"There are a lot of emergencies,
a lot of deaths,” said
longtime hospital nurse
Nancy Barth-Miller. “You wrap a body
and hope to keep the next patient
A registered nurse at Staten Island
University South Hospital, Barth-
Miller said everybody is running on
adrenalin to deal with the influx of patients
dangerously ill from COVID-19.
“I’ve been through the AIDS crisis,
Ebola, and SARS — but nothing has
ever been this severe.” Barth-Miller is
chapter leader for the Federation of
Nurses/UFT at her hospital.
In New York City, nurses are working
long hours at hospitals where
entire floors and units normally
devoted to different types of patient
care were suddenly flipped into
treatment for only COVID-19 patients.
SUNY Downstate University Hospital
at Brooklyn — where many United
University Professions members work
as doctors, nurse practitioners and
nurses — has become a coronavirusonly
facility. Hospital rooms have
been set up in parks, former nursing
homes and convention centers.
School nurses have been sent to
hospitals to help provide desperately
needed care; others have gone to
work at testing sites.
While New York City is the state’s
epicenter of the highly dangerous
and contagious virus, health care
workers across the state are on the
front lines doing their part to care for
patients. Before he was tapped to run
the makeshift COVID-19 hospital at
the Jacob Javits Convention Center
in New York City, Chris Tanski, United
University Professions member at
Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse,
was working to stop the spread of
the virus at his Onondaga County
hospital. Responding to pressing
need, several dozen nurses from
Upstate are now working with their
colleagues at SUNY Stony Brook.
Securing enough proper personal
protective equipment for health care
professionals has been a challenge
since the virus first descended. As NYSUT United went to
press, nearly 19,000 people in New
York had died from the virus; mostly
in the New York City area.
Maria Paradiso knows about the
pandemic from both sides of the
bed: She is a hospital nurse working
in critical care and has survived the
virus. Paradiso was quarantined at
home for close to three weeks after
likely contracting the virus at NYUBrooklyn,
where she serves as FON/
UFT chapter leader. At work, she said
coronavirus patients were “everywhere,”
especially as more units were
converted to solely treat COVID-19
“It’s hard out there right now,” she
said. As nurses, “we go in anticipating
we’re going to make people better.
We’re seeing so much despair.”
Paradiso first noticed her own
illness with a sharp, sore throat, but a
visit to her doctor revealed no infection.
A week later, after several days
of 12-hour shifts, she woke drenched
in sweat. By 4 p.m. that day, she was
short of breath.
“I was so scared,” she said. “It was
so fast.” Chest congestion and air
hunger plagued her; testing revealed
she had COVID-19. “It was the
strangest, most sick I’ve ever been.
I’ve had the flu, allergies. It’s a whole
other level of bad,” said Paradiso.
Throughout her ordeal she received
text messages and calls of support
from her union.
As COVID-19 patients are being
released from hospitals and rehab
centers, many of them need further
care from the crippling virus. For
these patients, visiting nurses take
the baton from their hospital peers.
“We’re the next line of defense,”
said Valerie Fitzgerald, an
intake nurse and president of the
Westchester Federation of Visiting
Nurses, serving patients in parts of
Putnam, Dutchess, Westchester and
“Trying to get equipment is difficult,”
she said, mirroring concerns
heard across the country. Policies ensure
that no Westchester FVN nurses
are allowed to treat COVID-19 patients
without N95 masks, Fitzgerald
said. Some of the union nurses were
trained in how to test fit the masks to
protect the wearer against airborne
particles and liquid contamination.
Further straining resources is a taxing,
but necessary, requirement that
each at-home patient be outfitted
with his or her own blood pressure
cuff, thermometer and stethoscope
to avoid contamination between