When our COVID-19 journey began in March, no one could have imagined the challenges we would face, the anxiety and pain we would feel, and the suffering and death we would see. While we did not know the physiological path this disease would take, we in the Federation of Nurses/UFT knew our leadership, skill and compassion would be needed by many.
“In March, we wanted to help but no matter what we tried, it was one failure after another,” said Maria Paradiso, one of our Federation of Nurses/UFT members at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn. “We were just learning about the virus and not really sure how to treat it.”
Over the next months, we developed better treatment plans and learned best practices. We saw progress. It was good for the patients, of course, but it was also good for the nurses. “It was really uplifting,” Paradiso said. “Patients coming off ventilators was a big deal, and some of our older patients were surviving.”
Even through the worst of times, those better outcomes gave us hope.
Nearly a year later, New York City hospitals are once again at full capacity, and then some. But this time, our own ranks have been thinned by illness and there are few replacement nurses. New York City is no longer the epicenter of the virus, drawing help from around the country. Now, nurses’ own communities need them.
At labor management meetings as far back as May, administrators were urged to get needed staff, said Rosemary Scheriff, a veteran nurse at NYU Langone. “Of course, they dragged their feet,” she said. “Now we’re at the head of the crisis again, and nurses are burned out.”
Scheriff said NYU Langone is scrambling to hire but it’s too little too late. “When I feel unsafe for myself and my patient, that’s a problem,” she said. “Until we have a nurse-patient ratio of 1-to-5 in law, this will go on forever.”
Still, our members continue to demonstrate courage, poise and relentless dedication while caring for patients under battlefield conditions. With everyday stresses compounded by COVID-19, we band together to gain the strength to offer comfort, care and support to our patients. Then we go home to our loved ones, still carrying the worry that we could spread this disease. That’s why it’s so important for our nurses to get the vaccine now that it’s available.
“If we are proactive,’’ Paradiso said, “we can get a handle on COVID.”
Gratefully, our union voice expedites our requests for staffing adjustments, in-service learning and bedside accommodations. When there was no personal protective equipment back in the spring, I went to the UFT and it was delivered within days.
“Without a union, we would be nowhere,” said Scheriff. “I could not have lasted in nursing if I didn’t know I had the union’s protection.”
Our nurses know the value of the union, Paradiso said. They know “we’re not in it alone.”
We continue to face challenges as we battle both physical and mental exhaustion. We use our union voice to fight for what we need.
We hope for a better tomorrow, even while realizing things may get worse before they get better. Our communities and our neighbors need to follow public health guidelines. And we need to stay strong until this war is over.