May/June 2020 Issue
April 29, 2020

Nurses respond STAT to pandemic

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
health care heroes
Caption: Lori Pritchett, Sachem Central TA, sent a virtual shoutout via NYSUT’s Health Care Heroes campaign to health care professionals at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, including her cousin’s girlfriend, Calle (top row, right). Pritchett also shared a message from the nursing staff, “COVID-19 affects kids too. Keep your little ones safe by STAYING home, washing your hands and safe distancing!” Photo provided.

"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 alive.”

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.

For more information

Resources for health care workers at available online at our Coronavirus Toolkit: Professional Resources: Health Care Professionals.

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 patients.

“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 Rockland counties.

“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 patients.