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Updated: November 27, 2023 / 2023 Champions of Health Care

Champions of Health Care: Letourneau fulfilled critical roles during COVID

Five healthcare provides smile at the camera PHOTO | Courtesy of Courtney Letourneau Courtney Letourneau (center) with other healthcare providers and a translator in 2018 visited the rural mountains of Haiti, where access to health care is limited.

If you wanted to chart the impact of the COVID pandemic on medicine in Central Massachusetts, you could do worse than just following the career of nurse practitioner Courtney Letourneau. Over the last few years, she’s seen it all: from the ravages of the disease itself to the lingering impact on the region’s children.

Letourneau was working at Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester, in orthopedics and surgery, when the pandemic forced those departments to limit themselves to emergency procedures, causing her to be furloughed along with other staff. So she signed up to work at the field hospital the state created for the emergency at the DCU Center. She said she was “motivated to try to help, to see people through this ridiculous time.”

“Each day you went in, you knew you were going to make some sort of a difference,” she said, “and you knew you were probably going to learn something new.”

Bio box on nurse practitioner Courtney Letourneau
Courtney Letourneau bio box

Even with the stress and heartbreak of the work, Letourneau said she felt good she was getting out of the house and doing something to help. It’s something no one who participated in that work will ever forget, she said.

After the most intense wave of COVID infections ebbed and the field hospital closed, Letourneau took her career in a new direction, working as a school nurse at Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton. While this work didn’t allow her to use her full scope of practice as a nurse practitioner, she loved taking care of the students. She found it rewarding to get to know them. As a former student athlete and one of the younger faculty members at the school, she bonded easily with many of the teenagers.

Yet, she discovered the mental health challenges students were facing, especially in the COVID era. She maintained an open-door policy and often found kids would chat with her about problems they didn’t want to address formally with a counselor.

“When students have a bad day, they go to the nurse,” she said. “You’re talking to kids about everything from ‘Oh my God, I failed the test’ to ‘My grandfather just passed away.’”

This spring, Letourneau’s career reached another turning point after she gave birth to a daughter in May.

“Being home with her during maternity leave, and even before that, we were thinking I want to spend more time with her,” she said. “I do want to work; I just don’t want to go to work as much.”

And so, Letourneau returned to her hospital nursing roots, getting a job working nights at the UMass Memorial Medical Center Emergency Department in Worcester. She now works three nights a week, doing 12-hour shifts, so she can be home four days out of seven and eat dinner with her family each night.

Letourneau found she’s excited about the work itself. Having spent years away from floor nursing, she said it’s gratifying to return to the fast-paced, adrenaline-filled workstyle.

“My brain likes that as well,” she said.

Even today, though, Letourneau sees the lingering effects of the pandemic. Healthcare workers and patients remain alert to concerns about transmitting COVID, and masks remain a must in many situations. Patients face continuing fallout from getting sick. Letourneau said some patients have respiratory problems related to bad cases keeping them hospitalized for months, while others are worried about going to the hospital at all because of concerns about the disease.

“It’s carrying over in different ways,” she said. “It’s just something we’ll have to deal with. But I think we’ve come a long way, and that’s awesome.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Courtney Letourneau is working as a nurse practitioner in the UMass Memorial Medical Center Emergency Department. Her role is as a nurse.

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