Olympia Orthopaedic Associates nurses and healthcare heroes Pearl Hoyt, Ashley Haskins, Kori Dijos, and Christina Rager join the frontlines to battle COVID-19 in NYC.
When OOA nurse Pearl Hoyt—or “Petee” to her friends—saw a Facebook post about an agency hiring nurses to travel to the frontlines of COVID-19 in New York City, she knew she had to go. She brought the idea to some of her coworkers, who jumped at the chance. It took almost 100 calls to the agency before OOA nurses Kori Dijos and Christina Rager got through to the agency. By Easter Sunday, they were on a flight to NYC, with an unknown assignment on the other side.
Eventually, Petee also got through to the travel nurse agency and was able to make arrangements for her and coworker Ashley Haskins to sign up. Within 48 hours, Petee and Ashlee were also on a flight to NYC. With almost no time to prepare, all four of the nurses experienced a mix of excitement, anxiety and fear.
“With OOA not being able to do any elective surgeries,” says Christina, “We weren’t really working and it just seemed like the perfect chance for me to do some travel nursing. New York and New Orleans were the two most desperate places for crisis travel nurses. I would have gone to either—it felt like my chance to help out and relieve some of the stress put on my fellow nurses.”
All four nurses work as Operating Room Nurses at the OOA surgery center. Their usual role involves doing pre-operative assessments, setting up the surgical suite, taking care of the sterile field, and assisting with anesthesia, amongst other tasks. But heading to NYC, the nurses knew they would likely be thrown into nursing assignments they had little experience with—such as caring for patients infected with COVID-19 and hooked up to ventilators.
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Prior to making contact with the agency, the nurses had already dove back into schooling in case they had an opportunity to travel to the frontlines. They studied as much as they could about critical care nursing and re-familiarized themselves with certain nursing skills they hadn’t used since their initial training. Operating Room nurses possess highly specialized skills, but the women knew they would be stretched far out of their comfort zone in NYC.
Before the team of nurses left, OOA stocked them up on essentials. Dr. McKay ensured they had proper face shields and our surgery center fitted them out with surgical masks for their flight, along with extra scrubs. While the agency they’re working with guarantees them adequate personal protective equipment on the job, we wanted to get them off on the right foot.
“The airports felt eerie, and our plane to NYC had about 15 passengers,” reports Christina.
Once they arrived in NYC, Petee and Ashlee were assigned night shifts at a long-term care unit within a hospital. Meanwhile, Kori has been assigned to a makeshift COVID-19 hospital and Christina has been sent to a long-term facility.
All of them are housed in the same hotel, each with their own room provided by the agency. Other than their work, they are completely isolated from others. A shuttle bus picks them all up each morning, drops them off at their various locations, and reverses the process each evening. Every shift is 12 hours, but with travel time, the women are gone for about 14 hours a day.
When they signed up, the nurses accepted the possibility of 21 consecutive days of work. Although the four nurses have requested April 30th off in order to rest and regroup, there is no guarantee they will have any days off during their three-week deployment. When they return, they will be quarantined and tested for infection before returning to work.
In the meantime, they are very grateful for their colleagues who are covering emergency cases in the surgery center on their behalf. The OOA team has already sent out care packages to them, with more on the way.
Regardless of the very difficult circumstances in NYC, these healthcare heroes are finding bright spots.
“My first impressions upon arriving were that the hospitals and communities were grateful for any help,” says Christina. “Any time you’re outside in scrubs, strangers thank you or applaud you. I have never been to New York before the pandemic but it feels empty and quiet, even with all the signs and billboards lit up in Time Square. I am looking forward to coming back when New York is healthy again.”
“The first thing I noticed in New York was the gratitude of the community,” agrees Kori. “So many people and businesses are donating precious PPE, meals, and cleaning supplies. People wave and applaud and today we got a police escort to work. It is incredibly moving. While there are plenty of sad or overwhelmed tears shed by the four of us, the tears of joy make it worth it. Without a doubt, the happy endings of a COVID-19 patient going home to their family are worth more than anything.”
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