Tex Appeal Magazine | Fall 2020

Page 26


‘healthcare hero’ By MANDY SHELTON | Photography by KRISTA KASPER, ADVENTHEALTH


lysse Gutierrez is a healthcare hero who is working to keep her co-workers—other heroes—safe during a pandemic. Gutierrez is an infection control nurse at AdventHealth in Killeen. “I didn’t go into nursing saying, ‘I want to be an infection control nurse,’” Gutierrez said. The AdventHealth staff and patients should be happy she is. When a contagious disease such as COVID-19 threatens the population at large, an infection preventionist focuses on a securing a specific healthcare setting, such as a hospital system like AdventHealth. In addition to her MSN and RN, Gutierrez holds a certification in Infection Prevention and Control awarded by the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology. “You don’t really see that, initially, about how much impact an infection preventionist has on the safety of not just the patients, but the staff,” Gutierrez said. “I worked the ER for a while, and you see all the potential for you being unsafe just so you can take care of someone and keep them safe and healthy.” “She’s kind of the healthcare hero that’s keeping all of our other healthcare heroes safe,” said Erin Riley, public relations and marketing manager for AdventHealth. “She’s done a lot of good work behind the scenes.” Riley said that the preparedness of Elysse and the healthcare system’s leaders ensured AdventHealth never experienced the personal protective equipment shortages or the overflow of patients typical of COVID-19 response nationwide. “We were not caught off guard,” Gutierrez said, except for the amount of fear. “Everybody was caught off guard on that because it caused a lot more fear than maybe we had really anticipated. But as far as being ready to deal with it when it hit our hospital, we already had a plan in place. So it was just a matter of implementing it and putting it into play.” Gutierrez, who returned to Metroplex in 2015 and became a certified infection prevention and control specialist in 2017, took the opportunity


because it was a way to keep her co-workers safe. “I can not only take care of the staff and my colleagues, but I can take care of the patients, too, because the things I do to help the staff stay safe subsequently make the patient safe as well.” She began her career at Metroplex as an employee health nurse. “This actually fell into my lap. I really took the opportunity when I came back from all my traveling, I had already been in kind of a mindset of: ‘How do we stay safe as healthcare providers?’ I’d see all of those times when I was working, and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even think about myself in that situation. I was just thinking about the patient.’ But we really do need to think about ourselves, and sometimes you need somebody else to do that for you.” Gutierrez has been thinking about others in Killeen since she was a teenager. “We’re here because my mother was in the military. I’ve been here about 27 years, so I’ve been here a long time.” The family moved here in 1993; Elysse started her sophomore year at Ellison and graduated in 1996. “Healthcare was always in my mind. My life kind of went around in a couple of circles, but it always came right back to it. It never stopped calling me,” Gutierrez said. “I always felt a need to take care of people.” She graduated from Central Texas College in 2005, got her nursing license, and began her first stint at Metroplex, now AdventHealth. “I always had a special place in my heart for them,” Gutierrez said. As a student at Ellison, she had participated in Health Occupation Students of America, and Metroplex funded one of her competitions. “So it was always: ‘I want to work for them because they really care about people. They did this for me to go kind of live my dream as a high schooler.’” Her husband was also in the military, Gutierrez explained. “I’m the brat and the spouse.” After moving to North Carolina, Wisconsin, and even overseas for a couple of years, she returned to Killeen. “I just got pulled right back in,” she said, adding: “We’re retired now, so no more leaving.” Though Gutierrez addresses infection prevention every day, COVID-19 threw everyone for a loop. “There are challenges, obviously, with what’s going