As New York State grappled to contain the spread of the coronavirus in early April, Hudson Valley spoke with three healthcare professionals via email, phone, and Zoom about their experience in the fight against the pandemic: Louise Weadock, the founder of Westchester- based ACCESS Nursing Services, which has recruited and placed registered nurses and physician assistants from across the U.S. to staff testing sites, hospital ICUs and more; Kim de los Reyes, a New York City-based RN working with ACCESS; and Nuvance Health’s Sandra Iberger, who helped establish Nuvance Health’s four COVID-19 drive-thru collection sites in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut.
In terms of calls you are receiving, where is the biggest need today?
Today: ICUs, ERs, CCUs… every hospital floor is now a critical care unit. Tomorrow: rehabilitative care… caring for those who have been through the worst. Next week: home care. Many patients have been weakened by this viral killer. Though happy they are alive, we still have a lot of nursing care to do.
Have you ever experienced anything quite like this in your career?
Our RNs, LPNs, and aides cared [for patients] during the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, the H1N1 virus, Ebola, and Hurricane Sandy. The showstopper in New York and New Jersey was the uncontrollable rise of the AIDS epidemic. Life after life, gone. Is it a cancer? How does it spread? Nurses and doctors were equally stunned in fear then as now. Then as in now, I say don’t be stupid — be careful when caring! Wash your hands before and after anything you do, particularly if you are going from one environment to another. Listen to the experts! Do not draw your own false conclusions… We must assume that everyone has “it.”
What professional or personal experiences have you drawn from to help navigate through this pandemic?
I am so grateful that I am a nurse with an MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This is Population Health Management 101. Identify – contain – eradicate – prevent. COVID-19’s lightning-fast, lethal rate of infection and death means we as health care providers are performing all steps at the same time. It’s like “performing surgery on ourselves as we are running the marathon.”
Can you describe what it’s been like since you’ve been at Bellevue?
The last two weeks of my nursing career has probably been the most difficult and the most challenging. I think the easiest and simplest way to describe what we’re experiencing in the frontlines is that it’s just unpredictable. We don’t know what the day holds. We just have to be prepared for the worst or something even worse than what we’re expecting, in sheer numbers of patients, or critical patients.
Typically all the patients are in critical states and need a lot of emotional, mental, and medical support. What a lot of people are only recently discovering is that when a patient comes into the emergency room for COVID or for COVID-like symptoms, they are admitted without family at the bedside. And I’ve never seen anything like that…for people to face the unknown by themselves. We feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to make sure they don’t feel that way. It’s our responsibility — as first responders their responders, nurses, physicians, EMTs, firefighters — to make them feel safe. And to make them feel like they’re not alone because we are family.
Is there such a thing as a typical day?
We all have to be in by 7 a.m. We are expected to be at full attention and our energy to be present. We have this huddle where we discuss any pertinent news, global news/New York news regarding this pandemic and what to expect. And then we go forward with personal stories of how it’s affecting us. It’s a chance for staff to respect people going through this pandemic.
And then from there, it’s just a full day of seeing patients and trying to save them and trying to help them, whether that’s people coming in after self-isolating themselves at home, and they’re starting to feel worse, or people being transferred from other facilities who no longer have beds, who no longer have the materials to help them, or people coming from nursing homes…from anywhere really.
I am exhausted by the time I get home, obviously. During the day there’s just no time for me to feel exhausted. I can’t wait to take a vacation now (laughs).
Please tell us about the collection sites and your involvement in them.
They are drive-through specimen collection sites. We don’t do any testing on the site. We collect the specimens and then the specimens are sent out to reference labs for testing. I was in charge to stand-up the sites across the system: Danbury on March 16, Norwalk on March 19. And then we simultaneously set up the Dutchess County and the Ulster County sites on March 23.
Right now, I’m at the Dutchess Stadium site, staring at a plastic wall that separates where I’m working…our tents are in front of us.
What are your thoughts about how your colleagues have dealt with the pandemic?
My coworkers across the Nuvance system have really risen to the occasion. They have managed to operationalize across a seven-hospital system and they’ve just done a yeoman’s job. When you try to standardize across two states and across seven hospitals, it is almost unfathomable to think about…
Has there been anything in your past that prepared you for this?
I am retired from the Air Force. I have over 20 years of experience as a Medical Readiness officer. I’m new with the system — have been here since August 5 — but I’ve had over 30 years of healthcare experience. I’ve been doing Emergency Management forever.
What do you want to let people know about your test collection site at Dutchess Stadium?
Initially we weren’t promoting that we could take people without appointments, but we’ve actually opened up our centers to accept people without appointments as well. The only thing that I would say is that diagnostic testing has to be authorized by a healthcare provider. By definition, a healthcare provider includes physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
So if they are symptomatic, and they need to be tested, they should reach out to their primary care provider to be screened. If people don’t have a primary care provider or if they don’t have someone that can do that screening for them, Nuvance Health is able to do telemedicine visits. All that information is at www.nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits. If someone doesn’t have the ability to pay, we are not worried about that. We still test.