A local hospital nurse practitioner with multiple peer-reviewed publications about infectious diseases has been chosen to serve as the COVID-19 response coordinator for the University of Houston-Victoria COVID-19 Operations Center.

Jessica Helms, a nurse practitioner at DeTar Medical Group in Victoria, began her new position this week with UHV. She will help manage COVID-19 preparedness and response and serve as the primary contact person for UHV and the UHV Katy instructional site.

Tara Vaughn, a UHV clinical assistant professor of nursing who helped establish the center, will continue to assist. Helms also will maintain her role at DeTar Medical Group.

“It is an honor to serve my community for the past 20 years, and it is humbling that I am able to continue to be an advocate for health through UHV,” Helms said. “I look forward to working with the communities of Victoria and Katy and to being a mentor for the UHV community.”

The UHV COVID-19 Operations Center was created this summer to support university students, staff and faculty by advising, communicating and educating the campus community about COVID-19 in Victoria and at UHV Katy. The center also conducts contact tracing at UHV and assists with contact tracing at UHV Katy to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that Ms. Helms is joining us to take on this critical role,” said Chance Glenn, UHV provost, vice president for academic affairs and head of the Task Force to Reopen UHV. “Her strong credentials, vast experience and knowledge of the region makes her the ideal person to help us to grapple with this issue. At the same time, I would like to thank Dr. Tara Vaughn for her extraordinary efforts in getting the UHV COVID-19 Operations Center up and running. As she moves on to lead the nursing program and to engage in her teaching responsibilities this fall, we know that the center is positioned as it needs to be going forward.”

Helms is an advanced practice registered nurse and is board certified as a family nurse practitioner through the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. She serves as a nurse practitioner in the area of hematology and oncology, and is an oncology certified nurse. Helms has a background in care development, health education, and has peer-reviewed publications in infectious diseases with a focus on local epidemiology.

Vaughn, who has been with UHV since 2017, said she is glad to have someone with experience like Helms join the operations center. Vaughn is board certified in public health nursing and also serves as a nurse in the Army Reserve.

“To bring someone like Jessica, who has a background in infectious diseases and who is well versed in public health, to lead the center will help both UHV and the Victoria community,” Vaughn said. “Jessica also is well-connected with local clinics and other medical professionals in the Victoria community, and so this is a great fit for the center and the university community.”

Helms is a native of Port O’Connor and is an alumna of Victoria College and UHV. She graduated from VC’s associate degree nursing program in December 2000 and from UHV in December 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She received her Master of Science in Nursing and graduated from the family nurse practitioner program in August 2018 from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Helms became interested in infectious diseases and local epidemiology because she wanted to broaden her education and research. What she has learned the most through her research is that local awareness of infectious diseases is vital in preventing the spread of those diseases. In her role, Helms will develop and promote health protocols and procedures to help keep the UHV communities in Victoria and Katy as safe as possible. She also will lead COVID-19-related training for faculty and staff this fall.

“As we start learning more about this disease, we will have to stay abreast of any changes to help keep the university safe,” Helms said. “I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to help UHV through the challenges of a pandemic, and I am looking forward to working with the faculty, staff and students to keep everyone safe.”

For more information about the UHV COVID-19 Operations Center, go to uhv.edu/covid-19/operations-center.

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