Health Care and COVID-19 in New Jersey & New York

Brooke Valentin, Contributing Writer

    Health care workers are in higher demand than ever before due to the sudden and wide spreading Coronavirus pandemic. They are on the front lines daily fighting against the virus and putting their own health at risk to help others. In the United States there are currently over 579,000 cases and nearly 22,300 deaths. 

    New York was the first state to get hit hard, with numbers rapidly rising to around 242,786 cases and 13,869 deaths. New Jersey follows as the second state with the largest number of cases, currently at around 85,301 confirmed cases and over 4,202 deaths. These numbers are according to The New York Times Coronavirus Tracker, as of this morning. 

    Roseanne Schottenfeld, a surgical nurse at JFK Medical Center in Edison, NJ, said, “Working on the front lines is terrifying, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic but because we are not being properly protected.” Schottenfeld said every floor in the hospital is a COVID-19 floor. “We have all been deployed to floor work that we have no experience in. All our standards are null and void. There has been no leadership in protecting healthcare workers properly.”

    Schottenfeld repeated a dark sentiment from one of her coworkers, saying, “This is like Hitler and the Nazis when after all was said and done and they asked all those German soldiers, ‘why did you do that?’ And they said ‘because they ordered us to.’ That’s exactly how we feel as nurses. They’re making us do things not only against our moral compass, but against all standards and regulations.” 

    Schottenfeld encourages other healthcare workers in her situation to be an advocate for themselves even if there are consequences. 

    Michelle Florczack, a Patient Care Technician in the oncology department at JFK Medical Center, says she has never seen anything like this in her 34 years in the field. “I have unknowingly taken care of patients with COVID-19. These were patients that we were told were negative but came back positive. While treating these patients I had no special personal protection equipment on,” Florczack said. “Four of our staff members ended up getting sick and tested positive and now they are not able to work.”

    The current false negative rate for COVID-19 tests may be as high as 30% according to one article from

    Florczak, a mother of six, worries about her family. “I’m trying not to bring this home to my family. I don’t bring my clothes in the house, I change in my car, I leave my shoes and come right into the house and shower right away.” Florczack said.

    Nurses are not being protected during this crisis and are finding themselves having to make tough decisions. “I have to work to take care of my family, and it’s so frustrating that we aren’t being properly protected. I will continue to fight for myself and my coworkers. We are on the front lines, we are the ones who need the most protection.” Florcazck urged.

    Latisha Miller, a paramedic for the fire department of New York City says, “Working on the front lines is scary because we don’t know if we’re going to contract the disease and bring it home to our family. I see a lot of death and hear it over the radio constantly.” Every single call Miller has is a COVID-19 call. 

    “Although it’s scary working on the frontlines it’s also gratifying being able to help those in need. Whether it’s comforting them in their last moments or just being there.” Miller said. 

    Carmen Rosasa, Miller’s coworker, said, “I feel good knowing I am doing something for people in need. I also feel safe. New York has put in a lot of protocols to keep health workers safe during this pandemic.” 

    “We wear gowns over our uniforms, we wear masks, gloves, head coverings and slips over our shoes. We are completely covered. I think my biggest fear is that my Personal Protection Equipment will break or tear.” Miller said. 

    It is unclear when life will return to normal. New Jersey and New York’s lockdown could last into the summer. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives in New York, and have thrown health care workers into a terrifying and unknown frontier. 

Maine Medical Center Staff Going the Extra Mile During Global Pandemic

Samantha Creech, Contributing Writer

    Maine Medical Center (MMC), the top-rated hospital in Maine located in Portland, is at the epicenter of the most coronavirus cases in the state and determined to give the best care to their patients during this crisis. MMC has thousands of staff members working around the clock for their COVID-19 patients. 

    Dr. August Valenti, epidemiologist and director of the Special Infectious Diseases Program at MMC, has been working tirelessly to prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infections and the spread of infectious diseases at the hospital. Valenti also works with public health agencies statewide and nationally to help identify and manage communicable diseases. 

    Valenti and his team at MMC are trained to care and manage patients with pathogens such as Ebola and COVID-19. “I am working with clinical and administrative leaders at [MMC] and its parent organization, MaineHealth, to develop policies and procedures related to protecting people who work and enter our hospitals from getting COVID-19,” said Valenti.

    Valenti has concerns during this ever-growing pandemic and even after things seem to return to normal. “My biggest worries are for victims of the disease and the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of this epidemic. I want to keep them and their families safe,” he said. “I am also concerned that the virus will be with us for a long time until we have a vaccine or proven therapies and that even as things begin to return to normal, sporadic cases will cause additional outbreaks.”

    Valenti strongly believes in the importance of social distancing and other precautions needed in order to decrease coronavirus numbers. “There is no doubt that social distancing has mitigated community spread of the virus here in Maine,” he said. 

    Kristin Clark, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), has had to change her role at MMC due to the suspension of all elective surgeries and procedures. Normally, Clark administers anesthesia for surgeries and other procedures, but due to surgery and procedures suspension, there’s not enough anesthesia work for the CRNA staff. “The [ICU has] more work than they can handle,” Clark said. “Our entire staff has been cross-trained to the ICU to help in the care of those patients, both COVID and otherwise.” 

    Marie Hodge, occupational therapist team leader, has continued her role in supervising her team and seeing patients. Since the overall volume of patients has decreased, she has also been focusing on the logistical work of COVID-19, which includes scheduling ICU training, giving medical staff personal protective equipment (PPE), and problem-solving issues involving workflow to COVID-19. “Usually we have ample time to prepare staff and plan for major changes, but changes occur here on a daily basis and we need to respond quickly,” said Hodge.

    Some of Hodge’s major concerns center around the wellbeing of her team and the other staff at MMC. “[Our staff] are stressed with the sheer [number] of changes to keep up on, the fear of contracting COVID-19 and they have personal stresses as well,” she said.

    Jennifer Cote, an occupational therapist at MMC, still works a lot with her patients despite the risks. Her role is to assure when a patient is discharged from MMC, that they can complete daily tasks on their own, and ensure they are cognitively intact. She primarily works in the ICU. 

    On a normal day, Cote spends a lot of her time with the patient’s and their families to go over after hospital care and guidance. Now, MMC does not allow any visitors so Cote and her colleagues have found difficulty in family teaching. They were given iPads to communicate with families, but it is not the same as in-person discussions. 

    Every day after work, Cote says she immediately showers and changes her clothes so she can remain healthy for her work. “My biggest worry is that I could bring this disease home to my family as a result of working here,” says Cote. “I can say that MMC is well-prepared and has all the appropriate PPE for staff. That gives me comfort.”