Shawnee Mission Faces: Latasha Reed, nurse practitioner, vaccinator and garden enthusiast

As a county health department worker administering the Pfizer vaccine, Latasha Reed is at ground zero of public health.

When she joined the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment in September 2019, she focused on family planning services and general healthcare needs, as well as STD testing and treatment, prenatal care and OB/GYN services. 

Now, she administers the Pfizer vaccine and, before it was available, she did COVID-19 testing. She and other county workers have administered more than 100,000 vaccines since January, averaging about 1,400 a day.

A nurse practitioner for the past six years (and a labor and delivery nurse in the 14 years prior), Reed’s passion for public health is deeply rooted in women’s health. Originally from Topeka, Reed earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kansas School of Nursing and her master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

Outside of work, Reed enjoys traveling, dancing and instructing jazzercise classes. She discovered her green thumb during the pandemic, but she’s officially on plant restriction after adopting dozens of plants and giving them Prince-related names like “Purple Rain.”

A recovering workaholic, she lives in Gardner with her husband, Mike Conley, and their daughter, Bella.

Being a healthcare worker in the pandemic is surreal.

I am journaling a lot so I can come back to this one day, because when you’re in it, it seems to be going fast, and at other times, it seems to be going slow because you want to return to normal.

When you come to the vaccine clinics, there are lots of moving parts. There are lots of people behind the scenes that make this work. So I have to give them a shoutout. The reason that it works so well is because we are all working as a team.

I feel like anytime I was doing testing or anytime I’m doing a vaccine, or even in my own family and my community, if I’m talking to them and I’m talking about my experience or when I got vaccinated, then I’m doing good work. I feel like I’m doing meaningful work.

I don’t think anybody really knew how big this thing was when it started, including me, but I think the thing that really comes through is that, globally, we really are a community, and we absolutely have to care about what happens in other countries and with other people, that we’re not on an island, and we shouldn’t act that way.

I feel like I’ve been blessed to work in this capacity with the clinics because I’ve gotten to meet so many people from walks of life. I mean, I’m in public health, but when I work here, I’m really in public health.

I am face to face with the public, I am meeting Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans, I’m meeting Holocaust survivors, I’m meeting all sorts of people that I get to vaccinate, and the peace of mind that they get is priceless.

For example, a gentleman that was a Vietnam vet, he came in in his hat and his shirt, and he was like, I’ve been waiting for this, I’ve been waiting for my opportunity, and I was like, sir, thank you for your service, do you want to sit down, and he was like, no I’m going to stand. He raised up his sleeve, and I just talked to him.

And a lot of times, when I have people in my chair or in my presence, I would ask, what do you do and who do you do it for, and he was kind of going into his service and how he was like, you know, I remember the war and I remember all the things that we’ve been through, and I’m just really proud to have served this country, and thank you for your service.

I get a lot of people thanking me when I am just doing a job. It’s an amazing feeling. It really is. And I think I speak for a lot of people that work these clinics: The public has been so supportive and so grateful, and we’ve heard nothing but positive things about how when they come through, that it’s seamless, it’s quick, oh my gosh, that was so much easier than I thought, that didn’t hurt at all, are you sure you gave me my shot? (laughs)

Those are all wonderful things. I think that, from my point of view, the positive experience of this drowns out any background noise or negativity, for certain.

I have vaccinated lots of people with special needs that were scared to sit in my chair, and you just kind of talk to them and kind of loosen things up, and then you’re done. I’ve given a lot of shots, so you develop a technique, you distract people, you ask them about themselves.

It doesn’t hurt, also, that what we’re using to vaccinate is very tiny and relatively painless. I always tell people, you feel it later (laughs). They’re like, I didn’t even feel that, I was like, don’t worry, you’ll feel it later.

So yes, I do get lots of questions, which I totally expect. This is something different than — well I can say me, but people that lived through other pandemics that are still alive might have a different point of view — but I’ve never seen anything like this.

Initially, when we were vaccinating, we were doing 80 and over, so we really got to see some, I don’t like to say old, I like to say seasoned community members. Honestly, a lot of their point of view was I don’t know what people are complaining about, I remember going through this other pandemic, I remember — because to go through the Depression, it would have been the fair end of it — but the people that really saw poverty and pandemic, I found them to be so gracious and wonderful and just thankful, thankful to be receiving the vaccine.

And really, those were the people that were rolling that sleeve up before they got to me. They had no hesitation.

I think at that point — now, again this is the first group that we’re vaccinating — so I think mentally, I was prepared to go up against a lot of, well what about this, and what about this, and I don’t know about this, but it was not like that with that particular population. That wasn’t my experience. They were extremely on board, they were ready, they were appreciative.

And that really, honestly, has been the majority of people, but I don’t want to paint a negative picture of people that are hesitant, because that’s just where we are. You want to support people and validate their feelings.

To me, that’s always where you have the in. You don’t have the in on shaming people or telling them what they need to do. Our job in public health is to educate and do what we can to take care of the community, but people always have a choice. They always have a choice.

When you’re educated, you feel empowered. If you take the time to educate people, you address their concerns, you get down on the ground with them, it’s not something that they feel is forced on them.

We can only come through this pandemic together. We can’t leave communities out. We can’t leave people out. There is no population that should be ignored or marginalized. And I think if we remember that, we will come through it. And I think that we’re all trying to take the best steps to come through it.

I remember I had a gentleman that had come through for testing and actually prayed over me. And that was a very intense experience. And his words were, Lord, I don’t know Tasha, but I know you do, and I just want you to take care of her and watch over her family. It’s things like that that impact you that you never anticipate, because it’s very personal work, and it is really super personal work in a pandemic.

I definitely encourage everyone to be vaccinated, continue washing your hands, social distancing and wearing your mask. This has not been easy for any of us. I miss hugs. I’m a big hugger and hand shaker. It’s been stressful for all of us.

I don’t really know if we’re just going to find a new normal that’s better, but it feels amazing to be doing the work.