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. I’ve done more hand washing than at any other time in my life. Also, same rituals as everybody else—wear masks, disinfect everything you touch, do everything you can to protect your family from the contaminants in the work environment, and keep informed.

It is important to keep informed of changes and new governmental protocols, and implement them at work and at home.

Do you have any advice for your fellow healthcare professionals on the frontline?

Take a mindfulness moment–that is a must. We need to learn how to de-stress, relax and to laugh. And sometimes you need to cry it out—just do it—let out your emotions!

Are there any other thoughts that stand out from the experience of dealing with Covid-19?

Being in healthcare, you never expect to be on the frontline. The frontline is for soldiers, police officers, and firefighters.

What stands out for me is that we were called up to do what we love to do, which is to take care of people, in an extreme situation. I’m very proud of what we accomplished together at TFH.

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital is the largest provider of healthcare to homeless families. We provide free and secure transport to and from over 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

The Floating Hospital operates a main clinic in Long Island City. Additionally, we have satellite clinics at shelters, public housing, and assessment centers throughout the city.