When Cathy Brown joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, she did not expect to actually save a person’s life within the first 30 minutes of the first shift at her service site. But that’s exactly what happened!
As a retired nurse, Cathy serves as a general assistant and patient navigator at the Harry Tompson Center (HTC), a day shelter in downtown New Orleans serving people experiencing homelessness. Her job description includes providing HTC guests with a caring and supportive environment, helping to facilitate basic services like access to basic medicines and supplies, showers, telephones and case management. Because of her medical background, she will also assist guests with accessing healthcare services, both long-term and through the twice-weekly medical clinic at HTC, when the pandemic has eased enough for it to resume operations.
On that fateful morning, Cathy noticed a guest experiencing what appeared to be an opioid drug overdose. She asked her supervisor, Eva, if Narcan (naloxone) was available onsite. It was, but Eva – who started with HTC during the pandemic – had only received training on administering the medication online. Having previously worked as a psychiatric nurse, Cathy was quite familiar with injecting the drug. She responded immediately to provide the lifesaving, emergency medicine to the woman in distress, allowing time for the paramedics to arrive and rush the patient to the hospital.
Now, Cathy is scheduled to lead an in-service for the HTC staff on injecting Narcan in case anyone else needs to administer it in her absence. She’s also going to clean out the on-site medical clinic that has been closed since March of 2020 by safely disposing of expired medicines and otherwise preparing for its eventual reopening. Thanks to Cathy, when the clinic finally does reopen, volunteer doctors and nurses can immediately resume offering medical care to HTC guests in a clean and orderly environment.
Another incredible early experience in her service helped a man move off of the streets into immediate long-term housing! When HTC reopened two weeks after Hurricane Ida, Cathy met an older man and began casually chatting with him. She learned that, though he had been living on the streets for over a month, he had previously been in a nursing home. Cathy asked the simple question “Would you like to go back?” and he replied that he did, but he didn’t know how. He didn’t have a phone or transportation. Again, Cathy responded immediately and proactively, and he was safely back in his room at the nursing home that evening. All it took to help this man regain reliable, safe housing was having the time and attention to engage with him.
Since the pandemic started, the HTC staff have not had as many regular volunteers as they used to. As a result, they are even busier than usual and find it difficult to provide this kind of quiet attention to each individual guest. That’s another reason Eva likes having Cathy on the team, besides her medical experience and knowledge: she’s another reliable, compassionate person to provide the care that each HTC guest deserves.
When asked if she’d allow me to share her story with the IVC community, Cathy’s humble response was, “Well, I’m no Saint or anything! I was just doing what I know how to do!”
That is the wonderful magic of the Ignatian Volunteer experience, isn’t it? When what you have to offer is just what your service site needs to expand their ability to achieve their mission.