The pandemic and the problem of vaccinating enough people to end it became a personal matter for Derrick Jones when he lost two family members to the coronavirus.
Jones, new CEO of Lovelace Westside Hospital, had been battling the virus in his professional life when his relatives in Alabama died – deaths that could have been prevented had they been vaccinated, Jones says.
“I have just in the last four months buried two family members,” he says. “I believe it could have been avoided by taking the vaccines and having that available to them early and often.”
Jones, who spent a decade heading the Lovelace UNM Rehabilitation Hospital, says the deaths reaffirm his commitment to health care and his desire to get vaccines to as many people as possible.
“Knowing that we can make an impact on someone else’s life and maybe prevent them from having to go through some of that death (and) devastation is something that helps me get through these things,” he says. “At the rehabilitation hospital, I think we gave out over a thousand doses of vaccine while I was there.”
A pastor’s son who grew up in Alabama, Jones says he envisioned becoming a pharmacist or a physician.
“But I got to organic chemistry, and had to make a right turn there,” he says. “I took a health policy class and health care administration class and the rest is history.”
What’s the best part of your profession?
“Really, it is being able to see and effect change on the lives of every day people. Especially at the rehab hospital, one of the things we would do is clap out our patients upon discharge. We’d line the hallways, we’d clap for them as they were leaving. Seeing people come in not being able to walk, not being able to talk, not being able to do anything for themselves. To see them be able to walk out of a hospital under their own power, doing so much better communicating or being independent – being able to see that impact on people is really, really important. I think (it’s) just knowing that you’re making a difference, knowing that you’re doing some good along the way.”
What do you do in your free time?
“Well, there’s not a lot of free time. I’m the father of three daughters. All three of them are very active. My oldest is a college swimmer. My middle daughter is a volleyball player who’s probably going to play in college. My youngest daughter is playing soccer, running track. They just keep us on the go all the time.”
What are your favorite foods?
“I always enjoy a great steak. I grew up eating a lot of the southern comfort foods, so a good fried chicken is always really good. I used to have a really great love of fish, but developed a fish allergy six or seven years ago. It’s something I’d love to eat, but can not. Anything that is caramelly flavored. Snickers. I love that.”
What do you think has made you successful?
“I would say … remaining focused on why we’re here and eliminating some of the noise that sometimes comes along with these types of jobs and administrative work. As long as we remember every day that we’re here for patients – that’s our No. 1 concern and to make a difference in their lives. I stay focused and … make sure that we’re doing the right thing for patients in the right way.”
Do you have any hidden talents?
“I think that’s one I’d have to refer to my daughters. They’d say, ‘You’re talking about our dad?’ ”
Do you have any thoughts on how to get more people vaccinated?
“I don’t think there’s anything magical about it. I do know that there was early on, and there still continues to be, some reluctance for some minority populations, and there’s a lot of historical reasons for that. But I think the best that we can do as leaders is continue to show that it is safe and effective. Model the same behavior that we’re asking others to do, which is take the vaccine and continue to offer it as much as we possibly can to the population. Continuing to put out the facts surrounding it, letting people make informed decisions about the risk, what the benefits are for taking the vaccine and what it might prevent is the only thing that we can do. But making it a really fact-based approach rather than an emotional sort of plea.”
What professional achievements are you proud of?
“Obviously, the partnership that we (Lovelace Rehabilitation Hospital) had with the University of New Mexico. That’s something to be very, very proud of, and the state should be proud of – to see two organizations come together, serving many more New Mexicans than we were before. Starting a physical medicine and rehabilitation residency program was also very, very exciting. Any time you get to start a program with new positions, hopefully those physicians will end up staying in the state, and that’s our goal is to get them to stay here.”
What’s something few people know about you?
“Love Major League Baseball. I’ve been a Mets fan since 1985. Caps, jerseys, yeah.”
Do you have any regrets?
“I think only one regret. It was very early on in my professional career in the late ’90s. I had a grandmother who was ill, and I was working. I had just gotten a new job. It was probably my first year of working and I called my parents, and they told me, ‘Hey, grandmother, she’s in a nursing home, she’s not doing well.’ I said, ‘Do I need to come right now, or can I come this weekend?’ They said, ‘It should be fine if you come this weekend.’ And before the weekend got there, she passed away. And so I think what that imparted to me was yes, work is important, but the health of your family is even more important. I wish I’d gotten a chance to really say goodbye to her. So I think that’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my career.”