ST. CLOUD – When St. Cloud resident Jeanne Ritten thinks of the word “hero,” she immediately thinks of her close friend Carol Lee.

Lee, a St. Joseph resident and nurse for the St. Cloud VA Health Care system, recently volunteered to staff a contingency isolation area to be established in case any current nursing home residents are found at increased risk of COVID-19.

“She told me some of the other nurses are married and have children,” said Ritten. “She doesn’t. She said, ‘my son is grown. I’m by myself. I can take that (job), and do what I have to do. And if the good lord keeps me safe and healthy, that’s a plus.”

Lee's compassionate decision didn't surprise Ritten. Several years ago, Lee, then a palliative care nurse, cared for a longtime friend and neighbor of Ritten’s during her final days.

“Our really friendship deepened then, I think,” Ritten explained. “I got to know her better, and basically, I got to see how she really cares for her patients. My friend would tell me, ‘oh gosh, I don’t know what I would do without her. She even sits with me and lets me cry, and cries with me.’ So, I got to know what a dedicated and caring person she is.”

Lee works the daytime shift at the VA. Ritten says she often finds time to make extra patient rounds during her shifts, just to visit with patients.

These days, Ritten says that extra attention is especially vital.

“Visitors aren’t allowed and so the staff are the only people (the patients) see,” explained Ritten. “And the patients' minds wander. Some of them will confide in her about how worried they are about their families. (The patients) lay in bed all day; they watch the news and they have all this stuff coming at them, and they can’t leave or see their families. Some can’t even get up to go to a window.”

Ritten says Lee is a calming and reassuring presence in these difficult times.

“She always tries to ease their minds and reassure them that their families are fine,” she said. “She tells them, ‘don’t worry, your family is staying home. They’re wearing masks.’ She just gives them a great deal of comfort.”

“And she says everyone is special,” added Ritten. “These people – they don’t have any other visitors right now. They need to feel cared about and loved at this time, more than any other time. She’s doing that.”

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