When Jeffrey Whitfield graduated from nursing school eight years ago, he accepted a position as a registered nurse at Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital and returned to his hometown of Winona.
“This is my first nursing job,” he said. “As soon as I graduated I came back here. It has always felt right. Everyone is like a family here; there is no place I’d rather be.”
Tyler Holmes has been a large part of Whitfield’s life, even before he joined the staff at the hospital. His mother, Celia Graham, was the director of radiology for years before she retired not too long ago.
“I think I have a family member in just about every department,” Whitfield said.
So when the hospital was looking for a new director of nursing earlier this year, Whitfield got the nod, starting his new position on March 2, a little more than a week before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With that declaration, Tyler Holmes put in place a plan for dealing with the virus. Whitfield, as part of the hospital’s administration, helped execute that plan.
“I got thrown into it,” Whitfield said. “[Tyler Holmes] has had plans in place for something like this, but [the virus] had every hospital in the state scrambling.”
Whitfield said Kim Timbs, the hospital’s clinical director, led the creation of the hospital’s Fast Track clinic to separate patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms from well patients at the two clinics in Winona.
“That was [Timbs’] baby,” Whitfield said. “She thought on the lines of telehealth to limit the exposure of the virus. Our nurse practitioners at the clinics were brought in and anyone with respiratory illness or fever were sent there.”
The Fast Track Clinic is housed in the hospital’s old intensive care unit, which prior to the pandemic served as the wound care clinic. It was fully-equipped to handle the needs, with x-rays and laboratory services available on site.
“It helps lower the transmission risk,” Whitfield said. “It isolates it to one place.”
As director of nursing, Whitfield is responsible for the continuing education of the nursing staff. As research and treatment protocols continue to evolve almost daily, Whitfield is responsible for keeping his educated about the virus.
“This has just consumed everything daily,” Whitfield said. “Just to keep my staff up-to-date [is consuming.]”
Whitfield oversees approximately 55 full and part time licensed practical nurses and registered nurses at Tyler Holmes. He is responsible for all nursing procedures and shift scheduling, as well as ensuring all equipment like computers are in working order. He also works to provide continuing education, outside COVID-19, opportunities to his staff.
“I want everyone to be prepared,” Whitfield said.
In fact, when he accepted the position, before the pandemic was prepared, his focus was on increasing continuing education opportunities at the hospital, especially trainings held on the Tyler Holmes campus.
“I am trying to bring a lot of those things back in house,” Whitfield said. “I think it is a benefit to our employees. I am looking at anything and everything I can to improve and make everyone’s lives easier.”
As a teen, nursing was not something Whitfield planned to pursue, however, he was drawn to the field while studying at Mississippi State.
A native of Winona, Whitfield graduated from Winona High School and went on to MSU to pursue an undergraduate degree. Once there, he said he was unsure of what career path to take until he took an anatomy class. His mother was in the healthcare field, and his sister, Jill, is a nurse practitioner.
“I kind of fell into it,” he said. “It was like my calling. It was meant to be.”
Whitfield transferred to Holmes Community College where he earned an Associate’s degree in nursing, and then went on to the University of Mississippi Medical Center where he earned his Bachelor’s in nursing.
Then, he returned home to Winona and Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital. He said the reason so many employees of the hospital stay long term is the close-knit community among the staff.
“We are so small, we are like family,” he said. “I’ve always felt comfortable here. We also give exceptional care compared to other places.”
As for his goals as director of nursing, Whitfield said, “I want this to be the place where everyone [in our community gets care]. I want us to be one of the best hospitals out there.”
Whitfield is married to Julie Phillips Whitfield, who also works at Tyler Holmes as an occupational therapist assistant. The couple has a three-year-old daughter, Lyla.
Outside the hospital, Whitfield is a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Winona, and when he has the time, he enjoys playing golf.