“We watched hundreds of strangers die. There was so much loss, so much wrapping of bodies. We were often the last face they saw,” said Nancy Barth-Miller, a Staten Island hospital nurse, reflecting on nursing during the pandemic on National Nurse Recognition Day.
“It should be the year of the nurse. Every working nurse needs to be honored.”
Barth-Miller, a member of the Federation of Nurses/UFT who retired in December from Staten Island University Hospital South, said three nurses she worked with lost a parent to COVID-19, one within the last month.
One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic was that most patients were not allowed to see their families. Nurses stepped in.
“We had iPads,” she said. “Patients were on respirators. They couldn’t talk. This would allow them to see their family.”
Nurses advocated strongly for a family member to be able to come in, and eventually that happened, she said.
“Nurses were literally our frontline soldiers,” said Ron Gross, NYSUT vice president who oversees health care. “This year strikes a chord more than ever.”
Nationwide, many nurses and doctors were working without proper safety equipment in the first months of the pandemic due to lack of emergency planning at federal and state levels.
“Everybody ran into the fire, instead of away from it. The camaraderie, the teamwork were amazing,” Barth-Miller said of her nursing colleagues. UFT, AFT and NYSUT all supported health care professionals by providing masks and personal protective equipment when there was a national shortage, she noted.
“They put themselves in harm’s way,” Gross said. “When we look back on this historically, it’s going to be the nurses we remember. People also don’t realize how many of our health care workers we’ve lost.”
Barth-Miller was honored last week at the NYSUT Representative Assembly as Health Care Professional of the Year, and serves on the NYSUT Health Care Professional Council, chaired by Anne Goldman, a nurse and UFT vice-president.
In addition to hospital nurses, NYSUT represents school nurses and visiting nurses.
“Whenever we’re in a health crisis in a school building, you turn to the school nurse,” said Gross. “That is why NYSUT advocates for (passage of a bill calling for) a school nurse in every building. It’s a no-brainer.”
During this pandemic, Gross said school nurses have been “absolutely thrown into it. They have been handling students, testing, and exposing themselves to the virus.”
Visiting nurses have had exceptional challenges during the pandemic as well.
“When people were told to stay home, visiting nurses went out. They took care of people who were literally all alone,” said Gross.
As the son of a mom who worked in hospice care, Gross calls nurses “guardian angels.”
Nurse Recognition Day Celebration
The Federation of Nurses/UFT is hosting a National Nurse Recognition Day event Thursday, May 6 at 7:30 p.m.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew will help honor nurses for their exceptional union service and excellence in patient care.