Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2022: Carla Brown

Nurse Carla Brown is on a mission to educate others, especially the underserved and underprivileged, about the deadly dangers of COVID-19. She and her “COVID Crusaders” team have personally vaccinated 6,100 people since the vaccine became available.

It’s personal for Brown.

In May 2020, Brown, 63, says she brought COVID-19 home from her nursing job at a behavioral hospital. She, her husband David Brown, and her brother and father all fell ill. The three men were hospitalized while Brown took four weeks to recover at home.

While her brother and father eventually recovered, David Brown grew worse. He was placed on a ventilator and died without any family by his side two months after he entered the hospital. Her husband of 21 years had survived two cancer diagnoses and a gunshot wound as a younger man, but he couldn’t defeat COVID-19, Brown says.

Brown decided to honor her husband by helping others. “It’s relieving the guilt of knowing I caused my husband’s death,” Brown says. “My husband beat all of that to die from a virus I brought home, and that’s something I’ve got to take to my grave.”

Before the vaccine was available, she took to her neighborhood streets, knocking on doors and teaching people about the importance of social distancing and wearing masks. “I felt it was my duty to prepare them so they didn’t have to go through seeing three loved ones go to the hospital like I did,” Brown says.

She soon began work at Canon Hospice as the director of nursing. There, co-worker Missy Hastings joined Brown’s team of COVID Crusaders, and after work they would pound pavement helping to educate people about the virus and even driving people to vaccine appointments in Brown’s own vehicle.

Brown and her COVID Crusaders team have received plenty of local attention. This summer, Governor John Bel Edwards called her a “true Louisiana hero” and announced that the Louisiana Department of Health launched an initiative in her name. It has already trained 14 nurses to follow Brown’s lead in door-to-door outreach, Edwards said. Brown also received a $25,000 honorarium from Louisiana Healthcare Connections in recognition of her personal fight against COVID-19.

Brown estimates only 57 of the people approached by her team have said no to the vaccine. Most are grateful for the chance to get vaccinated, oftentimes in the comfort of their own homes. The people Brown and her team vaccinate are often homebound, elderly or the underprivileged who can’t or won’t leave their homes. Many are confused by the online process of signing up for a vaccine or have no transportation, she says.

“I hope to achieve family getting back together,” Brown says. “Celebrating weddings and holidays. Going back to see their great-grandmas and paw-paws and just some normalcy is what I’m hoping to do from all of this.”

The effort is exhausting but worth it for Brown. “All I know is we’re tired but we keep going.”