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Remembering Karla: A Tribute to a Health Center Nurse Lost to COVID-19

Karla Pope, RN, Director of Nursing, CompleteCare Health Network

Editor’s Note: Some 41,000 Community Health Center staff have been infected with COVID-19. Karla Pope was one of them. NACHC invited her colleague Kimberly Tweed, Director of Marketing & Development at CompleteCare Health, Bridgeton, NJ, to share this remembrance.

My time with Karla Pope as my office neighbor was relatively short but sharing a wall with someone who was so incredibly caring, thoughtful, and eager to make people better is something that I will certainly never forget.

Karla Pope, RN, MSN was the Director of Nursing for CompleteCare Health Network since 2017. She was a born nurse and educator and her vibrance and energy often entered the building before she did. She had a voice that carried, a distinctive laugh, and a strong and joyful personality.

Karla was a powerful leader, not through fear, intimidation or bravado, but because she cared about and valued the success of others and put emphasis on quality, not just for the work her staff did, but for the work she did as well. She would tell it like it is, but not in a way that made you feel less than, but in a way that made you want to do better and be better. She made her coworkers stronger, even those of us in non-clinical roles who partnered with her on projects.

I often overheard her spending countless hours counseling and mentoring practice managers, nurses and medical assistants across the organization. She was the guide to these and many other teams, talking them through problems, walking them away from meltdowns, and urging them to stay positive and faithful to find their answers.

In the last year of her life, like so many in healthcare, Karla was focused on COVID-19.  Despite the pandemic, our CompleteCare administration team became much closer in 2020, with countless meetings that lasted into evening and weekend hours, we shared lunches, dinners, breakfasts and way too many sweet treats. We talked about fears and concerns for all the things that were unknown. We changed processes and policies and created COVID testing clinics out of thin air. We were able to implement programs that had been years in the making. We created systems and processes to help the community heal and at the same time keep our staff safe from harm. We bickered and got agitated and angry with one another. We laughed A LOT.

Karla Pope, RN, Director of Nursing, CompleteCare Health Network

Ultimately, with Karla by our side CompleteCare helped thousands in our community get tested for COVID-19 and we continue to provide testing almost every day. In addition, to date we have given over 2,000 COVID vaccines. Karla administered the first doses of the vaccine to front line staff just about a week before she went into the hospital. I was lucky enough to have her give me my shot and she did so with the same light and laughter with which she faced so many projects.

Sadly, Karla died a few weeks later.

The loss of Karla has been devastating to our team. We will miss so many things about her, both professionally and personally. She was a mom and a grandmother, a wife and a sister. She was a strong leader, a magnificent teacher and a confident and qualified nurse. She had a passion for learning, consistently continuing her education throughout her time at CompleteCare. She had little fear and pushed forward with determination and with the belief that no matter what she would be taken care of in this world. She tried her best to pass that insight on to each of us and I know that is one of the few things that keeps us all working, pushing and moving forward each day to continue our work and honor her legacy.