In Crisis, Answering the Call: OneWorld’s Nancy Luna Steps Up During Pandemic

One of these days, Nancy Luna might actually get the chance to finish the nursing degree she started, but you never can tell. The Omaha native has been delayed for good reason, pressed into service as the tip of the spear charting OneWorld Community Health Centers’ pandemic operations.

“I had been supervising a walk-in clinic at OneWorld,” Luna said. “We would handle minor illnesses and procedures. When COVID hit, we realized we didn’t have enough support, so we started hiring more people, coming up with different processes and plans to accommodate COVID testing when the pandemic hit.

“It slowly started falling onto my plate where they were like, ‘Nancy, can you help with this? Nancy, can you do this? Can you come up with a process so we can do testing? Come up with a workflow.’ It slowly started falling in my hands until it became a bigger team and basically a separate thing.”

OneWorld formalized her position as manager of COVID services in 2020, a position she embraced with quiet strength and unyielding resolve.

“It was really difficult for me to make that decision, just because I was happy where I was,” she said. “I was comfortable with my team and it made me a little nervous to change. But I said, ‘OK, let’s do this. They believe in me. I’m already doing the work so why not take the challenge?’”

Leading the Charge

Overnight, Luna went from being an engaged team member to heading up a crew of 30 staff and 20 volunteers. She said she managed to navigate the first few hectic months through a natural sense of priorities and modeling the kind of behavior she wanted to see in others.

“I think people realized I’m a hard worker and saw that if my team needs help, I will jump in,” she said. “I was stepping in not only to train people, but also do the job myself. I will make sure things are being done properly, patients are being taken care of and that we’re providing the services they need.”

Luna’s grit and can-do attitude was balanced by an even-tempered leadership style that brought calm to even the most chaotic situations.

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“I would say the toughest part of the experience was to come up with a plan that we could have in place,” she said. “So many people were coming to us and we didn’t have the capacity, so it was overwhelming. We didn’t have enough resources that we needed in order to accommodate everyone who was coming over. Many of us got really overwhelmed, but we never gave up.”

Today, when Luna looks back over what’s been accomplished, she said it gives her goosebumps and little wonder. Under her direction, more than 18,000 community members accessed COVID-19 testing. Under protocols she helped develop, more than 5,000 people who tested positive received the proper care. She also led OneWorld’s efforts to vaccinate more than 16,000 patients.

Ready for More

Accomplishments such as these have instilled a renewed sense of confidence in her, even as the battle against variants and other pandemic-related challenges continues.

“I am very happy with what I am doing now,” she said. “I am passionate about COVID services. It’s something I do want to continue to do, and I feel like this is going to open even more doors for me, not just COVID in general, but maybe something in infectious diseases or something along those lines.”

And as for that nursing degree, Luna has completed medical assistant training from Vatterott College, pre-nursing studies at Metro Community College and is currently in the nursing program at Clarkson College.