Back to all stories

VNA’s President Reflects on Historical Pandemic Experience

April 29, 2020 | VNA Staff

As we step up to take care of our patients during this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on my previous experience during another uncertain time. When I worked in Chicago for VNA in the 1980s, I had patients with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, otherwise known as AIDS. 

We didn’t know much about how the disease was transmitted. We were unsure if it could be passed on by sweat, saliva, or tears, of which there were many. There wasn’t the needed equipment or in-depth instructions to the extent that our employees have today. 

I remember one young man and his mother, who was doing her best to care for him. He was dying and needed to move back into her house. He was too weak to walk upstairs, so she converted their living room into a bedroom. His mother was frail herself, too. As a physical therapist, I taught her how to help her son regain some strength so they could care for each other. It was a scary time for patients, families, and caregivers alike. 

We are better equipped today because of the lessons learned during that pandemic. Since the 1980s, HIV/AIDS has caused over 32 million deaths worldwide. As of today, COVID-19 has caused over 200,000 deaths worldwide. Both are a tragedy, but we cannot lose hope. I’m proud to lead VNA during this pandemic, and I know our entire staff is doing everything in their power to keep our patients as healthy as possible.

We cannot change history, but we can learn from it. We are wielding our collective knowledge and experience to take on this new challenge and continue to protect the most vulnerable.


James C. (Jamie) Summerfelt, M.Ed, MSPT
President & CEO

Share this story:

Back to all stories