Very few people ever consider having a medical or other emergency while at church, but in each of the five campuses of Houston’s First there are dedicated first responders on call to deal with emergencies during Life Bible Studies, worship services and special events.
Security and safety has been on the minds of church leaders since Houston’s First was a single-site church located in downtown Houston. In the early years there, one church member, a doctor, kept a couple of black attaché cases stored at the church stocked with oxygen and drugs in case of a medical emergency. The Loop Campus was initially constructed in 1977 with a dedicated first aid room. Over the years, with few actual emergencies and limited space for a growing congregation, the room was edged out to make room for other activities. Today, organized medical teams exist at The Loop, Español and Cypress campuses. The Downtown and Sienna campuses are manned by police officers with basic first aid knowledge that can respond to medical as well as security needs.
Since the first organized team of medical professionals began standing by “on call” in the early 1980s, they have responded to falls, diabetic emergencies, or in rare cases, chest pain. Houston’s First has several automated external defibrillators (AED) in various locations at The Loop and Español campuses, and in other spaces at the campuses in Cypress, Sienna and Downtown.
In nearly three decades of nursing, Houston’s First member Sharon Ragsdale was part of the early group that wrote protocols for the Emergency Medical Team (EMT) at The Loop. Years of experience in neurology, head & neck surgery, and acute wound care has given her special insight into treating patients who are experiencing medical difficulties.
“I’ve loved being a nurse from day one,” said Sharon. “The Lord knew way before I did that it was what I was meant to do. In all the years, I’ve never reconsidered or questioned it. Since God made clear to me the path I was supposed to take, I just jump in to help.”
The Emergency Medical Team at The Loop and Español campuses are made up of Sharon and nine others: Kathryn Brown, RN, specializing in pediatrics, now a school nurse; Sandra Cobb, RN; Dr. Linda Echevarria, Family Medicine; Carolyn (Carey) Holmes, RN, Nurse Practitioner at MD Anderson Cancer Center; Janice Lee, RN; John & Susan Murphy, both licensed EMTs and volunteers at Jersey Village Fire Department; Richard Ponce, accountability officer and licensed Paramedic, Houston Fire Dept-78; Young Shrout, RN, Certified Nurse Anesthetist & Manager at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Other first responders include Houston Police Officers, Jose Herrera, Patrick Norris and Tammy DeLuke, who are on call to respond to security emergencies and traffic detail.
Alecia Mallet heads up the Medical On-Call team at the Cypress Campus since they began planning the opening of the campus more than three years ago. She puts her experience as an RN and Nurse Practitioner to good use during the shifts while on call at the church. “A fire chief who used to be a member at the Cypress Campus donated the first AED and first aid kit, and those were the first resources for the team,” said Alecia. “Though we have a seven-week duty calendar, everyone tag-teams and works together to help when, and wherever, they’re needed.”
Cypress Campus Medical On-Call team members are: Candace Ganjavi, RN, Cardiac Cath Lab recovery, Memorial Hermann Memorial City; Julio Hernandez, Paramedic, Houston Fire Dept; Maria Lemond, RN, Cardiac ICU Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute, Medical Center; Mike Manis, RN, Emergency Room, Houston Methodist West; Alecia Mallett, Family Practice, Tomball; Bethany Spenn, Physician Assistant, Oncology, Houston Methodist Medical Center; and the newest addition, Amber Finn, RN, Cardiac Cath Lab recovery, Memorial Hermann Memorial City.
“Being part of the Medical On-Call Team allows us to use the gifts we have,” said Alecia. “We are thrilled to have the knowledge and use it to serve the people of our church.”
Though the relatively smaller Sienna Campus has no formal medical team, “Officer Dawn” Nolan is a longtime favorite among the regulars. For nearly three years Officer Dawn has faithfully been available for emergencies of all kinds each Sunday morning and for all special events. “I’m not exactly a member, but all the members treat me like family,” said Dawn. “If I take vacation, when I come back they ask me where I was. They’re genuinely concerned.”
Houston Police Officers Alex Roberts, Walter Shields and Mike Bruner watch over the Downtown Campus and parking areas each Sunday. They provide security for the campus, standing guard during Life Bible Study and beyond the worship service until all the members are safely out of the parking garage.
“There are many volunteer medical professionals and paid security staff at our campuses who are committed to keeping our members safe,” said Nate Finn, security director at Houston’s First. “With the number of people in our church across five campuses, we want to provide a safe environment for members and guests as they come to worship and participate in the life of the church.”