Betty Grier Gallagher was never the type to slow down, according to family and friends. Having been a nurse for over 50 years, she’d seen the highs and lows of nursing, but the COVID-19 pandemic was a different beast.
When the coronavirus first began to spread, Betty’s colleagues urged her to stay home, but she couldn’t sit still while her friends were risking their lives in the ER. Instead of retiring, she stayed on until she fell ill with COVID-19, before finally losing her life to the disease. Now, her former colleagues are singing her praises to make sure her sacrifice isn’t forgotten.
Putting Retirement on Hold
Gallagher worked the night shift at Coosa Valley Medical Center in Alabama. According to her son, she preferred going in at night so she could mentor the young nurses just starting out their careers. They would often refer to her as their personal therapist, work mom, or “Miss Betty”, as they often called her.
Her colleagues thought it was best for her to retire when the pandemic first broke out last March. She tried to stay at home, but after a short while, she knew she had to return to the emergency room.
“She couldn’t stand it,” said fellow ER nurse and supervisor Nikki Jo Hatten. “She missed coming to work. It’s what she lived for.”
It was her commitment to her colleagues and patients that brought her back to the floor. “She didn’t do it to stand out,” said her son Carson Grier Jr. “She did it because this is who she was – this is her calling.”
Gallagher was never one to shy away from danger. She worked at a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. The storm knocked out the power and stranded her colleagues. A few years later, she later told her son she was going to retire, only to move back to Coosa Valley to become an ER nurse once again.
Saying Goodbye to Miss Betty
The virus eventually sidelined Gallagher in December. She passed away on January 10th, 2021, just one day before her 79th birthday in the same hospital where she spent most of her career.
According to her son, she always upheld her devotion to her patients and the community. “This was her purpose and plan for her life. And she lived it daily,” he told CNN.
Her colleagues were more than grateful for her help throughout the pandemic, even though it eventually took her life.
As Amy Price, CNO/COO at Coosa Valley Medical Center, wrote on Instagram:
“Miss Betty always had a smile on her face and was our encourager. She was a nurse’s nurse. She embodied our charge to care for patients- mind, body, and spirit. She was always gentle and cared deeply for her patients. We mourn her loss and celebrate her life. We extend our sincere condolences to her family.”
It was her passion to train younger nurses, who were sometimes 50 years her junior.
Hatten remembers her as “the type that worries about you as a nurse just as much as she worries about a patient,” adding, “She’s gonna stop you while you’re busy, just to make sure you’re OK.”
According to her fellow nurses, she knew all of her patient’s names, as well as the names of their partners, kids, and pets.
“She wanted to get back to the everyday grind of the emergency room,” Grier said. “She did it ’til it was her last days.”
Gallagher’s colleagues say she was noticeably short of breath during her rounds in the ER on December 19th. Hatten remembers telling her to get checked out at the end of her shift, but Gallagher reportedly shrugged it off as exhaustion. The next day, first responders brought her into the ER even though she didn’t call them. Hatten says they called the paramedics because they were worried about her. She then tested positive for COVID-19 and would stay at the hospital in Coosa Valley until she died.
Her colleagues say she was afraid of dying alone in the ER. So, when the time finally came to say goodbye, they made sure she had plenty of friends by her side.
“The day she did pass away, just about all our ER staff went and filled that room up,” Hatten said. “It was not the way we wanted to see her go, but I’m glad we got to be there.”
Her absence will be felt across the hospital, especially among the nurses that depended on her.
“She was the glue of our ER, or the ER matriarch,” Hatten said. “It feels like we lost our mom.”