Noble Mission: Air Force Veteran Makes Landing into Healthcare Just in Time for COVID
As a kid growing up in Bristol, Vermont, Lee Ayers already had a strong love for his country building in his tiny chest. The American Dream evoked feelings of opportunity and pride. Over time, those feelings evolved into a desire to do something bigger beyond his small hometown. While others were more focused on college, he wanted to broaden his horizons in other ways. Traveling the world, experiencing other cultures and serving his country would be his education.
Ayers met with recruiters from a few branches of the military, but ultimately felt that the Air Force was the best fit for him. It has a structure and culture that spoke to him most. He ventured off to basic training a month after his 18th birthday.
In his 24 years of military service, Ayers spent all of his time in supply chain operations—a field he knew would benefit him well when he transitioned to civilian life. He had a hand in sending nuclear supplies, fuel, aircraft and vehicle parts across the globe. He was stationed in Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Texas and Washington. His international destinations included England, Germany, Iraq, Kuwait and South Korea. The places, the cultures, the missions all combined into unbelievable teachings. And one of the most profound lessons he learned was one in trust.
As part of a combat logistics unit, Ayers and his team could get the call day or night to fly anywhere in the world. On one occasion, he and his team were summoned to Saudi Arabia to tear down and clean up a special operations camp. His group of seven were dropped in the middle of the desert—one small airstrip in a sea of sand. The unit was there 45 days, disassembling the camp with the goal of leaving the desert as it was before special operations’ arrival. As their own supplies dwindled and the last of the gear was packed, Ayers realized that the last remaining item left with the team was faith. Faith that their work paid off. Faith that the pilot had their coordinates and would return for them. And as the lights from the plane slowly descended from the night sky and chirped its tires on that little runway, Ayers trust was affirmed.
Trust, communication, commitment, camaraderie—all traits and features of the military life that Ayers loved. When the time came for him to make the move to civilian life, he scoured and studied for opportunities that mirrored what he had experienced during his service.
“The military attracts a certain type a person who wants to serve and give back, which is not unlike healthcare,” said Ayers. “I hadn’t thought about healthcare originally, but the experience completely translated. You are saving lives in the military. I can do that again now in a different way.”
Enemy #1: COVID-19
Little did Ayers know how much of that was true. He joined Sutter about three months prior of COVID-19 arriving stateside. His original and current role is overseeing the supply chain operations for all affiliates across the network. His responsibility evolved into playing a key role within Sutter Health’s Emergency Management System, or SHEMS, which helps provide a coordinated response across the network in times of disaster. Ayers remarked how familiar SHEMS felt to military command centers he had been in the past, including one where he served as an Air Force Supply Chain subject matter expert aiding the global distribution of materials and supplies during the Ebola crisis.
Thanks to the research, relationships and creativity of Ayers and his supply chain teams, Sutter secured the necessary PPE to help protect patient and employees. While undoubtedly there were challenges along the way, the team remained focused on solutions.
“These are no fail missions,” he said, drawing parallels again from the military to healthcare. “PPE is one of the enemy’s weaknesses.”
Much remains to be seen with the pandemic and now through the flu season, but Ayers remains at the ready. Part of that comes from the security he feels in his experience and his choice to make the transition into healthcare.
“I’m super proud of my 24 years of service to our country,” he said. “And I feel fortunate every day to work at Sutter. I know it was meant to be that I’m here. I am so impressed with Sutter’s integrated network and the heroes I work with every day. Sutter is an organization that’s connected, strong, competent and completely aligned with its mission to care for people and save lives.”
Sutter Salutes Military Support Efforts
Sutter Health’s appreciation for military service members goes beyond the more than 1,300 veterans and reservists who work within the not-for-profit network. Sutter Health supports a number of community organizations that help veterans, today and throughout the year. A couple of examples include the Fisher House Foundation, which provides lodging for families of military members undergoing hospital treatment for a combat injury, illness or disease, and the American Red Cross’s Reconnection Workshops, which are no-cost, confidential workshops to help returning service members and veterans readjust to life within their family, community and workplace.
“We’re proud and grateful for the service and sacrifice of our military members, and for the veterans and reservists who are helping care for our communities through our not-for-profit mission,” said Sarah Krevans, president and CEO of Sutter Health. “We meet our mission through teamwork, and our efforts have made an even greater impact during this unprecedented time.”