Health Workers Unions See Surge in Interest Amid Covid


This story also ran on NPR. It can be republished for free.

The nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, declared on March 6 — by filing the official paperwork — that they were ready to vote on the prospect of joining a national union. At the time, they were motivated by the desire for more nurses and support staff, and to have a voice in hospital decisions.

A week later, as the covid-19 pandemic bore down on the state, the effort was put on hold, and everyone scrambled to respond to the coronavirus. But the nurses’ long-standing concerns only became heightened during the crisis, and new issues they’d never considered suddenly became urgent problems.

Staffers struggled to find masks and other protective equipment, said nurses interviewed for this story. The hospital discouraged them from wearing masks one day and required masks 10 days later. The staff wasn’t consistently tested for covid and often not even notified when exposed to covid-positive patients. According to the nurses and a review of safety complaints made to federal regulators, the concerns persisted for months. And some nurses said the situation fueled doubts about whether hospital executives were prioritizing staff and patients, or the bottom line.

By the time the nurses held their election in September — six months after they had filed paperwork to do so — 70% voted to unionize. In a historically anti-union state with right-to-work laws and the second-least unionized workforce in the country, that margin of victory is a significant feat, said academic experts who study labor movements.

That it occurred during the pandemic is no coincidence.

For months now, front-line health workers across the country have faced a perpetual lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and inconsistent safety measures. Studies show they’re more likely to be infected by the coronavirus than the general population, and hundreds have died, according to reporting by KHN and The Guardian.

Many workers say employers and government systems that are meant to protect them have failed.

Research shows that health facilities with unions have better patient outcomes and are more likely to have inspections that can find and correct workplace hazards. One study found New York nursing homes with unionized workers had lower covid mortality rates, as well as better access to PPE and stronger infection control measures, than nonunion facilities.

Recognizing that, some workers — like the nurses at Mission Hospital — are forming new unions or thinking about organizing for the first time. Others, who already belong to a union, are taking more active leadership roles, voting to strike, launching public information campaigns and filing lawsuits against employers.

“The urgency and desperation we’ve heard from workers is at a pitch I haven’t experienced before in 20 years of this work,” said Cass Gualvez, organizing director for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West in California. “We’ve talked to workers who said, ‘I was dead set against a union five years ago, but covid has changed that.’”

In response to union actions, many hospitals across the country have said worker safety is already their top priority, and unions are taking advantage of a difficult situation to divide staff and management, rather than working together.

Labor experts say it’s too soon to know if the outrage over working conditions will translate into an increase in union membership, but early indications suggest a small uptick. Of the approximately 1,500 petitions for union representation posted on the National Labor Relations Board website in 2020, 16% appear related to the health care field, up from 14% the previous year.

In Colorado, SEIU Local 105 health care organizing director Stephanie Felix-Sowy said her team is fielding dozens of calls a month from nonunion workers interested in joining. Not only are nurses and respiratory therapists reaching out, but dietary workers and cleaning staff are as well, including several from rural parts of the state where union representation has traditionally been low.

“The pandemic didn’t create most of the root problems they’re concerned about,” she said. “But it amplified them and the need to address them.”

A nurse for 30 years, Amy Waters had always been aware of a mostly unspoken but widespread sentiment that talking about unions could endanger her job. But after HCA Healthcare took over Mission Health in 2019, she saw nurses and support staff members being cut and she worried about the effect on patient care. Joining National Nurses United could help, she thought. During the pandemic, her fears only worsened. At times, nurses cared for seven patients at once, despite research indicating four is a reasonable number.

In a statement, Mission Health said it has adequate staffing and is aggressively recruiting nurses. “We have the beds, staffing, PPE supplies and equipment we need at this time and we are well-equipped to handle any potential surge,” spokesperson Nancy Lindell wrote. The hospital has required universal masking since March and requires staff members who test positive to stay home, she added.

Although the nurses didn’t vote to unionize until September, Waters said, they began acting collectively from the early days of the pandemic. They drafted a petition and sent a letter to administrators together. When the hospital agreed to provide advanced training on how to use PPE to protect against covid transmission, it was a small but significant victory, Waters said.

“Seeing that change brought a fair number of nurses who had still been undecided about the union to feel like, ‘Yeah, if we work together, we can make change,’” she said.

Old Concerns Heightened, New Issues Arise

Even as union membership in most industries has declined in recent years, health workers unions have remained relatively stable. Experts say it’s partly because of the focus on patient care issues, like safe staffing ratios, which resonate widely and have only grown during the pandemic.

At St. Mary Medical Center outside Philadelphia, short staffing led nurses to strike in November. Donna Halpern, a nurse on the cardiovascular and critical care unit, said staffing had been a point of negotiation with the hospital since the nurses joined the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals in 2019. But with another surge of covid cases approaching, the nurses decided not to wait any longer to take action, she said.

A month later, officials with Trinity Health Mid-Atlantic, which owns the hospital, announced a tentative labor agreement with the union. The contract “gives nurses a voice in discussions on staffing while preserving the hospital’s right and authority to make all staffing decisions,” the hospital said in a statement.

In Colorado, where state inspection reports show understaffing led to a patient death at a suburban Denver hospital, SEIU Local 105 has launched a media campaign about unsafe practices by the hospital’s parent company, HealthOne. The union doesn’t represent HealthOne employees, but union leaders said they felt compelled to act after repeatedly hearing concerns.

In a statement, HealthOne said staffing levels are appropriate across its hospitals and it is continuing to recruit and hire staff members.

Covid is also raising entirely new issues for workers to organize around. At the forefront is the lack of PPE, which was noted in one-third of the health worker deaths catalogued by KHN and The Guardian.

Nurses at Albany Medical Center in New York picketed on Dec. 1 with signs demanding PPE and spoke about having to reuse N95 masks up to 20 times.

The hospital told KHN it follows federal guidelines for reprocessing masks, but intensive care nurse Jennifer Bejo said it feels unsafe.

At MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care clinics in Washington state, staff members were provided only surgical masks and face shields for months, even when performing covid tests and seeing covid patients, said Dr. Brian Fox, who works at the clinics and is a member of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists. The company agreed to provide N95 masks after staffers went on a two-day strike in November.

MultiCare said it found another vendor for N95s in early December and is in the process of distributing them.

PPE has also become a rallying point for nonunion workers. At a November event handing out PPE in El Paso, Texas, more than 60 workers showed up in the first hour, said SEIU Texas President Elsa Caballero. Many were not union members, she said, but by the end of the day, dozens had signed membership cards to join.

Small Successes, Gradual Movement

Organized labor is not a panacea, union officials admit. Their members have faced PPE shortages and high infection rates throughout the pandemic, too. But collective action can help workers push for and achieve change, they said.

National Nurses United and the National Union of Healthcare Workers said they’ve each seen an influx in calls from nonmembers, but whether that results in more union elections is yet to be seen.

David Zonderman, an expert in labor history at North Carolina State University, said safety concerns like factory fires and mine collapses have often galvanized collective action in the past, as workers felt their lives were endangered. But labor laws can make it difficult to organize, he said, and many efforts to unionize are unsuccessful.

Health care employers, in particular, are known to launch aggressive and well-funded anti-union campaigns, said Rebecca Givan, a labor studies expert at Rutgers university. Still, workers might be more motivated by what they witnessed during the pandemic, she said.

“An experience like treating patients in this pandemic will change a health care worker forever,” Givan said, “and will have an impact on their willingness to speak out, to go on strike and to unionize if needed.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Video: The Healthy Nurse Who Died at 40 on the COVID Frontline: ‘She Was the Best Mom I Ever Had’

Yolanda Coar was 40 when she died of COVID-19 in August 2020 in Augusta, Georgia. She was also a nurse manager, and one of nearly 3,000 frontline workers who have died in the U.S. fighting this virus, according to an exclusive investigation by The Guardian and KHN.

Read more of the health workers’ stories behind the statistics — their personalities, passions and quirks. “Lost on the Frontline” examines: Did they have to die?

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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More Than 2,900 Health Care Workers Died This Year — And the Government Barely Kept Track


This story also ran on The Guardian. It can be republished for free.

More than 2,900 U.S. health care workers have died in the COVID-19 pandemic since March, a far higher number than that reported by the government, according to a new analysis by KHN and The Guardian.

Fatalities from the coronavirus have skewed young, with the majority of victims under age 60 in the cases for which there is age data. People of color have been disproportionately affected, accounting for about 65% of deaths in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data. After conducting interviews with relatives and friends of around 300 victims, KHN and The Guardian learned that one-third of the fatalities involved concerns over inadequate personal protective equipment.

Many of the deaths — about 680 — occurred in New York and New Jersey, which were hit hard early in the pandemic. Significant numbers also died in Southern and Western states in the ensuing months.

The findings are part of “Lost on the Frontline,” a nine-month data and investigative project by KHN and The Guardian to track every health care worker who dies of COVID-19.

One of those lost, Vincent DeJesus, 39, told his brother Neil that he’d be in deep trouble if he spent much time with a COVID-positive patient while wearing the surgical mask provided to him by the Las Vegas hospital where he worked. DeJesus died on Aug. 15.

Another fatality was Sue Williams-Ward, a 68-year-old home health aide who earned $13 an hour in Indianapolis, and bathed, dressed and fed clients without wearing any PPE, her husband said. She was intubated for six weeks before she died May 2.

“Lost on the Frontline” is prompting new government action to explore the root cause of health care worker deaths and take steps to track them better. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services recently asked the National Academy of Sciences for a “rapid expert consultation” on why so many health care workers are dying in the U.S., citing the count of fallen workers by The Guardian and KHN.

“The question is, where are they becoming infected?” asked Michael Osterholm, a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisory team and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “That is clearly a critical issue we need to answer and we don’t have that.”

The Dec. 10 report by the national academies suggests a new federal tracking system and specially trained contact tracers who would take PPE policies and availability into consideration.

Doing so would add critical knowledge that could inform generations to come and give meaning to the lives lost.

“Those [health care workers] are people who walked into places of work every day because they cared about patients, putting food on the table for families, and every single one of those lives matter,” said Sue Anne Bell, a University of Michigan assistant professor of nursing and co-author of the national academies report.

The recommendations come at a fraught moment for health care workers, as some are getting the COVID-19 vaccine while others are fighting for their lives amid the highest levels of infection the nation has seen.

The toll continues to mount. In Indianapolis, for example, 41-year-old nurse practitioner Kindra Irons died Dec. 1. She saw seven or eight home health patients per week while wearing full PPE, including an N95 mask and a face shield, according to her husband, Marcus Irons.

The virus destroyed her lungs so badly that six weeks on the most aggressive life support equipment, ECMO, couldn’t save her, he said.

Marcus Irons said he is now struggling financially to support their two youngest children, ages 12 and 15. “Nobody should have to go through what we’re going through,” he said.

In Massachusetts, 43-year-old Mike “Flynnie” Flynn oversaw transportation and laundry services at North Shore Medical Center, a hospital in Salem, Massachusetts. He and his wife were also raising young children, ages 8, 10 and 11.

Flynn, who shone at father-daughter dances, fell ill in late November and died Dec. 8. He had a heart attack at home on the couch, according to his father, Paul Flynn. A hospital spokesperson said he had full access to PPE and free testing on-site.

Since the first months of the pandemic, more than 70 reporters at The Guardian and KHN have scrutinized numerous governmental and public data sources, interviewed the bereaved and spoken with health care experts to build a count.

The total number includes fatalities identified by labor unions, obituaries and news outlets and in online postings by the bereaved, as well as by relatives of the deceased. The previous total announced by The Guardian and KHN was approximately 1,450 health care worker deaths. The new number reflects the inclusion of data reported by nursing homes and health facilities to the federal and state governments. These deaths include the facility names but not worker names. Reporters cross-checked each record to ensure fatalities did not appear in the database twice.

The tally has been widely cited by other media as well as by members of Congress.

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) referenced the data citing the need for a pending bill that would provide compensation to the families of health care workers who died or sustained long-term disabilities from COVID-19.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) mentioned the tally in a Senate Finance Committee hearing about the medical supply chain. “The fact is,” he said, “the shortages of PPE have put our doctors and nurses and caregivers in grave danger.”

This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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As the Terror of COVID Struck, Health Care Workers Struggled to Survive. Thousands Lost the Fight.


This story also ran on The Guardian. It can be republished for free.

Workers at Garfield Medical Center in suburban Los Angeles were on edge as the pandemic ramped up in March and April. Staffers in a 30-patient unit were rationing a single tub of sanitizing wipes all day. A May memo from the CEO said N95 masks could be cleaned up to 20 times before replacement.

Patients showed up COVID-negative but some still developed symptoms a few days later. Contact tracing took the form of texts and whispers about exposures.

By summer, frustration gave way to fear. At least 60 staff members at the 210-bed community hospital caught COVID-19, according to records obtained by KHN and interviews with eight staff members and others familiar with hospital operations.

The first to die was Dawei Liang, 60, a quiet radiology technician who never said no when a colleague needed help. A cardiology technician became infected and changed his final wishes — agreeing to intubation — hoping for more years to dote on his grandchildren.

Few felt safe.

Ten months into the pandemic, it has become far clearer why tens of thousands of health care workers have been infected by the virus and why so many have died: dire PPE shortages. Limited COVID tests. Sparse tracking of viral spread. Layers of flawed policies handed down by health care executives and politicians, and lax enforcement by government regulators.

All of those breakdowns, across cities and states, have contributed to the deaths of more than 2,900 health care workers, a nine-month investigation by over 70 reporters at KHN and The Guardian has found. This number is far higher than that reported by the U.S. government, which does not have a comprehensive national count of health care workers who’ve died of COVID-19.

The fatalities have skewed young, with the majority of victims under age 60 in the cases for which there is age data. People of color have been disproportionately affected, accounting for about 65% of deaths in cases in which there is race and ethnicity data. After conducting interviews with relatives and friends of around 300 victims, KHN and The Guardian learned that one-third of the fatalities involved concerns over inadequate personal protective equipment.

Many of the deaths occurred in New York and New Jersey, and significant numbers also died in Southern and Western states as the pandemic wore on.

Workers at well-funded academic medical centers — hubs of policymaking clout and prestigious research — were largely spared. Those who died tended to work in less prestigious community hospitals like Garfield, nursing homes and other health centers in roles in which access to critical information was low and patient contact was high.

Garfield Medical Center and its parent company, AHMC Healthcare, did not respond to multiple calls or emails regarding workers’ concerns and circumstances leading to the worker deaths.

So as 2020 draws to a close, we ask: Did so many of the nation’s health care workers have to die?

New York’s Warning for the Nation

The seeds of the crisis can be found in New York and the surrounding cities and suburbs. It was the region where the profound risks facing medical staff became clear. And it was here where the most died.

As the pandemic began its U.S. surge, city paramedics were out in force, their sirens cutting through eerily empty streets as they rushed patients to hospitals. Carlos Lizcano, a blunt Queens native who had been with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) for two decades, was one of them.

He was answering four to five cardiac arrest calls every shift. Normally he would have fielded that many in a month. He remembered being stretched so thin he had to enlist a dying man’s son to help with CPR. On another call, he did chest compressions on a 33-year-old woman as her two small children stood in the doorway of a small apartment.

“I just have this memory of those kids looking at us like, ‘What’s going on?’”

After the young woman died, Lizcano went outside and punched the ambulance in frustration and grief.

The personal risks paramedics faced were also grave.

More than 40% of emergency medical service workers in the FDNY went on leave for confirmed or suspected coronavirus during the first three months of the pandemic, according to a study by the department’s chief medical officer and others.

In fact, health care workers were three times more likely than the general public to get COVID-19, other researchers found. And the risks were not equally spread among medical professions. Initially, CDC guidelines were written to afford the highest protection to workers in a hospital’s COVID-19 unit.

Yet months later, it was clear that the doctors initially thought to be at most risk — anesthesiologists and those working in the intensive care unit — were among the least likely to die. This could be due to better personal protective equipment or patients being less infectious by the time they reach the ICU.

Instead, scientists discovered that “front door” health workers like paramedics and those in acute-care “receiving” roles — such as in the emergency room — were twice as likely as other health care workers to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

For FDNY’s first responders, part of the problem was having to ration and reuse masks. Workers were blind to an invisible threat that would be recognized months later: The virus spread rapidly from pre-symptomatic people and among those with no symptoms at all.

In mid-March, Lizcano was one of thousands of FDNY first responders infected with COVID-19.

At least four of them died, city records show. They were among the 679 health care workers who have died in New York and New Jersey to date, most at the height of the terrible first wave of the virus.

“Initially, we didn’t think it was this bad,” Lizcano said, recalling the confusion and chaos of the early pandemic. “This city wasn’t prepared.”

Neither was the rest of the country.

An Elusive Enemy

The virus continued to spread like a ghost through the nation and proved deadly to workers who were among the first to encounter sick patients in their hospital or nursing home. One government agency had a unique vantage point into the problem but did little to use its power to cite employers — or speak out about the hazards.

Health employers had a mandate to report worker deaths and hospitalizations to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

When they did so, the report went to an agency headed by Eugene Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who died in 2016. The younger Scalia had spent part of his career as a corporate lawyer fighting the very agency he was charged with leading.

Its inspectors have documented instances in which some of the most vulnerable workers — those with low information and high patient contact — faced incredible hazards, but OSHA’s staff did little to hold employers to account.

Beaumont, Texas, a town near the Louisiana border, was largely untouched by the pandemic in early April.

That’s when a 56-year-old physical therapy assistant at Christus Health’s St. Elizabeth Hospital named Danny Marks called in sick with a fever and body aches, federal OSHA records show.

He told a human resources employee that he’d been in the room of a patient who was receiving a breathing treatment — the type known as the most hazardous to health workers. The CDC advises that N95 respirators be used by all in the room for the so-called aerosol-generating procedures. (A facility spokesperson said the patient was not known or suspected to have COVID at the time Marks entered the room.)

Marks went home to self-isolate. By April 17, he was dead.

The patient whose room Marks entered later tested positive for COVID-19. And an OSHA investigation into Marks’ death found there was no sign on the door to warn him that a potentially infected patient was inside, nor was there a cart outside the room where he could grab protective gear.

The facility did not have a universal masking policy in effect when Marks went in the room, and it was more than likely that he was not wearing any respiratory protection, according to a copy of the report obtained through a public records request. Twenty-one more employees contracted COVID by the time he died.

“He was a beloved gentleman and friend and he is missed very much,” Katy Kiser, Christus’ public relations director, told KHN.

OSHA did not issue a citation to the facility, instead recommending safety changes.

The agency logged nearly 8,700 complaints from health care workers in 2020. Yet Harvard researchers found that some of those desperate pleas for help, often decrying shortages of PPE, did little to forestall harm. In fact, they concluded that surges in those complaints preceded increases in deaths among working-age adults 16 days later.

One report author, Peg Seminario, blasted OSHA for failing to use its power to get employers’ attention about the danger facing health workers. She said issuing big fines in high-profile cases can have a broad impact — except OSHA has not done so.

“There’s no accountability for failing to protect workers from exposure to this deadly virus,” said Seminario, a former union health and safety official.

More ‘Lost on the Frontline’ Stories

Desperate for Safety Gear

There was little outward sign this summer that Garfield Medical Center was struggling to contain COVID-19. While Medicare has forced nursing homes to report staff infections and deaths, no such requirement applies to hospitals.

Yet as the focus of the pandemic moved from the East Coast in the spring to Southern and Western states, health care worker deaths climbed. And behind the scenes at Garfield, workers were dealing with a lack of equipment meant to keep them safe.

Complaints to state worker-safety officials filed in March and April said Garfield Medical Center workers were asked to reuse the same N95 respirator for a week. Another complaint said workers ran out of medical gowns and were directed to use less-protective gowns typically provided to patients.

Staffers were shaken by the death of Dawei Liang. And only after his death and a rash of infections did Garfield provide N95 masks to more workers and put up plastic tarps to block a COVID unit from an adjacent ward. Yet this may have been too late.

The coronavirus can easily spread to every corner of a hospital. Researchers in South Africa traced a single ER patient to 119 cases in a hospital — 80 among staff members. Those included 62 nurses from neurology, surgical and general medical units that typically would not have housed COVID patients.

By late July, Garfield cardiac and respiratory technician Thong Nguyen, 73, learned he was COVID-positive days after he collapsed at work. Nguyen loved his job and was typically not one to complain, said his youngest daughter, Dinh Kozuki. A 34-year veteran at the hospital, he was known for conducting medical tests in multiple languages. His colleagues teased him, saying he was never going to retire.

Kozuki said her father spoke up in March about the rationing of protective gear, but his concerns were not allayed.

The PPE problems at Garfield were a symptom of a broader problem. As the virus spread around the nation, chronic shortages of protective gear left many workers in community-based settings fatally exposed. Nearly 1 in 3 family members or friends of around 300 health care workers interviewed by KHN or The Guardian expressed concerns about a fallen workers’ PPE.

Health care workers’ labor unions asked for the more-protective N95 respirators when the pandemic began. But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines said the unfitted surgical masks worn by workers who feed, bathe and lift COVID patients were adequate amid supply shortages.

Mary Turner, an ICU nurse and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she protested alongside nurses all summer demanding better protective gear, which she said was often kept from workers because of supply-chain shortages and the lack of political will to address them.

“It shouldn’t have to be that way,” Turner said. “We shouldn’t have to beg on the streets for protection during a pandemic.”

At Garfield, it was even hard to get tested. Critical care technician Tony Ramirez said he started feeling ill on July 12. He had an idea of how he might have been exposed: He’d cleaned up urine and feces of a patient suspected of having COVID-19 and worked alongside two staffers who also turned out to be COVID-positive. At the time, he’d been wearing a surgical mask and was worried it didn’t protect him.

Yet he was denied a free test at the hospital, and went on his own time to Dodger Stadium to get one. His positive result came back a few days later.

As Ramirez rested at home, he texted Alex Palomo, 44, a Garfield medical secretary who was also at home with COVID-19, to see how he was doing. Palomo was the kind of man who came to many family parties but would often slip away unseen. A cousin finally asked him about it: Palomo said he just hated to say goodbye.

Palomo would wear only a surgical mask when he would go into the rooms of patients with flashing call lights, chat with them and maybe bring them a refill of water, Ramirez said.

Ramirez said Palomo had no access to patient charts, so he would not have known which patients had COVID-19: “In essence, he was helping blindly.”

Palomo never answered the text. He died of COVID-19 on Aug. 14.

And Thong Nguyen had fared no better. His daughter, a hospital pharmacist in Fresno, had pressed him to go on a ventilator after seeing other patients survive with the treatment. It might mean he could retire and watch his grandkids grow up. But it made no difference.

“He definitely should not have passed [away],” Kozuki said.

Nursing Homes Devastated

During the summer, as nursing homes recovered from their spring surge, Heather Pagano got a new assignment. The Doctors Without Borders adviser on humanitarianism had been working in cholera clinics in Nigeria. In May, she arrived in southeastern Michigan to train nursing home staffers on optimal infection-control techniques.

Federal officials required worker death reports from nursing homes, which by December tallied more than 1,100 fatalities. Researchers in Minnesota found particular hazards for these health workers, concluding they were the ones most at risk of getting COVID-19.

Pagano learned that staffers were repurposing trash bin liners and going to the local Sherwin-Williams store for painting coveralls to backfill shortages of medical gowns. The least-trained clinical workers — nursing assistants — were doing the most hazardous jobs, turning and cleaning patients, and brushing their teeth.

She said nursing home leaders were shuffling reams of federal, state and local guidelines yet had little understanding of how to stop the virus from spreading.

“No one sent trainers to show people what to do, practically speaking,” she said.

As the pandemic wore on, nursing homes reported staff shortages getting worse by the week: Few wanted to put their lives on the line for $13 an hour, the wage for nursing assistants in many parts of the U.S.

The organization GetusPPE, formed by doctors to address shortages, saw almost all requests for help were coming from nursing homes, doctors’ offices and other non-hospital facilities. Only 12% of the requests could be fulfilled, its October report said.

And a pandemic-weary and science-wary public has fueled the virus’s spread. In fact, whether or not a nursing home was properly staffed played only a small role in determining its susceptibility to a lethal outbreak, University of Chicago public health professor Tamara Konetzka found. The crucial factor was whether there was widespread viral transmission in the surrounding community.

“In the end, the story has pretty much stayed the same,” Konetzka said. “Nursing homes in virus hot spots are at high risk and there’s very little they can do to keep the virus out.”

The Vaccine Arrives

From March through November, 40 complaints were filed about the Garfield Medical Center with the California Department of Public Health, nearly three times the statewide average for the time. State officials substantiated 11 complaints and said they are part of an ongoing inspection.

For Thanksgiving, AHMC Healthcare Chairman Jonathan Wu sent hospital staffers a letter thanking “frontline healthcare workers who continue to serve, selflessly exposing themselves to the virus so that others may cope, recover and survive.”

The letter made no mention of the workers who had died. “A lot of people were upset by that,” said critical care technician Melissa Ennis. “I was upset.”

By December, all workers were required to wear an N95 respirator in every corner of the hospital, she said. Ennis said she felt unnerved taking it off. She took breaks to eat and drink in her car.

Garfield said on its website that it is screening patients for the virus and will “implement infection prevention and control practices to protect our patients, visitors, and staff.”

On Dec. 9, Ennis received notice that the vaccine was on its way to Garfield. Nationwide, the vaccine brought health workers relief from months of tension. Nurses and doctors posted photos of themselves weeping and holding their small children.

At the same time, it proved too late for some. A new surge of deaths drove the toll among health workers to more than 2,900.

And before Ennis could get the shot, she learned she would have to wait at least a few more days, until she could get a COVID test.

She found out she’d been exposed to the virus by a colleague.

Shoshana Dubnow and Anna Sirianni contributed to this report.Video by Hannah NormanWeb production by Lydia Zuraw

This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Readers and Tweeters Defend Front-Line Nurses and Blind Us With Science

Letters to the Editor is a periodic feature. We welcome all comments and will publish a selection. We edit for length and clarity and require full names.

The demand for skilled nurses during the pandemic is through the roof! Travel nurses command a hefty salary and they are worth every penny… #COVID19 #pandemic #RN https://t.co/gYQpkHqaoX

— Talmage Egan, MD (@UofU_Anes_Chair) November 26, 2020

— Dr. Talmage Egan, Salt Lake City

Nurses Deserve to Be Paid Handsomely

I read your article “Need a COVID-19 Nurse? That’ll Be $8,000 a Week” (Nov. 24) in the Springfield Journal-Register. It was an interesting article as I have a daughter who is a nurse. Nurses have been underpaid and unappreciated for years. It made me angry that the article characterized the wages some hospitals are willing to pay for nurses as exorbitant. Hogwash if you think someone should risk their life every hour of the day to care for COVID patients without proper compensation. How many doctors make over a million a year? You don’t cite that as unusual. I feel that nurses should go for the gold as they have been taken advantage of for years and, too bad, but good for them. Choose your words more carefully in the future. Nurses ROCK!!!!

— Mike Booher, Lincoln, Illinois

Hospitals go out of their way to avoid competing for nursing labor by raising wages. Now hospital executives and public health advocates act like it’s a travesty that COVID nurses are finally getting paid market rates to take on risky jobs. https://t.co/6z0idToVn6

— Devon M. Herrick (@DevonHerrick) November 24, 2020

— Devon M. Herrick, Dallas

Missing in the Mix of Vaccine Coverage

I must note two important omissions in the article “Time to Discuss Potentially Unpleasant Side Effects of COVID Shots? Scientists Say Yes” (Nov. 12). First, although these were interim trial results, the placebo arm should also have been reported out. What was the placebo infection rate? Reporting 90% effectiveness is irrelevant without reporting the placebo rate simultaneously. And one needs to align the infection rate in trial subjects with the incidence of disease in the U.S. population. They should be similar, but if not, any discrepancy must be explained (such as, no elderly people or children participating in the trial). Secondly, and perhaps more important: What other mitigating measures were volunteers in this trial required/advised to take? For example, physical distancing, masks, etc. I could find no mention of this, positively or negatively, when reading the protocol on clinicaltrials.gov. Any vaccine alone could not provide 94.5% efficacy. To determine the relative contributions of other measures, you’d need, say, a four-arm study — placebo with mask, placebo without mask, vaccine with mask, vaccine without mask. Statistically and clinically, one must account for other variables that may confound an apparent result.

This is a crucial point as the lay public is thinking that, by getting the vaccine, masks might no longer be necessary and they’ll have a 95% chance of not being infected. This is rubbish. The media and the public “experts” need to address this as they are setting themselves up for an immense PR failure and still greater skepticism. People may need to wear masks for many more months, maybe years, even with an effective vaccine.

— Stephen Zaruby, Truckee, California

I’m already confused 😕 https://t.co/UlJPh2EEvK

— hameen tariq (@hameentariq) November 23, 2020

— Hameen Tariq, Wilmington, Delaware

Exploring Cancer Drug’s Effects on COVID

Your story “Clots, Strokes and Rashes: Is COVID a Disease of the Blood Vessels?” (Nov. 13) was reprinted in my local newspaper. My brother, James L. Kinsella Ph.D., led the original work at the National Institutes of Health researching how the chemotherapy drug Taxol could reduce inflammation in coronary articles following the placement of coronary stents. This led to the very effective use of drug-eluting coronary stents. My unprofessional musing causes me to wonder if this anti-inflammatory response to Taxol might have some application as an early therapeutic intervention to reduce the inflammatory response of COVID-19 being studied by Dr. William Li. I can’t ask my brother; he passed away.

— Rick Kinsella, Oneida, New York

He wouldn’t be dead without covid. We’ve learned that things that aren’t life threatening are made life threatening by this disease. It attacks your blood vessels so it can exacerbate anything anywhere in your body that uses blood vessels. Stay safe indeed https://t.co/BFsqrKSFmH

— James McPicnic (@WhiteRatbit) December 3, 2020

— James “J.P.” McPicnic, Los Angeles

Women’s Health Should Not Be Up for Debate

Birth control medication is so much more than a pawn in politics (“Coming Abortion Fight Could Threaten Birth Control, Too,” Nov. 5). It changes the lives of so many women for the better. Birth control access has been proven to lead to higher rates of education for women, lower levels of child poverty, lower Medicaid costs for women’s health and higher productivity of society as a whole. It also treats a large number of medical conditions associated with women’s health. It effectively treats severe menstrual migraines, hormonal acne, endometriosis, severe menstrual pain, uterine abnormalities, anemia and heavy menstrual bleeding, among other health conditions. This medication is involved in treating so many women’s health concerns, improves infant and child health outcomes, and reduces child poverty, and yet almost 20 million women in the U.S. currently have no access to birth control medication. American politicians need to consider, if nothing else, the spillover costs to society when birth control access is reduced.

Women’s reproductive health should not be up for debate and yet it is at the center of so many political agendas. As a 24-year-old woman pursuing dual master’s degrees in public health and physician assistant studies, my focus should be on learning to become an exceptional health care provider, not whether my health will be up for debate in court. If politicians truly have the best interests of Americans at heart, they should be looking to expand birth control access, not restrict it.  Evidence needs to be incorporated into political agendas, and the evidence shows that when women succeed, society succeeds. Women’s education, health and reproductive rights should be at the forefront of every discussion on what constitutes a thriving population — the evidence has proven that women’s autonomy holds the answer and access to birth control is a vital piece of that.

— Gabby Henshue, Madison, Wisconsin

Scary times for women’s bodies.

“States could effectively ban contraception by arguing that some contraceptives act as abortifacients.” Threat is real. I’ve worked in states where this argument has been made.https://t.co/LmdWFRUNOZ

— Elizabeth M. Baskett (@EMBaskett) November 11, 2020

— Elizabeth M. Baskett, Denver

Injustice in High Gear

I was appalled at the charges on the medical bill from the Carson City emergency department for that child who fell off his bike (“Bill of the Month: After Kid’s Minor Bike Accident, Major Bill Sets Legal Wheels in Motion,” Nov. 25) — $18,000 for an exam and stitches? What would it take to sort out such problems in our health system? Lower prices from providers could only result in lower insurance premiums.

— Karen Johnson, San Rafael, California

Attempted subrogation, man, I tell yah https://t.co/spxcMlSiCk

— Annie M. Davidson (@attyannie) November 25, 2020

— Annie M. Davidson, St. Paul, Minnesota

KHN Morning Briefing: A Wealth of Information in One Spot!

I just wanted to say it is awesome to have portions of articles from many major news outlets because never does one tell the whole story. Case in point: I was trying to research what exactly President Donald Trump had done that “allowed doctors to discriminate against LGBT people,” and it was very helpful having a wide array of media sources on a single page to help get the bigger picture and try and weed through the bias of all of them (“Trump Administration’s Expanded Conscience Rule Will Allow Medical Professionals To Refuse To Provide Health Care Services,” May 3). Just sending my compliments. Keep up the great work.

— Nolan Steeley, Greensburg, Pennsylvania

💥Racism in #healthcare undermines #quality of care and patient safety. There’s hard work to be done to weed it out of all parts of society, especially clinical care. https://t.co/TbK0yIuraB

— Natalie S. Burke (@natalie4health) November 28, 2020

— Natalie S. Burke, Washington, D.C.

Education and Coverage Gaps Lead to Avoidable Amputations 

Coming to terms with systemic racism in health care is long overdue (“What Doctors Aren’t Always Taught: How to Spot Racism in Health Care,” Nov. 17). The way medicine is taught and the payment policies that shape the system have created persistent disparities in patient outcomes across racial and ethnic groups.

As a result, Black Americans are 80% more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes and are twice as likely to die from the disease. Furthermore, Black American patients are up to four times more likely to experience an amputation than their white counterparts due to advanced peripheral artery disease (PAD), a common complication for people with diabetes and other chronic conditions. Similarly, Latinos are up to 75% more likely to experience an amputation than whites, while Native Americans are twice as likely to lose a limb.

As many as 85% of the nation’s 200,000 non-traumatic amputations could be prevented with access to screening and early detection. By screening for PAD through non-invasive arterial testing, the likelihood of an individual needing a PAD-related amputation can be reduced by up to 90%. Unfortunately, too few Americans — particularly racial and ethnic minorities — are even offered routine screening for PAD due to a widespread lack of understanding about the disease, as well as structural coverage barriers to simple, painless tests. As a result, many do not even know they have the disease until it is too late to save their limbs.

Communities of color deserve better. Members of the Congressional PAD Caucus — led by Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) — recently introduced the Amputation Reduction and Compassion (ARC) Act to establish an education program about the disease — particularly for high-risk populations — and update reimbursement policy to disallow payment for non-emergent amputations unless arterial testing has been done in the three months before amputation. These simple solutions have the power to prevent thousands of avoidable amputations, and begin to correct health disparities in minority communities.

While we still have a long way to go as our country continues to grapple with systemic racism in health care, the ARC Act represents an important step toward ending disparities in PAD care.

— Dr. Foluso Fakorede, CEO of Cardiovascular Solutions of Central Mississippi, Cleveland, Mississippi

Racism in Health Care? Another example of injecting Politics. Inarguably, racism exists everywhere, but to make this a big issue is a disservice. Diff DX requires inclusion of Race/Ethnicity, to wit: Sickle Cell in Blacks,Alpha & Beta Thalassemia in Asians https://t.co/xyP54dPjH8

— Alexander R. Lim, MD (@AlexanderLim13) November 25, 2020

— Dr. Alexander R. Lim, Corpus Christi, Texas

‘Obamacare’ Unfairly Politicizes Health Law

I found this article interesting (“Biden Plan to Lower Medicare Eligibility Age to 60 Faces Hostility From Hospitals,” Nov. 11) but was surprised that the Affordable Care Act was referred to as “Obamacare.” Please don’t politicize the ACA — we really need it to continue allowing people to access health care. Many people do not have health care through their workplace and are unable to afford private insurance premiums. I was once one of those people before I was hired at our local library. It was really tough. Thank you for your reporting.

— Pamela Elicker, Port Townsend, Washington

Putting People First on the Podcast

When you were talking about drug policy and the ballot in a recent podcast (“KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Change Is in the Air,” Nov. 6), you used terms that are considered incorrect or stigmatizing. For example, saying “opioid epidemic” when it’s really a crisis and referring to substance use as “abuse.” The Associated Press and NPR, among others, have pledged to use people-first language, as also supported by the American Psychological Association.

— Deirdre Dingman, Philadelphia

The Backbone of the Insurance Industry

It’s disingenuous to assert that people “can’t always rely on insurance brokers to give them accurate information or steer them to comprehensive coverage” based on the unfortunate experience of one consumer with a short-term health plan, as Michelle Andrews did in the article “Think Your Health Care Is Covered? Beware of the ‘Junk’ Insurance Plan” (Dec. 4).

Agents and brokers are crucial to our nation’s efforts to get people covered. This year, they assisted almost half of all healthcare.gov enrollees — and brought 1.12 million new enrollees into the marketplace. It’s no wonder that a new report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has called agents and brokers “instrumental in driving greater participation in the individual health insurance market.”

Further, agents and brokers have long maintained that short-term plans are not appropriate substitutes for comprehensive exchange coverage. We at the National Association of Health Underwriters stated as much in official comments filed with the Trump administration before it finalized a rule extending the duration of short-term plans to 12 months.

— Janet Trautwein, CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters, Washington, D.C.

 


Not Tickling My Funny Bone

You ought to find some cartoonists who are not so flagrantly left-leaning — continuing to provide left-sided commentary is not right. It’s like all of the news stations pushing for socialism.

— Harry Gousha, Upland, California

Editor’s note: It is the tradition and mission among editorial cartoonists to satirize those in power. As with the nation’s leadership, the targets of political cartoons toggle from right to left. Balance is not these artists’ goal, but over time their commentary balances out. Stick with us, and we hope to amuse you in the future.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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KHN on the Air This Week

KHN senior correspondent JoNel Aleccia discussed the demand for COVID-19 vaccines with Newsy’s “Morning Rush” on Thursday.

KHN Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Rosenthal discussed COVID vaccine distribution and its potential hiccups with RNN TV’s “Richard French Live” on Tuesday. The exchange starts at about the three-minute mark.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called out the health care reporting chops of California Healthline correspondent Angela Hart during a press conference on Monday.

KHN Colorado correspondent Rae Ellen Bichell discussed the shortage of nurses that has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war with KUNC’s “Colorado Edition” on Dec. 3.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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NYC Hospital Workers, Knowing How Bad It Can Get, Brace for COVID 2nd Wave

No single municipality in the country suffered more in the first wave of the pandemic than New York City, which saw more than 24,000 deaths, mainly in the spring. Medical staff in New York know precisely how difficult and dangerous overwhelmed hospitals can be and are braced warily as infections begin to rise again. 

Around the New York metropolitan area, public health leaders and health care workers say they’re watching the trend lines, as intensive care units fill up in other parts of the United States and around the world. They say it gives them flashbacks to last spring, when ambulance sirens were omnipresent and the region was the country’s coronavirus epicenter.

There is wide agreement that hospitals and care providers are in much better shape now than then, because there is much more knowledge about the disease and how to handle it; much larger stockpiles of personal protective equipment; and much, much more widespread testing.

But at the same time, many front-line workers are nervous about hospital preparedness, and many observers are less bullish about the effectiveness of the coronavirus testing and tracing infrastructure.

“I think there’s a lot of anxiety about doing this a second time,” said Dr. Laura Iavicoli, head of emergency preparedness for NYC Health + Hospitals, the country’s largest municipal hospital system. Iavicoli is also an active emergency room physician at Elmhurst Hospital, in Queens, which came to be called “the epicenter of the epicenter” back in April. Still, she has enormous confidence in the staff of the municipal hospital system.

“They will rally, because I know them,” she said. “I’ve worked with them for 20 years, and they’re the most amazing people I can possibly speak of, but there’s anxiety and there’s COVID fatigue.”

Iavicoli said some of the city’s hospitals are at capacity, but she hastened to add that she’s not talking about “COVID capacity” — meaning not all the beds and recently reconfigured spillover spaces for COVID patients are full. Rather, she said, two of the network’s 11 hospitals have had to transfer ICU patients to others to make room for incoming patients.

“We are doing a little bit of redistributing around the system to give them COVID capacity, but it’s very manageable within the system,” Iavicoli said. “The increase is definitely typical in flu season, but knowing that we have just entered upon the second wave [of COVID-19] and predicting what is to come, we’re a little even more cognizant than normal to make sure we leave capacity in all of our facilities.”

Many nurses, however, say hospital administrators have not learned enough from the experience in March and April.

“We’re scared because we’re afraid we’re going to have to go through this again,” said Michelle Gonzalez, a critical care nurse at Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, and a union representative for NYSNA, the New York State Nurses Association.

She said that in her unit nurses typically handle one or two intensive care unit patients at a time — but now have to handle three, with the number of COVID patients creeping up once again. Tending to four patients or more was common at the peak of the pandemic surge. Gonzalez said that’s overwhelming. If one patient crashes, several nurses need to converge at once, leaving other patients unmonitored.   

“When we start to get triples with the frequency we’re seeing right now, we know it’s because we’re short-staffed, and they’re not getting ICU nurses into the building,” she said at a demonstration that featured a phalanx of nurses marching from Montefiore to a nearby cemetery, bearing floral wreaths for fallen comrades, while a band and bagpiper played “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Amazing Grace.”

A spokesperson for the union said Montefiore, by its own reckoning, has 476 vacant nursing positions — a number that has climbed by nearly 100 since 2019.

“Management is not living up to their promise to fill vacancies and hire nurses,” said Kristi Barnes, from NYSNA. “As of last week, they have 188 full-time nursing jobs they have not even posted, so there is no way they can be filled.” 

The Montefiore administration disagrees.

“We have a contractual agreement with the union, and we meet the contractual obligations of that agreement,” said Peter Semczuk, senior vice president of operations. “We tailor our staffing in such a flexible way to meet the needs of the patient.”

Like many hospital systems, Montefiore relied heavily on temporary staffing agencies for “traveling nurses” from around the country earlier this year. Hospitals are preparing to do so again — but there is demand all over the country

“They got us travelers in April, but that was four or six weeks in, and until that we were on our own,” said Kathy Santoiemma, who’s been a nurse at Montefiore New Rochelle for 43 years. “I don’t even know where they’re going to get travelers now — everyone around the whole country needs travelers.”

NYSNA led a two-day strike at Montifiore New Rochelle on Tuesday, after contract negotiations in the works for two years stalled on Monday.

Iavicoli said each of her network’s facilities has submitted requests, so that NYC Health + Hospitals could place a preliminary order now.

Health planners are hoping New Yorkers won’t flood into emergency rooms this time. They point to the modest climb in COVID hospitalizations over the past two months compared with other areas, including New Jersey and Connecticut. One thing they hope will keep the curve relatively flat is testing, which is more pervasive in New York than almost anywhere else in the country. About 200,000 people across New York state are getting tested each day, roughly one-third of them in New York City.

“It’s the first step to actually interrupting further spread,” said Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city health commissioner.

He said mass testing works on two levels — by highlighting which areas are hot zones, so health workers can target residents with “hyper-local” messages about COVID-19 spread, to get them to change their behavior, and also by allowing contact tracers to communicate individually with newly infected people.

“Once someone tests positive, we very quickly help them isolate,” Chokshi said. “We do an interview with them to know who their close contacts are, and then we call those contacts and make sure they’re quarantining as well.”

However, the city’s contact-tracing program has had a mixed record. The people it reaches say they’re staying put — but fewer than half of them share names of people they might have exposed. Denis Nash, an epidemiologist who previously worked for the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the city hasn’t successfully drilled down into how the coronavirus actually spreads, because contact tracers aren’t asking people enough questions about their behaviors and possible exposures.

“During the summer and early fall, when things were slowly ramping up, there were missed opportunities to use contact tracing to talk to 80 or 90% of all newly diagnosed people, to understand what their risk factors were and what kinds of things … were they exposed to that could have potentially resulted in them getting the virus,” he said. “You can never know with 100% certainty [where they contracted the virus], but if you ask these questions, you could begin to understand what some likely patterns were — for example, of public transportation use, or working in office buildings that didn’t have rigorous safety protocols, or indoor dining.”

This knowledge, though imperfect, could lead to better informed public policy decisions, Nash said, about whether to close indoor restaurants, beauty salons or fitness centers. Without that data, leaders are just making guesses.

Others fault the city’s testing and tracing program for not reaching out enough to poor communities of color — which suffered disproportionately during the first COVID wave. Chokshi, the health commissioner, said getting testing sites to these neighborhoods has been a priority — but a recent analysis suggested it’s not working as well as the city intended.

“There’s clearly a disparity in providing widespread testing across New York City,” said Wil Lieberman-Cribbin, a graduate student and environmental health researcher at Columbia University.

He looked at how many people are getting tested, by neighborhood, and correlated those figures with race, income level and COVID positivity. In wealthier areas, people are getting many more tests and have much less illness. In poorer ones, people are getting many fewer tests and are much sicker. More testing in those areas would pick up cases sooner, before people develop symptoms.

“Testing is really, really needed, not only to protect the most vulnerable, but to collectively try and get a handle on COVID and reopen New York City,” Lieberman-Cribbin said.

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is also much more ample than it was last spring but, similarly, remains a source of contention.

New York state health authorities are requiring hospitals to stockpile a 90-day supply of PPE; for nursing homes, it’s 60 days’ worth. Many facilities have complied with September and October deadlines, but others have not.

Montefiore, NYC Health + Hospitals, and other large hospital networks say they have at least that much, if not more.       

Nurses, though, say they should be able to get fresh N95 masks each time they see a new patient, to limit the risk of contamination. Many administrators counter that isn’t feasible, given the precariousness of the supply chain. They note that CDC guidelines permit “extended use” of some PPE.

“[Nurses and other caregivers] change their gloves between every patient, but they might wear the same N95 mask for one shift and put a surgical mask over it just to preserve it and only switch it out if there’s some integrity issue or it gets contaminated,” said Iavicoli, of the city hospital system. “But definitely at the next shift, they’re getting a new one.”

Iavicoli acknowledged the challenges as the pandemic rolls on and said there are four kinds of days: “blue skies, or normal,” “busier than normal,” “a little stretched” and “extremely stretched.” 

“I think we’re at the top end of ‘busy normal’ bordering on ‘a little more than overstretched,’” said Iavicoli.

This story is from a reporting partnership that includes WNYC, NPR and KHN. 

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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For Nurses Feeling the Strain of the Pandemic, Virus Resurgence Is ‘Paralyzing’

For Christina Nester, the pandemic lull in Massachusetts lasted about three months through summer into early fall. In late June, St. Vincent Hospital had resumed elective surgeries, and the unit the 48-year-old nurse works on switched back from taking care of only COVID-19 patients to its pre-pandemic roster of patients recovering from gallbladder operations, mastectomies and other surgeries.

That is, until October, when patients with coronavirus infections began to reappear on the unit and, with them, the fear of many more to come. “It’s paralyzing, I’m not going to lie,” said Nester, who’s worked at the Worcester hospital for nearly two decades. “My little clan of nurses that I work with, we panicked when it started to uptick here.”

Adding to that stress is that nurses are caught betwixt caring for the bedside needs of their patients and implementing policies set by others, such as physician-ordered treatment plans and strict hospital rules to ward off the coronavirus. The push-pull of those forces, amid a fight against a deadly disease, is straining this vital backbone of health providers nationwide, and that could accumulate to unstainable levels if the virus’s surge is not contained this winter, advocates and researchers warn.

Nurses spend the most sustained time with a patient of any clinician, and these days patients are often incredibly fearful and isolated, said Cynda Rushton, a registered nurse and bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“They have become, in some ways, a kind of emotional surrogate for family members who can’t be there, to support and advise and offer a human touch,” Rushton said. “They have witnessed incredible amounts of suffering and death. That, I think, also weighs really heavily on nurses.”

A study published this fall in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry found that 64% of clinicians working as nurses, nurse practitioners or physician assistants at a New York City hospital screened positively for acute distress, 53% for depressive symptoms and 40% for anxiety — all higher rates than found among physicians screened.

Researchers are concerned that nurses working in a rapidly changing crisis like the pandemic — with problems ranging from staff shortages that curtail their time with patients to enforcing visitation policies that upset families — can develop a psychological response called “moral injury.” That injury occurs, they say, when nurses feel stymied by their inability to provide the level of care they believe patients require.

Dr. Wendy Dean, co-founder of Moral Injury of Healthcare, a nonprofit organization based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said, “Probably the biggest driver of burnout is unrecognized unattended moral injury.”

In parts of the country over the summer, nurses got some mental health respite when cases declined, Dean said.

“Not enough to really process it all,” she said. “I think that’s a process that will take several years. And it’s probably going to be extended because the pandemic itself is extended.”

Sense of Powerlessness

Before the pandemic hit her Massachusetts hospital “like a forest fire” in March, Nester had rarely seen a patient die, other than someone in the final days of a disease like cancer.

Suddenly she was involved with frequent transfers of patients to the intensive care unit when they couldn’t breathe. She recounts stories, imprinted on her memory: The woman in her 80s who didn’t even seem ill on the day she was hospitalized, who Nester helped transport to the morgue less than a week later. The husband and wife who were sick in the intensive care unit, while the adult daughter fought the virus on Nester’s unit.

“Then both parents died, and the daughter died,” Nester said. “There’s not really words for it.”

During these gut-wrenching shifts, nurses can sometimes become separated from their emotional support system — one another, said Rushton, who has written a book about preventing moral injury among health care providers. To better handle the influx, some nurses who typically work in noncritical care areas have been moved to care for seriously ill patients. That forces them to not only adjust to a new type of nursing, but also disrupts an often-well-honed working rhythm and camaraderie with their regular nursing co-workers, she said.

At St. Vincent Hospital, the nurses on Nester’s unit were told one March day that the primarily postsurgical unit was being converted to a COVID unit. Nester tried to squelch fears for her own safety while comforting her COVID-19 patients, who were often elderly, terrified and sometimes hard of hearing, making it difficult to communicate through layers of masks.

“You’re trying to yell through all of these barriers and try to show them with your eyes that you’re here and you’re not going to leave them and will take care of them,” she said. “But yet you’re panicking inside completely that you’re going to get this disease and you’re going to be the one in the bed or a family member that you love, take it home to them.”

When asked if hospital leaders had seen signs of strain among the nursing staff or were concerned about their resilience headed into the winter months, a St. Vincent spokesperson wrote in a brief statement that during the pandemic “we have prioritized the safety and well-being of our staff, and we remain focused on that.”

Nationally, the viral risk to clinicians has been well documented. From March 1 through May 31, 6% of adults hospitalized were health care workers, one-third of them in nursing-related occupations, according to data published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As cases mount in the winter months, moral injury researcher Dean said, “nurses are going to do the calculation and say, ‘This risk isn’t worth it.’”

Juliano Innocenti, a traveling nurse working in the San Francisco area, decided to take off for a few months and will focus on wrapping up his nurse practitioner degree instead. Since April, he’s been seeing a therapist “to navigate my powerlessness in all of this.”

Innocenti, 41, has not been on the front lines in a hospital battling COVID-19, but he still feels the stress because he has been treating the public at an outpatient dialysis clinic and a psychiatric hospital and seen administrative problems generated by the crisis. He pointed to issues such as inadequate personal protective equipment.

Innocenti said he was concerned about “the lack of planning and just blatant disregard for the basic safety of patients and staff.” Profit motives too often drive decisions, he suggested. “That’s what I’m taking a break from.”

Building Resiliency

As cases surge again, hospital leaders need to think bigger than employee assistance programs to backstop their already depleted ranks of nurses, Dean said. Along with plenty of protective equipment, that includes helping them with everything from groceries to transportation, she said. Overstaff a bit, she suggested, so nurses can take a day off when they hit an emotional cliff.

The American Nurses Association, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) and several other nursing groups have compiled online resources with links to mental health programs as well as tips for getting through each pandemic workday.

Kiersten Henry, an AACN board member and nurse practitioner in the intensive care unit at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Maryland, said that the nurses and other clinicians there have started to gather for a quick huddle at the end of difficult shifts. Along with talking about what happened, they share several good things that also occurred that day.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re not taking it home with you,” Henry said, “but you’re actually verbally processing it to your peers.”

When cases reached their highest point of the spring in Massachusetts, Nester said there were some days she didn’t want to return.

“But you know that your friends are there,” she said. “And the only ones that really truly understand what’s going on are your co-workers. How can you leave them?”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Need a COVID-19 Nurse? That’ll Be $8,000 a Week

DENVER — In March, Claire Tripeny was watching her dream job fall apart. She’d been working as an intensive care nurse at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, Colorado, and loved it, despite the mediocre pay typical for the region. But when COVID-19 hit, that calculation changed.

She remembers her employers telling her and her colleagues to “suck it up” as they struggled to care for six patients each and patched their protective gear with tape until it fully fell apart. The $800 or so a week she took home no longer felt worth it.

“I was not sleeping and having the most anxiety in my life,” said Tripeny. “I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go where my skills are needed and I can be guaranteed that I have the protection I need.’”

In April, she packed her bags for a two-month contract in then-COVID hot spot New Jersey, as part of what she called a “mass exodus” of nurses leaving the suburban Denver hospital to become traveling nurses. Her new pay? About $5,200 a week, and with a contract that required adequate protective gear.

Months later, the offerings — and the stakes — are even higher for nurses willing to move. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, nurses can make more than $6,200 a week. A recent posting for a job in Fargo, North Dakota, offered more than $8,000 a week. Some can get as much as $10,000.

Early in the pandemic, hospitals were competing for ventilators, COVID tests and personal protective equipment. Now, sites across the country are competing for nurses. The fall surge in COVID cases has turned hospital staffing into a sort of national bidding war, with hospitals willing to pay exorbitant wages to secure the nurses they need. That threatens to shift the supply of nurses toward more affluent areas, leaving rural and urban public hospitals short-staffed as the pandemic worsens, and some hospitals unable to care for critically ill patients.

“That is a huge threat,” said Angelina Salazar, CEO of the Western Healthcare Alliance, a consortium of 29 small hospitals in rural Colorado and Utah. “There’s no way rural hospitals can afford to pay that kind of salary.”

Surge Capacity

Hospitals have long relied on traveling nurses to fill gaps in staffing without committing to long-term hiring. Early in the pandemic, doctors and nurses traveled from unaffected areas to hot spots like California, Washington state and New York to help with regional surges. But now, with virtually every part of the country experiencing a surge — infecting medical professionals in the process — the competition for the finite number of available nurses is becoming more intense.

“We all thought, ‘Well, when it’s Colorado’s turn, we’ll draw on the same resources; we’ll call our surrounding states and they’ll send help,’” said Julie Lonborg, a spokesperson for the Colorado Hospital Association. “Now it’s a national outbreak. It’s not just one or two spots, as it was in the spring. It’s really significant across the country, which means everybody is looking for those resources.”

In North Dakota, Tessa Johnson said she’s getting multiple messages a day on LinkedIn from headhunters. Johnson, president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, said the pandemic appears to be hastening a brain drain of nurses there. She suspects more nurses may choose to leave or retire early after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum told health care workers to stay on the job even if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.

All four of Utah’s major health care systems have seen nurses leave for traveling nurse positions, said Jordan Sorenson, a project manager for the Utah Hospital Association.

“Nurses quit, join traveling nursing companies and go work for a different hospital down the street, making two to three times the rate,” he said. “So, it’s really a kind of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul staffing situation.”

Hospitals not only pay the higher salaries offered to traveling nurses but also pay a commission to the traveling nurse agency, Sorenson said. Utah hospitals are trying to avoid hiring away nurses from other hospitals within the state. Hiring from a neighboring state like Colorado, though, could mean Colorado hospitals would poach from Utah.

“In the wake of the current spike in COVID hospitalizations, calling the labor market for registered nurses ‘cutthroat’ is an understatement,” said Adam Seth Litwin, an associate professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “Even if the health care sector can somehow find more beds, it cannot just go out and buy more front-line caregivers.”

Litwin said he’s glad to see the labor market rewarding essential workers — disproportionately women and people of color — with higher wages. Under normal circumstances, allowing markets to determine where people will work and for what pay is ideal.

“On the other hand, we are not operating under normal circumstances,” he said. “In the midst of a severe public health crisis, I worry that the individual incentives facing hospitals on the one side and individual RNs on the other conflict sharply with the needs of society as whole.”

Some hospitals are exploring ways to overcome staffing challenges without blowing the budget. That could include changing nurse-to-patient ratios, although that would likely affect patient care. In Utah, the hospital association has talked with the state nursing board about allowing nursing students in their final year of training to be certified early.

Growth Industry

Meanwhile business is booming for companies centered on health care staffing such as Wanderly and Krucial Staffing.

“When COVID first started and New York was an epicenter, we at Wanderly kind of looked at it and said, ‘OK, this is our time to shine,’” said David Deane, senior vice president of Wanderly, a website that allows health care professionals to compare offers from various agencies. “‘This is our time to help nurses get to these destinations as fast as possible. And help recruiters get those nurses.’”

Deane said the company has doubled its staff since the pandemic started. Demand is surging — with Rocky Mountain states appearing in up to 20 times as many job postings on the site as in January. And more people are meeting that demand.

In 2018, according to data from a national survey, about 31,000 traveling nurses worked nationwide. Now, Deane estimated, there are at least 50,000 travel nurses. Deane, who calls travel nurses “superheroes,” suspects a lot of them are postoperative nurses who were laid off when their hospitals stopped doing elective surgeries during the first lockdowns.

Competition for nurses, especially those with ICU experience, is stiff. After all, a hospital in South Dakota isn’t competing just with facilities in other states.

“We’ve sent nurses to Aruba, the Bahamas and Curacao because they’ve needed help with COVID,” said Deane. “You’re going down there, you’re making $5,000 a week and all your expenses are paid, right? Who’s not gonna say yes?”

Krucial Staffing specializes in sending health care workers to disaster locations, using military-style logistics. It filled hotels and rented dozens of buses to get nurses to hot spots in New York and Texas. CEO Brian Cleary said that, since the pandemic started, the company has grown its administrative staff from 12 to more than 200.

“Right now we’re at our highest volume we’ve been,” said Cleary, who added that over Halloween weekend alone about 1,000 nurses joined the roster of “reservists.”

With a base rate of $95 an hour, he said, some nurses working overtime end up coming away with $10,000 a week, though there are downsides, like the fact that the gig doesn’t come with health insurance and it’s an unstable, boom-and-bust market.

Hidden Costs

Amber Hazard, who lives in Texas, started as a traveling ICU nurse before the pandemic and said eye-catching sums like that come with a hidden fee, paid in sanity.

“How your soul is affected by this is nothing you can put a price on,” she said.

At a high-paying job caring for COVID patients during New York’s first wave, she remembers walking into the break room in a hospital in the Bronx and seeing a sign on the wall about how the usual staff nurses were on strike.

“It said, you know, ‘We’re not doing this. This is not safe,’” said Hazard. “And it wasn’t safe. But somebody had to do it.”

The highlight of her stint there was placing a wedding ring back on the finger of a recovered patient. But Hazard said she secured far more body bags than rings on patients.

Tripeny, the traveling nurse who left Colorado, is now working in Kentucky with heart surgery patients. When that contract wraps up, she said, she might dive back into COVID care.

Earlier, in New Jersey, she was scarred by the times she couldn’t give people the care they needed, not to mention the times she would take a deceased patient off a ventilator, staring down the damage the virus can do as she removed tubes filled with blackened blood from the lungs.

She has to pay for mental health therapy out-of-pocket now, unlike when she was on staff at a hospital. But as a so-called traveler, she knows each gig will be over in a matter of weeks.

At the end of each week in New Jersey, she said, “I would just look at my paycheck and be like, ‘OK. This is OK. I can do this.’”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Anger After North Dakota Governor Asks COVID-Positive Health Staff to Stay on Job

Nurse Leslie McKamey has gotten used to the 16-hour shifts, to skipping lunch, to the nightly ritual of throwing all her clothes in the laundry and showering as soon as she walks through the door to avoid potentially infecting her children. She’s even grown accustomed to triaging COVID patients, who often arrive at the emergency room so short of breath they struggle to describe their symptoms.

But despite the trauma and exhaustion of the past eight months, she was shocked when North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said last week that health care workers who test positive for the coronavirus but do not display symptoms could still report to work. The order, in line with CDC guidance for mitigating staff shortages, would allow asymptomatic health workers who test positive to work only in COVID units, and treat patients who already have the virus.

But many feel the idea endangers the workers and their colleagues. It comes as North Dakota faces one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 and grapples with health care staff shortages.

“We’re worried about somebody dying, frankly, because we couldn’t get to them in time,” said McKamey, an emergency room registered nurse in Bismarck.

According to data from the COVID Tracking Project, more than 9,400 North Dakotans tested positive for COVID-19 last week alone. About 1 in 12 North Dakota residents have been infected with the virus; nearly 1 in 1,000 have died. In early November, the North Dakota Department of Health reported that there were only 12 open ICU beds in the state.

McKamey said Burgum’s order goes against everything she’s been taught as a nurse.

“If hospital administrators start forcing COVID-positive staff to go to work, it’s going to be very scary. We’re trained to do no harm, and asking COVID-positive, asymptomatic nurses to return to work is putting patients at risk. It’s putting fellow staff members at risk.”

Nine months into the pandemic, it’s clear health care workers already face increased risks. Lost on the Frontline, a joint effort by The Guardian and KHN, is investigating the deaths of 1,375 health care workers who appear to have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Nearly a third of those health care workers were nurses.

McKamey described long shifts in an emergency room that has begun taking on patients overnight because other wards of the hospital did not have the capacity to admit them. Nurses pick up extra shifts to cover for colleagues who have gotten sick and take on multiple critical patients at once.

It is a scene playing out in hospitals across the country, as the coronavirus spreads unabated. As of Monday, more than 11 million people in the United States had been infected with the virus, with health officials reporting 180,000 new infections in a single day. And the country is bracing for another milestone: It will soon surpass a quarter-million deaths from COVID-19.

Health care workers are overwhelmed and exhausted. According to a recent survey from the National Nurses United, more than 70% of hospital nurses said they were afraid of contracting COVID-19 and 80% feared they might infect a family member. More than half said they struggled to sleep and 62 reported feeling stressed and anxious. Nearly 80% said they were forced to reuse single-use PPE, like N95 respirators.

Inaction at the state and federal levels have left many health care workers feeling abandoned. When Gov. Burgum issued the order that infected but asymptomatic nurses could report to work in COVID units, North Dakota had not implemented any kind of statewide mask mandate, despite expert guidance that such a measure could significantly reduce transmission of the virus.

Tessa Johnson is a registered nurse at a Bismarck nursing home and president of the North Dakota Nurses Association, which issued a statement last week denouncing Burgum’s order that infected nurses continue to work.

She said the state could have done much more to ensure patients don’t become infected in the first place. “We’ve asked and asked and asked for a mask mandate, and that hasn’t happened,” she said Thursday.

On Friday night, Burgum did an about-face and issued a mask mandate, ordering individuals to cover their faces when inside businesses, indoor public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing may be impossible.

“Our doctors and nurses heroically working on the front lines need our help, and they need it now,” he said in a press statement.

Still, Johnson said there’s a disconnect between what health care workers are experiencing inside North Dakota’s health facilities, and how the general population perceives the virus. And that even before Burgum’s comments, some of her colleagues felt they had to choose between taking all precautions and limited time off. “One of my closest friends, also a health care worker, said to me the other day, ‘There’s no way I will ever get tested unless I’m very sick, because I don’t want to use my paid leave.’”

McKamey, the ER nurse, said she hasn’t had time to process the stress of the past several months. She’s focused on staying healthy, gearing up for what she anticipates will be a difficult winter and keeping her patients alive. “We are willing to break our backs and work as hard as we physically can,” McKamey said. “But then to ask us to come in as a potential infectious source is just stunning.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Long-Term Care Workers, Grieving and Under Siege, Brace for COVID’s Next Round

In the middle of the night, Stefania Silvestri lies in bed remembering her elderly patients’ cries.

“Help me.”

“Please don’t leave me.”

“I need my family.”

Months of caring for older adults in a Rhode Island nursing home ravaged by COVID-19 have taken a steep toll on Silvestri, 37, a registered nurse.

She can’t sleep, as she replays memories of residents who became ill and died. She’s gained 45 pounds. “I have anxiety. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed,” she said.

Now, as the coronavirus surges around the country, Silvestri and hundreds of thousands of workers in nursing homes and assisted living centers are watching cases rise in long-term care facilities with a sense of dread.

Many of these workers struggle with grief over the suffering they’ve witnessed, both at work and in their communities. Some, like Silvestri, have been infected with the coronavirus and recovered physically — but not emotionally.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 616,000 residents and employees at long-term care facilities have been struck by COVID-19, according to the latest data from KFF. Just over 91,000 have died as the coronavirus has invaded nearly 23,000 facilities. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

At least 1,000 of those deaths represent certified nursing assistants, nurses and other people who work in institutions that care for older adults, according to a recent analysis of government data by Harold Pollack, a professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. This is almost certainly an undercount, he said, because of incomplete data reporting.

How are long-term care workers affected by the losses they’re experiencing, including the deaths of colleagues and residents they’ve cared for, often for many years?

Edwina Gobewoe, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Charlesgate Nursing Center in Providence, Rhode Island, for nearly 20 years, acknowledged “it’s been overwhelming for me, personally.”

At least 15 residents died of COVID-19 at Charlesgate from April to June, many of them suddenly. “One day, we hear our resident has breathing problems, needs oxygen, and then a few days later they pass,” she said. “Families couldn’t come in. We were the only people with them, holding their hands. It made me very, very sad.”

Every morning, Gobewoe would pray with a close friend at work. “We asked the Lord to give us strength so we could take care of these people who needed us so much.” When that colleague was struck by COVID-19 in the spring, Gobewoe prayed for her recovery and was glad when she returned to work several weeks later.

But sorrow followed in early September: Gobewoe’s friend collapsed and died at home while complaining of unusual chest pain. Gobewoe was told that her death was caused by blood clots, which can be a dangerous complication of COVID-19.

She would “do anything for any resident,” Gobewoe remembered, sobbing. “It’s too much, something you can’t even talk about,” describing her grief.

I first spoke to Kim Sangrey, 52, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in July. She was distraught over the deaths of 36 residents in March and April at the nursing home where she’s worked for several decades — most of them due to COVID-19 and related complications. Sangrey, a recreational therapist, asked me not to name the home, where she continues to be employed.

“You know residents like family — their likes and dislikes, the food they prefer, their families, their grandchildren,” she explained. “They depend on us for everything.”

When COVID-19 hit, “it was horrible,” she said. “You’d go into residents’ rooms and they couldn’t breathe. Their families wanted to see them, and we’d set up Zoom wearing full gear, head to toe. Tears are flowing under your mask as you watch this person that you loved dying — and the family mourning their death through a tablet.”

“It was completely devastating. It runs through your memory — you think about it all the time.”

Mostly, Sangrey said, she felt empty and exhausted. “You feel like this is never going to end — you feel defeated. But you have to continue moving forward,” she told me.

Three months later, when we spoke again, COVID-19 cases were rising in Pennsylvania but Sangrey sounded resolute. She’d had six sessions with a grief counselor and said it had become clear that “my purpose at this point is to take every ounce of strength I have and move through this second wave of COVID.”

“As human beings, it is our duty to be there for each other,” she continued. “You say to yourself, OK, I got through this last time, I can get through it again.”

That doesn’t mean that fear is absent. “All of us know COVID-19 is coming. Every day we say, ‘Is today the day it will come back? Is today the day I’ll find out I have it?’ It never leaves you.”

To this day, Silvestri feels horrified when she thinks about the end of March and early April at Greenville Center in Rhode Island, where up to 79 residents became ill with COVID-19 and at least 20 have died.

The coronavirus moved through the facility like wildfire. “You’re putting one patient on oxygen and the patient in the next room is on the floor but you can’t go to them yet,” Silvestri remembered. “And the patient down the hall has a fever of 103 and they’re screaming, ‘Help me, help me.’ But you can’t go to him either.”

“I left work every day crying. It was heartbreaking — and I felt I couldn’t do enough to save them.”

Then, there were the body bags. “You put this person who feels like family in a plastic body bag and wheel them out on a frame with wheels through the facility, by other residents’ rooms,” said Silvestri, who can’t smell certain kinds of plastic without reliving these memories. “Thinking back on it makes me feel physically ill.”

Silvestri, who has three children, developed a relatively mild case of COVID-19 in late April and returned to work several weeks later. Her husband, Michael, also became ill and lost his job as a truck driver. After several months of being unemployed, he’s now working at a construction site.

Since July 1, the family has gone without health insurance, “so I’m not able to get counseling to deal with the emotional side of what’s happened,” Silvestri said.

Although her nursing home set up a hotline number that employees could call, that doesn’t appeal to her. “Being on the phone with someone you don’t know, that doesn’t do it for me,” she said. “We definitely need more emotional support for health care workers.”

What does help is family. “I’ve leaned on my husband a lot and he’s been there for me,” Silvestri said. “And the children are OK. I’m grateful for what I have — but I’m really worried about what lies ahead.”

The Navigating Aging column last week focused on how nursing homes respond to grief sweeping through their facilities.

Join Judith Graham for a Facebook Live event on grief and bereavement during the coronavirus pandemic on Monday, Nov. 16, at 1 p.m. ET. You can watch the conversation here and submit questions in advance here.

We’re eager to hear from readers about questions you’d like answered, problems you’ve been having with your care and advice you need in dealing with the health care system. Visit khn.org/columnists to submit your requests or tips.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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‘Is This Worth My Life?’: Traveling Health Workers Decry COVID Care Conditions


This story also ran on The Guardian. It can be republished for free.

David Joel Perea called from Maine, Vermont, Minnesota and, ultimately, Nevada, always with the same request: “Mom, can you send tamales?” Dominga Perea would ship them overnight.

That’s how she knew where her 35-year-old son was.

The traveling nurse had “a tremendous work ethic,” routinely putting in 80 hours a week, said his brother, Daniel.

But when Perea took a job at Lakeside Health & Wellness Suites — a Reno nursing home that has received dozens of safety citations since 2017 from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — Dominga was “scared silly.”

During Perea’s stint, nearly one-fifth of Lakeside’s residents were infected with COVID-19, according to state health records. Lakeside’s “top priority is the safety of those who live and work in our facility,” a spokesperson said.

When her son didn’t respond to her text on April 6, Dominga knew something was wrong. Perea had COVID-19. He died days later.

As COVID-19 surges across the country, health care systems continue to suffer critical shortages, especially among non-physician staff such as nurses, X-ray technicians and respiratory therapists.

To replenish their ranks, facilities have relied on “travelers” like Perea. Staff agencies have deployed tens of thousands nationally since March outbreaks in the Northeast.

Now the virus is tearing through rural areas — particularly in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states — stressing the limited medical infrastructure.

Rural hospitals have relied largely on traveling nurses to fill staffing shortages that existed even before the pandemic, said Tim Blasl, president of the North Dakota Hospital Association. “They find staff for you, but it’s really expensive labor,” he said. “Our hospitals are willing to invest so the people of North Dakota get care.”

The arrangement presents risks for travelers and their patients. Personnel ping-ponging between overwhelmed cities and underserved towns could introduce infections. As contractors, travelers sometimes feel tensions their full-time colleagues do not. Frequently employed by staffing agencies based thousands of miles away, they can find themselves working in crisis without advocates or adequate safety equipment.

In 2020, the upsides of their jobs — freedom and flexibility — have been dwarfed by treacherous conditions. Now the ranks of travelers are thinning: The work is exhausting, bruising and dangerous. Thousands of front-line health workers have gotten the virus and hundreds have died, according to reporting by KHN and The Guardian.

On April 17, Lois Twum, a 23-year-old traveling nurse from New Orleans, was one of four passengers on a flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

When the self-described “adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie” arrived for her first shift at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, she said, she was assigned four patients on a COVID-19 unit. (Intensive care nurses typically care for two or three patients.) As these “constantly crashing” patients required resuscitations and intubations, “there was practically no one to help,” Twum said, because “everyone’s patient was critical.” The hospital did not respond to requests for comment on the workplace conditions and treatment of travelers.

Meanwhile, as hospital employees got sick, quit or were furloughed amid budget cuts, travelers picked up the slack. They were redeployed, Twum said, assigned more patients as well as the sickest ones.

“It was like we were airdropped into Iraq,” Twum said. “Travelers, we got the worst of it.”

On social media and in email groups, recruiters for travelers circulate photos of sun-splashed skylines or coastlines emblazoned with dollar signs, boasting salaries two or three times those of staff nurses. They promise signing bonuses, relocation bonuses and referral bonuses. They make small talk, ask about travelers’ families and suggest restaurants in new cities.

But when it comes to navigating workplace issues, “these people can just disappear on you,” said Anna Skinner, a respiratory therapist who has traveled for over a decade. “They are not your friends.”

Caught between the hospitals where they report for duty and remote staffing agencies, their worker protections are blurred.

For instance, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, providing protective equipment is the agency’s responsibility — but the travelers who spoke with KHN said agencies rarely distribute any.

Perea’s family said they believe David did not have adequate PPE. His employer said it was the nursing home’s responsibility to provide it. “It is up to each of our clients to provide PPE to our staff while they are working assignments through MAS,” said Sara Moore, a spokesperson for Perea’s agency, MAS Medical Staffing.

Sometimes travelers are assigned to emergency rooms or intensive care units with which they have little experience. Skinner, a pediatric specialist, said she landed in adult ICUs when deployed to the University of Miami Health System in April. She received an hour of orientation, she said, but “nothing could have prepared me for what I had to deal with.”

Over five weeks, she said, she intubated one patient after another; suctioned the blood pouring into patients’ lungs and out of their noses and mouths; and dealt with families who were aghast, angry and afraid. Under the stress, Skinner said, she couldn’t sleep and lost weight. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment on workplace conditions for travelers.

Travelers often face “incredibly onerous” hurdles to the overtime, sick leave or workers’ compensation they are entitled to under the Fair Labor Standards Act, said Nathan Piller, a lawyer at Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky, an employment and business litigation firm.

Even the number of hours they can count on working is out of their control, Skinner said. Contracts reviewed by KHN authorize travelers to work a set number of hours, but only a fraction of those hours are guaranteed, and must be approved by on-site managers. The guaranteed hours may be compensated at rates hovering around minimum wage, and may require working holidays, which are not uniformly recognized.

The terms can be “modified from time to time during employment,” according to the contracts.

In 2018, AMN Healthcare, one of the country’s largest travel nursing agencies, agreed to a $20 million settlement for wage violations involving nearly 9,000 travelers. Violations “appear fairly commonplace across the industry,” said Piller, who worked on the settlement.

Travelers, Skinner said, are left to advocate for themselves to managers they might have just met — and “complaining just isn’t an option.”

KHN reviewed travel nursing contracts issued by Aya Healthcare, a large staffing agency, and found that any disputes — wrongful termination claims; claims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation; wage claims; and claims for violation of federal, state or other laws or regulations — must be settled out of court, in arbitration.

Officials at the Service Employees International Union, the American Nurses Association and National Nurses United said their constituents have been suspended or fired from traveling worker agencies for speaking to the news media, posting on social media or otherwise voicing concerns about unfair practices.

Matthew Wall, a longtime traveling nurse, knows this all too well. In July, two days into his assignment at Piedmont Henry Hospital in Stockbridge, Georgia, Wall said, he reported to hospital administrators “undeniably unsafe” conditions for himself and patients, including inadequate PPE, long hours and high patient-to-staff ratios.

Instead of addressing his concerns, Wall said, the hospital — which is under investigation by the federal government for workplace safety issues after another traveling nurse died of COVID-19 in mid-March — canceled his contract. “Travelers are treated like dog chow,” Wall said. “The second you become a liability, they dispose of you.”

“We continue to closely follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines paired with our best practices in patient care and safety for all,” said John Manasso, a hospital spokesperson, who declined to comment on Wall’s case.

Some see an impossible choice. “We all know, if not for us, these patients would have no one,” Twum said, “but watching each other get sick left and right, it makes you wonder, is this worth my life?”

Skinner, for her part, took a job as a staff nurse in Aspen, Colorado. After his current contract in New Orleans ends, Wall is planning a break from nursing.

It was like we were airdropped into Iraq.

Lois Twum

Dominga Perea finally received a text back the night of April 6: “Don’t panic, Mama, I have the COVID.

“Pray for me.”

She saw David over FaceTime on Easter. “He struggled even eating mashed potatoes” she said, “because he couldn’t breathe.” The next morning he went on a ventilator and never woke up.

Months later, Lakeside hadn’t filled Perea’s position. “Ideal candidate must be a caring individual dedicated to providing high quality care,” the job listing read, and “able to react to emergency situations appropriately when required.”

KHN Mountain States editor Matt Volz contributed to this report.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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COVID Spikes Exacerbate Health Worker Shortages in Rocky Mountains, Great Plains

COVID-19 cases are surging in rural places across the Mountain States and Midwest, and when it hits health care workers, ready reinforcements aren’t easy to find.

In Montana, pandemic-induced staffing shortages have shuttered a clinic in the state’s capital, led a northwestern regional hospital to ask employees exposed to COVID-19 to continue to work and emptied a health department 400 miles to the east.

“Just one more person out and we wouldn’t be able to keep the surgeries going,” said Dr. Shelly Harkins, chief medical officer of St. Peter’s Health in Helena, a city of roughly 32,000 where cases continue to spread. “When the virus is just all around you, it’s almost impossible to not be deemed a contact at some point. One case can take out a whole team of people in a blink of an eye.”

In North Dakota, where cases per resident are growing faster than any other state, hospitals may once again curtail elective surgeries and possibly seek government aid to hire more nurses if the situation gets worse, North Dakota Hospital Association President Tim Blasl said.

“How long can we run at this rate with the workforce that we have?” Blasl said. “You can have all the licensed beds you want, but if you don’t have anybody to staff those beds, it doesn’t do you any good.”

The northern Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and Upper Midwest are seeing the highest surge of COVID-19 cases in the nation, as some residents have ignored recommendations for curtailing the virus, such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have recently ranked among the top 10 U.S. states in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Such coronavirus infections — and the quarantines that occur because of them — are exacerbating the health care worker shortage that existed in these states well before the pandemic. Unlike in the nation’s metropolitan hubs, these outbreaks are scattered across hundreds of miles. And even in these states’ biggest cities, the ranks of medical professionals are in short supply. Specialists and registered nurses are sometimes harder to track down than ventilators, N95 masks or hospital beds. Without enough care providers, patients may not be able to get the medical attention they need.

Hospitals have asked staffers to cover extra shifts and learn new skills. They have brought in temporary workers from other parts of the country and transferred some patients to less-crowded hospitals. But, at St. Peter’s Health, if the hospital’s one kidney doctor gets sick or is told to quarantine, Harkins doesn’t expect to find a backup.

“We make a point to not have excessive staff because we have an obligation to keep the cost of health care down for a community — we just don’t have a lot of slack in our rope,” Harkins said. “What we don’t account for is a mass exodus of staff for 14 days.”

Some hospitals are already at patient capacity or are nearly there. That’s not just because of the growing number of COVID-19 patients. Elective surgeries have resumed, and medical emergencies don’t pause for a pandemic.

Some Montana hospitals formed agreements with local affiliates early in the pandemic to share staff if one came up short. But now that the disease is spreading fast — and widely — the hope is that their needs don’t peak all at once.

Montana state officials keep a list of primarily in-state volunteer workers ready to travel to towns with shortages of contact tracers, nurses and more. But during a press conference on Oct. 15, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said the state had exhausted that database, and its nationwide request for National Guard medical staffing hadn’t brought in new workers.

“If you are a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA or contact tracer, and are able to join our workforce, please do consider joining our team,” Bullock said.

This month, Kalispell Regional Medical Center in northwestern Montana even stopped quarantining COVID-exposed staff who remain asymptomatic, a change allowed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for health facilities facing staffing shortages.

“That’s very telling for what staffing is going through right now,” said Andrea Lueck, a registered nurse at the center. “We’re so tight that employees are called off of quarantine.”

Financial pressure early in the pandemic led the hospital to furlough staff, but it had to bring most of them back to work because it needs those bodies more than ever. The regional hub is based in Flathead County, which has recorded the state’s second-highest number of active COVID-19 cases.

Mellody Sharpton, a hospital spokesperson, said hospital workers who are exposed to someone infected with the virus are tested within three to five days and monitored for symptoms. The hospital is also pulling in new workers, with 25 traveling health professionals on hand and another 25 temporary ones on the way.

But Sharpton said the best way to conserve the hospital’s workforce is to stop the disease surge in the community.

Earlier in the pandemic, Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, a town of fewer than 6,000, experienced an exodus of part-time workers or those close to retirement who decided their jobs weren’t worth the risk. The facility recently secured two traveling workers, but both backed out because they couldn’t find housing. And, so far, roughly 40 of the hospital’s 322 employees have missed work for reasons connected to COVID-19.

“We’re at a critical staffing shortage and have been since the beginning of COVID,” said Joanie Slaybaugh, Central Montana Medical Center’s director of human resources. “We’re small enough, everybody feels an obligation to protect themselves and to protect each other. But it doesn’t take much to take out our staff.”

Roosevelt County, where roughly 11,000 live on the northeastern edge of Montana, had one of the nation’s highest rates of new cases as of Oct. 15. But by the end of the month, the county health department will lose half of its registered nurses as one person is about to retire and another was hired through a grant that’s ending. That leaves only one registered nurse aside from its director, Patty Presser. The health department already had to close earlier during the pandemic because of COVID exposure and not enough staffers to cover the gap. Now, if Presser can’t find nurse replacements in time, she hopes volunteers will step in, though she added they typically stay for only a few weeks.

“I need someone to do immunizations for my community, and you don’t become an immunization nurse in 14 days,” Presser said. “We don’t have the workforce here to deal with this virus, not even right now, and then I’m going to have my best two people go.”

Back in Helena, Harkins said St. Peter’s Health had to close a specialty outpatient clinic that treats chronic diseases for two weeks at the end of September because the entire staff had to quarantine.

Now the hospital is considering having doctors take turns spending a week working from home, so that if another wave of quarantines hits in the hospital, at least one untainted person can be brought back to work. But that won’t help for some specialties, like the hospital’s sole kidney doctor.

Every time Harkins’ phone rings, she said, she takes a breath and hopes it’s not another case that will force a whole division to close.

“Because I think immediately of the hundreds of people that need that service and won’t have it for 14 days,” she said.

Mountain States editor Matt Volz contributed to this story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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COVID Spikes Exacerbate Health Worker Shortages in Rocky Mountains, Great Plains

COVID-19 cases are surging in rural places across the Mountain States and Midwest, and when it hits health care workers, ready reinforcements aren’t easy to find.

In Montana, pandemic-induced staffing shortages have shuttered a clinic in the state’s capital, led a northwestern regional hospital to ask employees exposed to COVID-19 to continue to work and emptied a health department 400 miles to the east.

“Just one more person out and we wouldn’t be able to keep the surgeries going,” said Dr. Shelly Harkins, chief medical officer of St. Peter’s Health in Helena, a city of roughly 32,000 where cases continue to spread. “When the virus is just all around you, it’s almost impossible to not be deemed a contact at some point. One case can take out a whole team of people in a blink of an eye.”

In North Dakota, where cases per resident are growing faster than any other state, hospitals may once again curtail elective surgeries and possibly seek government aid to hire more nurses if the situation gets worse, North Dakota Hospital Association President Tim Blasl said.

“How long can we run at this rate with the workforce that we have?” Blasl said. “You can have all the licensed beds you want, but if you don’t have anybody to staff those beds, it doesn’t do you any good.”

The northern Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and Upper Midwest are seeing the highest surge of COVID-19 cases in the nation, as some residents have ignored recommendations for curtailing the virus, such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin have recently ranked among the top 10 U.S. states in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Such coronavirus infections — and the quarantines that occur because of them — are exacerbating the health care worker shortage that existed in these states well before the pandemic. Unlike in the nation’s metropolitan hubs, these outbreaks are scattered across hundreds of miles. And even in these states’ biggest cities, the ranks of medical professionals are in short supply. Specialists and registered nurses are sometimes harder to track down than ventilators, N95 masks or hospital beds. Without enough care providers, patients may not be able to get the medical attention they need.

Hospitals have asked staffers to cover extra shifts and learn new skills. They have brought in temporary workers from other parts of the country and transferred some patients to less-crowded hospitals. But, at St. Peter’s Health, if the hospital’s one kidney doctor gets sick or is told to quarantine, Harkins doesn’t expect to find a backup.

“We make a point to not have excessive staff because we have an obligation to keep the cost of health care down for a community — we just don’t have a lot of slack in our rope,” Harkins said. “What we don’t account for is a mass exodus of staff for 14 days.”

Some hospitals are already at patient capacity or are nearly there. That’s not just because of the growing number of COVID-19 patients. Elective surgeries have resumed, and medical emergencies don’t pause for a pandemic.

Some Montana hospitals formed agreements with local affiliates early in the pandemic to share staff if one came up short. But now that the disease is spreading fast — and widely — the hope is that their needs don’t peak all at once.

Montana state officials keep a list of primarily in-state volunteer workers ready to travel to towns with shortages of contact tracers, nurses and more. But during a press conference on Oct. 15, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said the state had exhausted that database, and its nationwide request for National Guard medical staffing hadn’t brought in new workers.

“If you are a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA or contact tracer, and are able to join our workforce, please do consider joining our team,” Bullock said.

This month, Kalispell Regional Medical Center in northwestern Montana even stopped quarantining COVID-exposed staff who remain asymptomatic, a change allowed by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for health facilities facing staffing shortages.

“That’s very telling for what staffing is going through right now,” said Andrea Lueck, a registered nurse at the center. “We’re so tight that employees are called off of quarantine.”

Financial pressure early in the pandemic led the hospital to furlough staff, but it had to bring most of them back to work because it needs those bodies more than ever. The regional hub is based in Flathead County, which has recorded the state’s second-highest number of active COVID-19 cases.

Mellody Sharpton, a hospital spokesperson, said hospital workers who are exposed to someone infected with the virus are tested within three to five days and monitored for symptoms. The hospital is also pulling in new workers, with 25 traveling health professionals on hand and another 25 temporary ones on the way.

But Sharpton said the best way to conserve the hospital’s workforce is to stop the disease surge in the community.

Earlier in the pandemic, Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, a town of fewer than 6,000, experienced an exodus of part-time workers or those close to retirement who decided their jobs weren’t worth the risk. The facility recently secured two traveling workers, but both backed out because they couldn’t find housing. And, so far, roughly 40 of the hospital’s 322 employees have missed work for reasons connected to COVID-19.

“We’re at a critical staffing shortage and have been since the beginning of COVID,” said Joanie Slaybaugh, Central Montana Medical Center’s director of human resources. “We’re small enough, everybody feels an obligation to protect themselves and to protect each other. But it doesn’t take much to take out our staff.”

Roosevelt County, where roughly 11,000 live on the northeastern edge of Montana, had one of the nation’s highest rates of new cases as of Oct. 15. But by the end of the month, the county health department will lose half of its registered nurses as one person is about to retire and another was hired through a grant that’s ending. That leaves only one registered nurse aside from its director, Patty Presser. The health department already had to close earlier during the pandemic because of COVID exposure and not enough staffers to cover the gap. Now, if Presser can’t find nurse replacements in time, she hopes volunteers will step in, though she added they typically stay for only a few weeks.

“I need someone to do immunizations for my community, and you don’t become an immunization nurse in 14 days,” Presser said. “We don’t have the workforce here to deal with this virus, not even right now, and then I’m going to have my best two people go.”

Back in Helena, Harkins said St. Peter’s Health had to close a specialty outpatient clinic that treats chronic diseases for two weeks at the end of September because the entire staff had to quarantine.

Now the hospital is considering having doctors take turns spending a week working from home, so that if another wave of quarantines hits in the hospital, at least one untainted person can be brought back to work. But that won’t help for some specialties, like the hospital’s sole kidney doctor.

Every time Harkins’ phone rings, she said, she takes a breath and hopes it’s not another case that will force a whole division to close.

“Because I think immediately of the hundreds of people that need that service and won’t have it for 14 days,” she said.

Mountain States editor Matt Volz contributed to this story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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They Cared for Some of New York’s Most Vulnerable Communities. Then 12 Died.

Dr. Reza Chowdhury didn’t charge copays when his patients were low on cash. He gave them his home phone number and answered their medical questions at all hours. Once, when Chowdhury’s daughter, Nikita Rahman, struck up a conversation with a New York taxi driver, it turned out that he was from Bangladesh and knew her dad: “Dr. Reza? He’s my doctor — he’s the best doctor!” she recalled.

An internal medicine physician with a practice in the Bronx, Chowdhury had studied medicine in his native Bangladesh before immigrating to the United States 30 years ago. He left his family back home while he settled in, and worked as a tutor, a waiter and a security guard as he trained to practice in the U.S.

When COVID-19 came to New York, Rahman pleaded with her father, who had had a kidney transplant and was therefore immunocompromised, to stay home. But he kept working until mid-March, when he developed symptoms. He died on April 9.

The U.S. relies on immigrant labor — from doctors to nurses to health aides — to keep its health system afloat. And now immigrant health workers are dying at high rates during the pandemic. Lost on the Frontline, a joint project by KHN and The Guardian, has found that nearly one-third of health care workers who were confirmed to have died of COVID-19 were born outside the U.S. However, immigrants account for just 14% of the U.S. population and 18% of its health care force.

Chowdhury, 58, belonged to a nonprofit network of health care providers in New York called SOMOS that has been devastated during the pandemic. Founded with the aim of providing “culturally competent care” to low-income New Yorkers, most of its 2,500 physicians and nurses are immigrants, like their patients. They come from Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic and Egypt, among other places. In the early months of the pandemic, SOMOS reported that 12 of its physicians and nurse practitioners had died of COVID-19.

“Our patients are the ones who wash dishes, prepare food, ride buses, drive taxis,” said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, SOMOS’ chairman and co-founder. “And we’re risking our lives for our patients.” Chowdhury practiced in a working-class section of the Bronx, a borough hit hard by the coronavirus.

Most of SOMOS’ practitioners are primary care providers — family doctors, pediatricians, nurse practitioners. “We’re neighborhood doctors,” Tallaj said. “We work with poor people in poor neighborhoods, and we speak the same languages as our patients — none of our doctors are on Park Avenue.”

He said that at the outset of the pandemic public attention and funding went to hospitals and emergency care, while he and his colleagues pooled resources to buy personal protective gear and set up neighborhood testing sites.

It turns out that this early exposure to patients, before they were sick enough to visit the ER,  might have made these workers more vulnerable: A recent study found that primary care providers “may have been more likely to see patients with early-stage, mild or asymptomatic — but still contagious — SARS-CoV-2 infection, while having little to no personal protective equipment.”

Family physician Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo, 70, was the quintessential neighborhood doctor. From his practice in New York City’s Washington Heights, he saw generations of patients walk through his doors. Patients and their families — many immigrants from the Dominican Republic, like him — stopped to say hello when they saw him in the street.

“He loved his community and he always took time to listen to them,” said Dorka Cáceres, his assistant of 20 years. Decoo saw patients through late March, when he developed symptoms.

Dr. Ashraf Metwally was a Brooklyn family physician originally from Egypt. Dahlia Ibrahim, a family friend, described him as a “staple” in the local Arab community. A cancer survivor who helped out in emergency rooms early in the pandemic, Metwally “helped people. That’s just who he was,” Ibrahim wrote.

“These providers were like firefighters,” said Liz Webb, SOMOS’ vice president for human resources. “They were going into their communities, communicating in their languages, and making sure [people] didn’t worry about their immigration status” when seeking out testing, she said.

To cope with the loss of their colleagues and uncertainty about the future, SOMOS doctors have organized a nightly prayer group on Zoom that draws dozens of participants. And they’ve begun to lend their services to new COVID hot spots: This summer, they sent health workers to Georgia and Florida to volunteer in clinics and hospitals.

Chowdhury’s family has spent the past few months learning what he meant to his patients. They were overwhelmed by the outpouring of grief and support from people around the world who had sought his care or advice at one point or another. When they held an online memorial, they struggled to find a platform that could accommodate everyone who wanted to pay their respects, Chowdhury’s daughter said.

“Zoom maxes you out at, like, 200 users, so we used another [service] that allowed 500, and even then we were at capacity,” she said.

This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Teen Artist’s Portraits Help Frame Sacrifice of Health Care Workers Lost to COVID

As Xinyi Christine Zhang watched the COVID-19 death toll among health care workers rise this spring, she wanted to find a way to give solace — and thanks — to their families.

The teenager, of South Brunswick Township, New Jersey, joined her church in commemorating members who had died of COVID-19. But she was driven to try to do more, something personal.

“I thought there could be something more meaningful I could do for the families of the doctors who lost their lives fighting the pandemic,” said Christine, 15.

A gifted artist, Christine resolved to draw the fallen U.S. health care workers in colorful memorial portraits, distribute them to their families and post them on her website. She wanted the relatives to know that people appreciated those who were trying to help Americans heal while putting their own lives in jeopardy.

Christine frequently draws portraits for her friends and knew memorial portraits are usually rather expensive. She realized that drawing front-line workers could actually help families and was a better use of her time than drawing her friends — whom she said she’d drawn “like 10 times already.”

According to KHN and The Guardian’s “Lost on the Frontline” project, more than 1,000 health care workers in the United States have died after helping patients battle the coronavirus. The pandemic overburdened many hospitals and led to shortages in protective equipment such as masks and gowns that endangered many of those assisting patients.

Christine found her subjects through that project. She set up a website to upload her portraits and to let families request drawings of their loved ones. Her portraits are free and easily accessible online, Christine said.

She has finished and posted 17 portraits since she started in late April. Each one takes six to eight hours, and Christine spreads that work out over a few days so as not to interfere with her school assignments. Using a close-up image as a reference, she first digitally sketches the proportions of the person’s face with a pencil and then adds unique colors to “really bring life to the portrait.”

Her largest obstacle is getting in touch with the families. She hopes more families will request portraits through her website so she can work with them from the beginning.

Xinyi Christine Zhang, 15, wants families of health care workers who have died of COVID-19 to know she is thankful for the work of their loved ones. “Someone they don’t know personally, even a stranger, appreciates what their loved one has done,” Zhang says.(Xinyi Christine Zhang and Helen Liu)

One person Christine featured is Sheena Miles, a semiretired nurse from Mississippi who died of COVID-19 on May 1. Christine tracked down her son, Tom Miles, who expressed his gratitude on Facebook.

“When you’re going through a loss like that, like the loss of a mom, to get the email from out of the blue just kind of gives you a profound feeling that there are some good people in this world,” Tom Miles said in an interview. “For her to have such talent at such a young age, and that she really cares about people she doesn’t even know — she is what makes America what it is today.”

This kind of response is exactly what Christine aims for — she wants the families to know that she is thankful for the work of their loved ones.

“Someone they don’t know personally, even a stranger, appreciates what their loved one has done,” she said.

The portraits may be a source of brightness for grieving families, said Christine’s mother, Helen Liu.

“I hope that families who receive these portraits will have a feeling of hope that better times will come,” Liu said. “A memorial is something meaningful and permanent, and I feel her portraits capture the happiness that will forever be with them.”

She hopes to get additional requests for the memorials from families.

In addition to drawing, Christine is a member of the South Brunswick High School’s Science Olympiad team and helps build projects for competitions. She’s interested in exploring engineering or product design as a career. Anything related to building or creating, she said.

She plans to either major or minor in art in college. For now, she wants to continue this project throughout high school — hopefully with help from others who know how to create digital art. She has a form on her website where others with art experience can sign up to help out. She said they can also add “other heroes in our society, such as war veterans or firefighters.”

“There are so many people that need to be honored, but I can’t do it by myself,” Christine said.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Más de 900 trabajadores de salud han muerto por COVID-19 en los Estados Unidos. Y la cifra aumenta

Más de 900 trabajadores de atención médica esenciales han muerto por COVID-19, según una base de datos interactiva creada por The Guardian y KHN.

Lost on the Frontline es una asociación entre las dos redacciones que tiene como objetivo contar, verificar y honrar a cada trabajador de salud de los Estados Unidos que ha muerto durante la pandemia.

Es el recuento más completo de las muertes de trabajadores de salud del país.

A medida que aumentan los casos de coronavirus, y persiste la grave escasez de equipos de protección que salvan vidas, como máscaras N95, delantales y guantes, los trabajadores de salud del país se enfrentan de nuevo a condiciones potencialmente mortales, en especial en los estados del sur y el oeste.

A través de análisis y comparación de registros y fuentes, informes de colegas, redes sociales, obituarios en línea, sindicatos de trabajadores y medios locales, los reporteros de Lost on the Frontline han identificado a 922 trabajadores de salud que murieron por COVID-19 y sus complicaciones.

Un equipo de más de 50 periodistas de The Guardian, KHN y de escuelas de periodismo han pasado meses investigando muertes individuales para comprobar que fueran a causa de COVID-19 y de que los fallecidos efectivamente estuvieran trabajando en la primera línea de batalla, en contacto directo con pacientes con COVID o trabajando en lugares donde reciben tratamiento.

Los reporteros también han estado investigando las circunstancias de sus muertes, incluido su acceso a equipo de protección personal (EPP), y han estado contactando a familiares, compañeros de trabajo, representantes sindicales y empleadores para que comentaran sobre estas muertes.

Hasta el momento, se han publicado167 con nombres, datos, e historias de vida con colegas o seres queridos opinando y recordando sus vidas. Cada semana se publican los nombres de nuevas víctimas. Y Cada muerte se confirma de manera individual antes de publicarla.

El recuento incluye médicos, enfermeras y paramédicos, así como personal de apoyo crucial, como conserjes de hospitales, administradores y trabajadores de hogares de adultos mayores, que arriesgaron sus propias vidas durante la pandemia para cuidar a otros.

Los primeros datos indican que han muerto decenas de personas que no pudieron acceder a equipo de protección personal adecuado y al menos 35 sucumbieron después que funcionarios federales de seguridad laboral recibieran quejas sobre la seguridad en sus lugares de trabajo.

Los primeros recuentos también sugieren que la mayoría de las muertes se produjeron entre personas de color, muchas de ellas inmigrantes. Pero debido a que esta base de datos es un trabajo en curso, con nuevos casos confirmados y sumados semanalmente, los primeros hallazgos representan una fracción del total de informes y no son representativos de todas las muertes de trabajadores de salud.

De los 167 trabajadores agregados a la base de datos de Lost on the Frontline hasta ahora:

  • La mayoría, 103 (62%), fueron identificadas como personas de color.
  • Se informó que al menos 52 (31%) tenían un equipo de protección inadecuado.
  • La edad promedio fue de 57 años, y oscilaba entre los 20 y los 80 años, con 21 personas (13%) menores de 40.
  • Aproximadamente un tercio, al menos 53, nacieron fuera de los Estados Unidos y 25 eran de Filipinas.
  • La mayoría de las muertes, 103, ocurrieron en abril, después del aumento inicial de casos en la costa este.
  • Aproximadamente el 38% (64) fueron enfermeras, pero el total también incluía médicos, farmacéuticos, socorristas y técnicos hospitalarios, entre otros.
  • Al menos 68 vivían en Nueva York y Nueva Jersey, dos estados muy afectados al comienzo de la pandemia, seguidos por Illinois y California.

Algunas de estas muertes se pudieron prevenir. La mala preparación, los errores del gobierno y un sistema de salud sobrecargado aumentaron ese riesgo. El acceso inadecuado a las pruebas, la escasez de equipos de protección en todo el país y la resistencia al distanciamiento social y al uso de máscaras han obligado a más internaciones en hospitales ya sobrecargados, y han elevado el número de muertos.

Los vacíos en los datos gubernamentales han aumentado la necesidad de un seguimiento independiente. El gobierno federal no ha registrado con precisión las muertes de trabajadores de salud. Hasta el domingo 9 de agosto, los Centros para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC) informaron 587 muertes entre este grupo, pero la agencia no enumera nombres específicos y ha admitido que se trata de un recuento insuficiente.

Las medidas recientes de la Casa Blanca subrayan la necesidad de datos públicos y responsabilidad. En julio, la administración Trump ordenó a los centros de salud que enviaran datos sobre hospitalizaciones y muertes por COVID-19 directamente al Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos, sin pasar por los CDC.

En los días siguientes, la información vital sobre la pandemia desapareció del ojo público. (Los datos se restauraron más tarde después de una protesta pública, pero la agencia indicó que es posible que ya no actualice las cifras debido a un cambio en los requisitos de informes federales).

Historias exclusivas de los reporteros de Lost on the Frontline han revelado que muchos trabajadores de salud están usando máscaras quirúrgicas que son mucho menos efectivas que las máscaras N95, lo que los expone a mayor peligro. Los correos electrónicos obtenidos a través de una solicitud de registros públicos mostraron que los funcionarios federales y estatales estaban al tanto a fines de febrero de la grave escasez de equipos de protección.

Investigaciones posteriores encontraron que los trabajadores de salud que contrajeron el coronavirus y sus familias ahora luchan por acceder a las pensiones y otros beneficios del sistema de compensación para trabajadores. El informe también ha examinado las muertes de 19 trabajadores de salud menores de 30 años que murieron por COVID-19.

Seguimos recopilando los nombres de los trabajadores de salud que han fallecido y analizando por qué tantos se han enfermado. Agradecemos sugerencias y comentarios en [email protected] y [email protected].

La corresponsal senior de KHN Christina Jewett y Melissa Bailey colaboraron con este informe.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Adding To COVID Stress, Families Of Health Workers Fight For Denied Workers’ Comp Benefits

James “Mike” Anderson was a hospital employee in suburban Philadelphia with a low-profile though critical job: changing air filters in COVID patients’ rooms.

By late March, new COVID cases in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, had ramped up to as many as 90 per day. At the hospital, Anderson handled air filters and other surfaces that might have been contaminated with the deadly virus, also known to hang in the air.

In early April, Anderson, 51, came down with what he thought was a cold, according to his family’s lawyer, David Stern. On April 13 Anderson was rushed to the hospital, where he died of acute respiratory distress syndrome from COVID-19, according to the county coroner. He left behind a wife and two children, ages 5 and 9.

James “Mike” Anderson, a maintenance mechanic at St. Mary’s Medical Center outside of Philadelphia, died of COVID-19 complications on April 13.(Courtesy of Stephanie Anderson)

Anderson was exposed to the virus at work, the lawyer contends, making his family eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits paid by his employer’s insurer.

“His family deserves to have that income replaced,” Stern said. “Their husband and father certainly can’t be.”

But in a June 16 response to Stern’s death benefits claim, St. Mary Medical Center denied all allegations.

As the COVID toll climbs, sick workers and families of the dead face another daunting burden: fighting for benefits from workers’ compensation systems that, in some states, are stacked against them.

In interviews with lawyers and families across the nation, KHN found that health care workers ― including nurses’ aides, physician assistants and maintenance workers ― have faced denials or long-shot odds of getting benefits paid. In some cases, those benefits amount to an ambulance bill. In others, they would provide lifetime salary replacement for a spouse.

Legal experts say that in some states COVID-19 falls into a long-standing category of diseases like a cold or the flu — conditions not covered by workers’ compensation — with no plans to change that. Other states force workers to prove they caught the virus at work, rather than from a family member or in the community.

“We are asking people to risk their lives every single day — not just doctors, nurses and first responders, but also nurses’ aides and grocery store clerks,” said Laurie Pohutsky, a Democratic Michigan lawmaker who proposed a bill to help essential workers get coverage more easily. “These people are heroes, but we have to actually back those words up with actions.”

In at least 16 states and Puerto Rico, officials have passed measures to make it easier for workers infected with the coronavirus to qualify for benefits for lost wages, hospital bills or death. Similar bills are pending in other states, but some face opposition from business groups over costs.

Many of the proposed actions would turn the tables on the status quo, forcing employers to prove workers did not catch the virus at work. Bills vary in the scope of workers they cover. Some protect all who left home to work during stay-at-home orders. Others are limited to first responders and health care workers. Some would cover only workers who get sick during states of emergency, while others would cover a longer period.

An early glimpse of data shows that health care workers and first responders, two groups hit hard by the virus, make up the majority of those seeking benefits. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 95,000 health care workers have been infected, a figure the agency acknowledges is an undercount. KHN and The Guardian U.S. have identified more than 700 who have died and told the story of 139 of them. For these workers’ families, the stakes of the pending laws are enormous.

In Virginia, attorney Michele Lewane is representing a nurse and a physician assistant who contracted the coronavirus while working at the same urgent care center. The physician assistant, who administered COVID tests, was hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia for about a week. He missed five weeks of work.

When the physician assistant asked the urgent care center for paperwork to file a workers’ compensation claim to cover his hospital bill, an administrator refused to hand it over, saying coronavirus treatment wouldn’t be covered, Lewane said. He was laid off days later and left with a $60,000 hospital bill.

Lewane said the law in Virginia will likely consider COVID-19 an “ordinary disease of life,” akin to a cold or the flu. She said she’d have to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that he caught the coronavirus at work.

The bar is so high, she said, that she’s waiting to file a claim in hopes that Virginia joins many other states passing laws that make it easier for health workers to prove their cases.

Craig Davis, president-elect of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, said he took on a test case and received a quick denial of workers’ compensation benefits for a COVID-positive physician assistant.

“We think there’s an infinitesimal possibility of prevailing under our laws as currently written,” he said. His group is pushing for a legislative change.

In Montana, which has largely been spared by the pandemic, workers face even longer odds. A 64-year-old nurse at a small hospital there was hospitalized for eight days with COVID-19 in April, according to her Great Falls lawyer, Thomas Murphy. She remains at home on oxygen, unable to work.

The woman filed a workers’ compensation claim, which could qualify her for up to $800 a week in lost wages plus lifetime coverage of medical bills related to her condition. Instead of agreeing to those benefits, Murphy said, the insurer offered to settle for $17,000, which she declined because it would not cover her medical bills.

Murphy said the employer, which he did not name to protect his client from retaliation, is arguing that she was the first person at the hospital to contract the virus, so she likely didn’t get it at work. However, he noted that two other hospital employees and six patients tested positive within the next two weeks and his client went few places other than work.

In Montana law, the burden of proof lies on the employee to show an illness was work-related.

“We’re going to have to try to piece together all of the sources” that might have infected her — “and prove that it’s more probable than not that she got it at work,” Murphy said. “Women like this woman are going to have a hard road ahead of them.”

The Montana Legislature isn’t set to meet until January, and an executive order appears unlikely.

In New Jersey, attorney Rick Rubenstein is representing the widow of a man who worked as a housekeeper at a nursing home, doing laundry and occasional patient care. Not given protective gear by his employer, the man caught COVID-19 and had a lengthy stay in the intensive care unit before he died.

His wife has the virus now and was faced with a default — no answer in 35 days — after seeking benefits in New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system. They would cover her husband’s $188,000 hospital bill and survivor’s pay of $308 per week.

“She’s isolated, doesn’t know what her own health future holds and doesn’t have an explanation of why this stuff is happening,” Rubenstein said. “It’s terrible.”

A bill proposed in New Jersey would make it easier for essential workers who got COVID-19 during the state of emergency to prove that they got it on the job. The bill was passed by the state Senate and is pending before the General Assembly.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has opposed the bill, saying it would push higher workers’ compensation insurance rates onto businesses that are “struggling to survive.”

“Our concerns are primarily that the cost of these claims can overwhelm the system, which was not designed to handle claims during a worldwide pandemic,” NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas said in a statement.

While there are no national estimates of how many are filing claims for workers’ compensation ― or getting approvals ― Massachusetts provided KHN with a summary of its coronavirus reports from March, April and May.

During those months, employers filed 3,482 “first reports of injury” regarding a worker with COVID-19 ― 2,915 were for health care workers. Insurers denied benefits to 216 health care workers, according to Massachusetts records.

Florida posted similar data, showing a higher rate of denied claims for health care workers. While 1,740 health care workers sought benefits related to COVID-19, about 30%, or 521 claims, were fully denied. Among the 1,200 who were paid benefits, the amount paid added up to $1.3 million.

The cost of covering 9.6 million first responders and health workers nationally could range from $1 billion to $16 billion, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, which provides insurance rate recommendations for 38 states. The bill is paid by employers who buy workers’ compensation insurance, employers that self-insure and taxpayers, who support government agencies.

Those estimates do not include New York or California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order broadening coverage through July 5 is projected to add about $1.2 billion to California’s costs.

In many states, business associations consider proposals to expand workers’ compensation too costly and too broad.

A proposed California bill would extend Newsom’s executive order and put the burden on employers to prove that “critical workers,” including those in retail, warehousing and delivery, who got the coronavirus did not get it at work. The bill has critics.

“California employers have been significantly impacted by this crisis and simply cannot be the safety net for this pandemic by providing workers’ compensation benefits for all employees, even when they are not injured at work,” according to a letter of concern signed by the California Chamber of Commerce, California Hospital Association and others.

A federal backstop may become available. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would create a federal fund for essential workers, including health care personnel, who get sick or die from the coronavirus. The Pandemic Heroes Compensation Act would be modeled after the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

In Pennsylvania, there is no presumption that COVID-19 is acquired on the job.

Stern, the lawyer for Anderson’s family, filed a “fatal claim” in May with the state workers’ compensation board, which passed it on to the employer.

A St. Mary Medical Center spokesperson confirmed in an email that Anderson worked there for 23 years and was a maintenance mechanic. She would not discuss his case. “We are extremely saddened by his death,” she wrote. “We are not able to provide additional information out of respect for his and his family’s privacy.”

Mark Banchi volunteers with hospital chaplains and knew Anderson for over 30 years. He said co-workers are reeling from the death of a man who “was enthusiastic, gregarious, friendly.”

“His loss to the hospital is real,” Banchi said. “Some people lift spirits, some people make you glad you came that day, and Mike was one of those people.”

In addition to working at St. Mary for $22 an hour, Anderson had a cleaning job at a car dealership. Stern said Anderson was unlikely to be exposed to the virus there. If Stern prevails, the family would receive two-thirds of Anderson’s combined pay, capped at $1,081 a week.

Lost On The Frontline

America’s health care workers are dying. In some states, medical personnel account for as many as 20% of known coronavirus cases. They tend to patients in hospitals, treating them, serving them food and cleaning their rooms. Others at risk work in nursing homes or are employed as home health aides.

“Lost on the Frontline,” a collaboration between KHN and The Guardian, has identified 782 such workers who likely died of COVID-19 after helping patients during the pandemic.

We have published profiles for 139 workers whose deaths have been confirmed by our reporters.

Some cases are shrouded in secrecy. Our team contacts family members, employers and medical examiners to independently confirm each death. Many hospitals have been overwhelmed and workers sometimes have lacked protective equipment or suffer from underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the highly infectious virus. In the chaos, COVID casualties might otherwise get overlooked.

This project aims to document the lives of U.S. health workers who die of COVID-19, and to understand why so many are falling victim to the pandemic.

 

 

Milagros D. Abellera
Michelle Abernathy
John Abruzzo
Debbie Accad
Romeo Agtarap
Felicia Ailende
Quen Agbor Ako
Jerry Alford
Jenniffer Anderson-Davis
Mario Araujo
Bernard Atta
Marsha Bantle
Alex Bass
Don Ryan Batayola
Jeff Baumbach
Nestor Bautista
Barbara Bedonie
Gianmarco Bertolotti
Barbara Birchenough
Billy Birmingham Sr.
Dorothy Boles
Linda Bonaventura
Sean Boynes
Brittany Bruner-Ringo
Araceli Buendia Ilagan
Joshua Bush
Patrick Cain
Luis Caldera-Nieves
John Careccia
Karen Carmello
Rosary Celaya Castro-Olega
Sheila Faye Christian
Susan Cicala
Roy Chester Coleman
Bishop Bruce Davis
Christopher Dean
Leo Dela Cruz
Cassondra Diaz
Karla Dominguez
Daisy Doronila
Maurice Dotson
Monica Echeverri Casarez
Jeremy Emerich
Lisa Ewald
Jessica ‘Jess’ Fajardo
David Ferranti
Mike Field
Barbara Finch
Nina Forbes
Devin Francis
Arthur Friedman
Clair Fuqua
Frank Gabrin
Dulce Garcia
Brian Garrett
Helen Gbodi
Scott Geiger
Denny Gilliam
Michael Giuliano
James Goodrich
Leola Grady
Kevin Graiani
John Paul Granger
Elva Graveline
Ali Dennis Guillermo
Krist Guzman
Rose Harrison
James House
Marilyn Howard
Alex Hsu
Pamela Hughes
Curtis Hunt
Gabrail Ismayl
Aleyamma John
Kurt Julian
Priya Khanna
Kim King-Smith
Kevin Leiva
Roger Liddell
Theresa Lococo
Maria Lopez
Tom Luna
Nancy MacDonald
Frank Mahoney
Michael Marceaux
Celia Marcos
David Martin
Juan Martinez
Kelly Mazzarella
Hazel Mijares
Sheena Miles
Anjanette Miller
Francis Molinari
Edwin Montanano
Adiel Montgomery
Matthew Moore
Paul Odighizuwa
John Robert Oglesbee
Sandra Oldfield
Alfredo Pabatao
Susana Pabatao
Marybeth Papetti
Tomas Pattugalan
David Joel Perea
Steven Perez
Jana Prince
Tina Reeves
Neftali “Neff” Rios
Monemise Romelus
Sarah Roncskevitz
Darrin Santos
John Schoffstall
Gary Sclar
Rosemary Sell
Alvin Simmons
James Simpson
Antonia ‘Tony’ Sisemore
Thomas Soto
Joan Swann
Rose Taldon
Adlin Thompson
Vianna Thompson
Saif Titi
Israel Tolentino Jr.
Louis Torres
J. Ronald Verrier
Jesus Villaluz
Ritchie Villena
Valeria Viveros
J. Aleksandr Vollmann
Barry Webber
Gerald Welch
Shenetta White-Ballard
Capt. Franklin Williams
David Wolin
Celia Yap-Banago
Ali Yasin
Jesus Manuel Zambrano
Robert Zerman

 

RN Nourished Souls As Well As Bodies

(Courtesy of the Abellera family and the Angelus Funeral Home)

Milagros D. Abellera

Age: 65
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Baptist Medical Center and Kindred Hospital in San Antonio
Date of Death: May 13, 2020

Milagros Abellera cooked Philippine feasts for her husband, Roberto, six children and grandchildren. Sometimes they’d host nearly 100 people. No one ever left hungry.

A devout Catholic, Milagros also nourished souls wherever she went. “She would always bring people back to their faith,” said daughter Kristine Abellera.

Milagros earned her degree in the Philippines and worked as a nurse for 46 years. She landed in Texas in the early ’90s.

“She was a mother hen to our young nurses,” said Kyle Sinclair, CEO of Kindred Hospital San Antonio Central.

She would speak up with other nurses and doctors if she felt there was a better way to treat patients, Kristine said.

Milagros’ low-grade fever escalated in late March. She got tested for COVID-19 and went into home isolation once additional symptoms came on, but finally went to the hospital.

“She wanted to work it off like she does everything else,” Kristine said.

On the day of her death, an American flag was flown in her honor at the Texas Capitol. It was given to her family.

— Eriech Tapia, University of Oklahoma | Published July 10, 2020

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22-Year-Old EMT Treated Everyone Like Family

(Courtesy of Laura and Paul Granger)

John Paul Granger

Age: 22
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Vital Care EMS in Greenville, South Carolina
Date of Death: May 26, 2020

John Paul Granger was used to working on the front lines. He aided federal hurricane disaster relief efforts in Texas and Florida. John Paul “was dedicated … to the profession of being a first responder,” Vital Care wrote in a statement published by the Greenville News.

JP, as he was also known, started washing ambulance trucks after high school and worked his way up to driver and EMT. He enjoyed boating, flying lessons and throwing the ball with his rescue dog, Shadow. He aspired to be a chef.

“He was one of the happiest people I’d ever met,” said Patrick Hahne, a friend and former Vital Care driver. No matter your race, sexual orientation or religious belief, “he would treat you like a brother or sister.”

John Paul was the only child of Laura and Paul Granger, who said he had “a smile that would light up any room.”

One of South Carolina’s youngest COVID victims, he died after a month in the hospital, his mother by his side.

Hahne said he and JP “frequently expressed how inadequate the PPE and precautions” were. Initially, he added, the only protection they typically had when transporting patients to dialysis clinics, for example, was surgical masks. Hahne said they started wearing N95 masks a few days before JP fell ill.

Vital Care did not respond to requests for comment.

Katja Ridderbusch | Published July 10, 2020

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Nurse’s Assistant Was A Perfectionist Who Doted On Patients

(Courtesy of Mike Graveline)

Elva Graveline

Age: 52
Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of Work: Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut
Date of Death: May 19, 2020

Elva Graveline took small, graceful steps down the hospital corridors.

“You could see her smile coming,” said Connie Fields, her local union president.

A perfectionist at work, Elva arrived over an hour early for her 6:45 a.m. shift, according to her husband, Mike Graveline. She doted on her patients with shampoo and razors that she brought from home.

“She just wanted them smelling good,” Mike said.

Elva, born in Texas to Mexican American parents, adored her two daughters and three granddaughters. The third was born in April, but she never got to hold the baby because she was exposed to COVID-19 at work. Elva worked on a COVID floor, caring for as many as 12 patients a day, Mike said.

Fields said she believes Elva got sick from reusing protective gear: In March, Elva and others wore the same N95 respirator masks for two weeks, Fields said, though by early May they had new N95s each day.

Hospital spokesperson Fiona Phelan replied that “we value and respect [staff members] too much to not provide the protective gear needed in this battle.”

Elva tested positive for COVID-19 on May 12 and died a week later of cardiac arrest.

“This should never have happened,” Mike recalled telling his wife. “I just wish this was me.”

Melissa Bailey | Published July 10, 2020

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ICU Nurse Who Treated The First U.S. COVID Cases Dies Of The Virus

(Courtesy of Kathy Julian)

Kurt Julian

Age: 63
Occupation: Intensive care nurse
Place of Work: EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington
Date of Death: May 29, 2020

After the first U.S. surge of COVID-19 patients slammed his hospital in late February, Kurt Julian tended to its victims for weeks.

Then after three nights of caring for a COVID patient, Julian contracted the coronavirus.

“It was almost surreal, trying to think about this crazy new infection,” said his wife, Kathy Julian, an ICU nurse at a Seattle hospital. Her husband had ample protective gear and was careful in its use. Hospital officials said they were grateful for the compassionate care Julian provided.

When his symptoms began, Julian’s biggest concern was infecting his family, including four children ages 12 to 17.

In April, Julian was taken by ambulance to his own ICU and, later, placed on a ventilator by colleagues. In May, doctors at a trauma center used ECMO — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — in a last-ditch effort to save him.

Kathy and their oldest son were present as nurses withdrew life support. The world lost a diligent nurse as well as a witty, creative soul who loved working with wood and stained glass at the family’s rural 5-acre property.

“I want people to get that this is real,” Kathy said. “Real people are dying.”

JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News | Published July 10, 2020

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‘Force Of Nature’ Wanted To Reform Social Work

(Courtesy Roncskevitz family)

Sarah Roncskevitz

Age: 32
Occupation: Medical social worker
Place of Work: Emergency Department, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center in San Francisco
Date of Death: May 30, 2020

Sarah Roncskevitz was larger than life, a vibrant, kind, generous and sometimes vexing bundle of superlatives: “a pillar of strength,” “a force of nature,” “a warrior mom,” friends wrote on Facebook.

“She exuded so much light,” said G. Allen Ratliff, her social work teacher at the University of California-Berkeley. In class, she stood out as always prepared, seated up front and eager to dig into issues.

She also had her troubles in the past, including addiction and domestic violence. That experience, Ratliff said, was the backbone of her work. “She had been very frustrated with social workers in her life,” he said. She was drawn to the profession, in a sense, to right those wrongs.

Kaiser San Francisco’s chaotic Emergency Department was exactly where she wanted to be. Yet she became increasingly concerned the hospital was unprepared for the pandemic. Her mom, Tami Leal-Roncskevitz, said in an email that Sarah was scolded in March for wearing a surgical mask, accused of contributing to the mask shortage and making patients fearful.

In an emailed statement, a Kaiser spokesperson wrote that the hospital was “devastated by [her] tragic death,” adding that the hospital followed all CDC precautions and that her complaint about mask-wearing “does not accurately reflect our policy.”

She became ill in mid-May but tested negative. On May 26, she collapsed at home. Hospitalized, she retested as positive and never regained consciousness.

— Maureen O’Hagan | Published July 10, 2020

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ICU Nurse Found His Passion Caring For Children, Burn Patients

(Courtesy of Melvin Tam)

J. Aleksandr Vollmann

Age: 57
Occupation: ICU nurse, pediatric and burn units
Place of Work: Harborview Medical Center in Seattle
Date of Death: May 19, 2020

J. Aleksandr Vollmann, known as Aleks to friends and family, honed his caregiving skills as an Army medic and his discipline as an honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

But the 57-year-old intensive care nurse in Seattle found his true passion at the bedsides of sick children and burn patients.

“He would tell me he would never leave here,” said Melvin Tam, who worked with Vollmann for more than a decade. “He found a home.”

In April, Vollmann contracted COVID-19, possibly from a patient. He was hospitalized twice with the virus and recovered. He was ready to return to work when he collapsed during an errand at Costco, days before his 58th birthday. He died of a probable heart attack complicated by blood clots related to COVID-19, records show.

“The COVID compromised him,” said his older sister, Jackie Martin. “People that recover, they don’t recover completely, and he didn’t.”

More than 100 people attended Vollmann’s memorial service at the hospital. He was remembered as a talented chef, the devoted owner of two cats, Azi and Kaali — and an exceptional nurse. Hospital officials issued a statement mourning his loss.

“There was so much love,” Martin said. “That really was his family.”

JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News | Published July 10, 2020

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Nursing Aide Who Kept To Himself ‘Was Just Work, Work, Work’

(Courtesy of Cecilia Bautista)

Nestor Bautista

Age: 62
Occupation: Nursing aide
Place of Work: Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 15, 2020

Nestor Bautista came from a family of quiet men. He was quiet, too, said Cecilia Bautista, one of his four siblings.

Cecilia and Nestor came to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1980s. Cecilia became a nurse. Nestor, who had studied engineering, became a nursing aide.

Nestor lived with Cecilia’s family and worked at the same hospital for 24 years, she said. Nestor, who had diabetes, cooked for himself and “preferred to do things alone.”

He picked up extra shifts on his days off and didn’t need to be told what to do, Cecilia said. “He was just work, work, work.”

Eight days after he was hospitalized with COVID-19, Cecilia spoke to Nestor by phone. He said he felt OK. The next day, he was transferred to intensive care, where he died of cardiac arrest.

A nurse with whom Nestor worked died the same day of COVID-19 complications. A hospital spokesperson declined to comment on their deaths, citing privacy.

Cecilia has placed Nestor’s ashes in an urn in his bedroom. She plans to take the ashes to the Philippines, where families visit graveyards every Nov. 1, and put them next to an older brother’s.

Nestor had few friends, she said, but this way, “if someone will visit my other brother, someone will visit Nestor as well.”

Melissa Bailey | Published July 7, 2020

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Haitian Immigrant’s 4 Children Followed Her Into Health Care Field

(Courtesy of Paul da Costa)

Monemise Romelus

Age: 61
Occupation: Nursing aide
Place of Work: New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison, New Jersey
Date of Death: May 11, 2020

Each day for lunch, Monemise Romelus and her fellow Haitian co-workers would heat up bowl after bowl of traditional cuisine: fried turkey, rice and peas, griot. They shared with all, said Shirley Lewis, her union president.

Romelus, who worked on a floor with COVID patients, was a quiet woman with many friends, Lewis said. Romelus beamed when talking about her four children, all of whom work in health care.

When the pandemic began, workers initially were told not to wear masks so they wouldn’t scare patients, said Paul da Costa, a lawyer representing Romelus’ family. She worked without adequate protective gear, contracted COVID-19 and died, he said.

More than 100 workers at the veterans home have tested positive for COVID-19; 62 residents have died, state data shows. Facility spokesperson Kryn Westhoven declined to comment on Romelus’ death but said workers “are directed to wear PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Management never acknowledged Romelus’ death, Lewis said. When the police killing of George Floyd ignited protests nationwide, staffers and supervisors gathered for eight minutes of silence. Lewis said she insisted they hold a moment of silence for Romelus, too.

Melissa Bailey | Published July 7, 2020

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A Nurse From Cameroon Who Liked To Sing And Dance

Quen Agbor Ako

Age: 53
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: FutureCare Old Court nursing home in Randallstown, Maryland
Date of Death: April 10, 2020

Quen Ako was known to wear stylish, bright clothing and break out in song and dance. Posting to an online memorial, friends, family and co-workers described a lively, compassionate woman.

“My memory of you is that of a warm person, one that will break out in songs of joy,” one friend wrote. Another described laughing at an inside joke with Ako just weeks before her death. “Did I for one second think that I would never hear that resounding, hearty laughter again?”

Born in Cameroon, Ako worked as a guidance counselor and teacher before coming to the U.S., where she earned her nursing degree. She worked for a chain of nursing homes and rehabilitation centers that saw massive COVID-19 outbreaks.

Ako’s family declined to be interviewed for this article but told a local news station that she had died of COVID-19. The Guardian independently verified Ako’s cause of death with one of her former co-workers. Ako’s employer did not respond to requests for comment about her death.

Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published June 30, 2020

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Firefighter Who Lit Up Others’ Lives

(Courtesy of Richard Whitehead)

Mario Araujo

Age: 49
Occupation: Firefighter and emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Chicago Fire Department Truck Company 25
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

Despite fighting fires and treating the injured for nearly 20 years, Mario Araujo remained goofy and light.

He had an uncanny ability to pry open roofs and pop open doors, said Richard Whitehead, a fellow firefighter. But he also loved playing virtual slot machines and cracking jokes.

“He was always kidding around. You could never take him serious,” Whitehead said. “But when it came time to go to work, he was just always ready to go.”

He was the first Chicago firefighter to die from the coronavirus, the department confirmed. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot honored him on Twitter: “Mario selflessly dedicated his life to protecting our communities.”

Araujo approached his relationship with his girlfriend, Rosa Castillo, 48, and her son, Leo, 7, with the same zeal. He was attentive, picking up Leo from school and giving him a tablet computer so they could speak when he traveled.

“He taught my son a lot, even if they didn’t share the same blood,” Castillo said.

Castillo told Leo that God took Araujo to ease his suffering. She said her child believes he is an angel: “He hugs me and says, ‘Mom, I can feel Daddy with us.’”

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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Ghanaian Nurse Made ‘A Deep Impact Across The Planet’

(Courtesy of Kojoh Atta)

Bernard Atta

Age: 61
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio
Date of Death: May 17, 2020

In December 2019, Kojoh Atta returned to his father’s hometown in Offinso, Ghana. Kojoh arrived alone, but everybody knew his father, Bernard Atta.

As a nurse in Ohio’s prison system, Bernard worked overtime so he could afford to ship “drums of clothes” across the Atlantic to the Takoradi port. Inside were sneakers, sandals and Ralph Lauren polos for cousins. “Always with stripes,” Kojoh said, “so the boys knew they were special.”

The regard for his father made Kojoh realize “there are countless unsung heroes making a deep impact across the planet.”

In New York last summer, the two visited the United Nations to pay respects to a portrait of their hero, Kofi Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general from Ghana. They cried. “Look at this man, and look at us,” Bernard told his son. “We came from nothing, but we are here. We are making it.”

As COVID-19 ravaged Ohio, Kojoh urged his father to leave work, worried about inadequate protective gear. Bernard refused, citing “his duty,” Kojoh said. “PPE was, and continues to be available to staff,” a prison spokesperson said.

Bernard showed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19, but he remained home, fearing the hospital bills. Awakened by a flurry of WhatsApp messages, Kojoh learned his father died, leaving behind his wife, three other children and grandchildren.

“He never could live for himself,” Kojoh said, “but he’s finally on vacation, in eternal paradise.”

Eli Cahan | Published June 30, 2020

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On Eve Of Her Retirement, Nurse Took Ill

(Courtesy of Kristin Carbone)

Barbara Birchenough

Age: 65
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 15, 2020

Barbara Birchenough consistently mailed cards to her family and friends, for birthdays, holidays or just as a pleasant surprise. Her youngest son, Matthew Birchenough, said it reflected her personality: quiet, thoughtful and kind.

Birchenough began training as a nurse right after high school and worked for 46 years. Her retirement was planned for April 4, with a big party to follow.

On March 24, she came home from work and told Matthew that four floors of the hospital had been taken over with COVID patients.

The next day, she began to cough. In text messages with her oldest daughter that morning, she conveyed that protective gear was lacking at the hospital. “The ICU nurses were making gowns out of garbage bags,” Barbara texted. “Dad is going to pick up large garbage bags for me just in case.”

When Birchenough returned to the hospital, though, it was as a patient. Her eldest daughter, Kristin Carbone, said she tested positive for COVID shortly before she died.

A Clara Maass spokesperson said the hospital has been compliant with state and CDC guidelines for protective gear.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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First COVID Casualty Among Staff At His Hospital, Nurse ‘Had No Enemies’

Patrick cain and his wife, Kate (Courtesy of Kelly Indish)

Patrick Cain

Age: 52
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: McLaren Flint Hospital in Flint, Michigan
Date of Death: April 4, 2020

Patrick Cain was a dedicated nurse, always “close to his patients,” said Teresa Ciesielski, a nurse and former colleague. “The guy had no enemies.”

Cain was from Canada — a heritage he was especially proud of, Ciesielski recalled. He met his wife, Kate, in 1994, when they both worked in Texas. They had a son.

“He was an amazing father,” Ciesiekski said. “He was always talking about his kid.”

Cain’s ICU work meant caring for patients awaiting COVID test results. Some days, he worked outside the room where “suspected COVID” patients were being treated. The hospital hadn’t provided protective gear, despite his requests, according to Kelly Indish, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 875, his union.

On March 26, he texted Indish. He was worried he had been exposed to the virus the week before, and he hadn’t had a mask. “McLaren screwed us,” he wrote.

A hospital spokesperson said employees received appropriate gear based on government guidelines. But those rules didn’t mandate N95s — known to block viruses — for workers who, like Cain, were providing care but weren’t performing aerosolizing treatments, which can release virus particles into the air.

COVID-19 came with a fever, loss of appetite, dry cough, nausea. Cain was the hospital’s first employee known to die of the illness.

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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Grateful Immigrant Who Loved Thanksgiving Catered To Chinese Community

(Courtesy of the Hsu family)

Alex Hsu

Age: 67
Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of Work: Hsu & Loy Medical Group in Margate, Florida
Date of Death: March 24, 2020

Alex Hsu loved Thanksgiving.

Sitting down with his family for the holiday feast, Hsu always spoke for at least 10 minutes about how grateful he was to be in America. Hsu “didn’t really come from much,” said Zach Hsu, his son.

Hsu fled Communist China, first immigrating to Hong Kong and then to Hawaii, where he attended medical school. He served his residency in Kentucky and, eventually, landed in Broward County, Florida, where he practiced for decades.

As one of the few Chinese-speaking internal medicine doctors in the area, Hsu would see “a crazy amount of patients, and he never complained about it,” Zach said. As Hsu aged, he turned to Buddhism and meditation and wrote loving notes to his children as they left for college.

It is not clear how Hsu contracted COVID-19. He had traveled to New York weeks before falling ill but also was seeing patients who could have been carrying the virus.

Hsu worked in a private practice with privileges at Northwest Medical Center. His staff did not return requests for comment. Hsu died at the same hospital where he had cared for patients.

Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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Hospital Supply Manager Lacked Protective Gear For Himself

(Courtesy of Bill Sohmer)

Roger Liddell

Age: 64
Occupation: Supply manager
Place of Work: McLaren Flint hospital in Flint, Michigan
Date of Death: April 10, 2020

Roger Liddell was a family man. One of nine siblings, he frequently visited his extended family back in Mississippi. He was involved in his church and loved cooking, Westerns and the Chicago Bears.

After high school, Liddell joined the Marine Corps. Upon finishing his service, he moved to Chicago, working for the U.S. Postal Service. Finally, he settled down in Michigan, working at McLaren Flint for almost 20 years.

His job took him all over the hospital. And as COVID cases climbed, he was worried.

Liddell requested protective gear from his hospital, said Bill Sohmer, president of AFSCME Local 2650, which represents non-technical employees at the hospital. Since he didn’t treat patients, he was denied — even though his work took him to floors with COVID-positive patients.

In an email, a hospital spokesperson said McLaren Flint had followed government guidelines to ensure employees received sufficient protective gear.

On March 30, Liddell posted to Facebook: He had worked the previous week in the ICU and critical care unit, without PPE. “Pray for me God is still in control,” he wrote.

Liddell tested positive for COVID-19. He was put on a ventilator but died, leaving behind his wife, four children, two stepchildren and 11 grandchildren.

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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A Doctor And A Poet Who ‘Wasn’t Done’

(Courtesy of Adam Oglesbee)

John Robert Oglesbee

Age: 80
Occupation: Family physician
Place of Work: CCOM Medical Group Cardiology Clinic in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Date of Death: April 26, 2020

A bushel of corn or meat from the family cow was how some of John Oglesbee’s clients paid him. No matter, he always put his clients first.

“He loved small-town Oklahoma,” said grandson Adam Oglesbee.

For nearly 30 years, John Oglesbee had his clinic outside of Ada until the mid-90s, when he began fill-in work at rural emergency rooms for a time before ending up in his hometown.

An avid reader of books on every topic, he would always return to the Bible. He was a churchgoer and deacon for many years, often guest-preaching.

Wherever he went, Oglesbee wrote poems, whether on a napkin or the back of an envelope, stuffing them in books within his vast home library.

He saw patients until he contracted COVID-19. On March 19, he went into home isolation. He tested positive March 23.

“He told me when I last saw him at his home through the window, ‘Dammit, I wasn’t done,’” Adam said. “He was a doctor until the day he died.”

Multiple attempts to reach CCOM Medical Group for comment went unanswered.

— Eriech Tapia, University of Oklahoma | Published June 30, 2020

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Big-Hearted Nurse Feared For The Safety Of Those Who Cared For Her

(Courtesy of Lori Rodriguez)

Sandra Oldfield

Age: 53
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center in Fresno, California
Date of Death: May 25, 2020

Sandra Oldfield had a big heart and couldn’t say no to anyone, her sister Lori Rodriguez said. She had no children of her own but loved to spoil and care for her nieces and nephews.

She was a nurse who would listen to others’ problems. And she could amplify those concerns for management without losing her composure, Rodriguez said.

Oldfield had concerns of her own in mid-March while caring for critically ill patients in the telemetry unit. She was upset that she was given a surgical mask — not nearly as protective as an N95 respirator — to treat patients as COVID-19 was spreading.

Her concern was on point: She cared for a patient whose initial symptoms didn’t meet the well-known COVID profile, but who tested positive for the virus.

“I feel if she had an N95, she would be here today,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to see anyone else lose their life like my sister did.”

Kaiser Fresno said it has followed state and federal guidelines on protective gear. (KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Rodriguez said her sister resisted going to the hospital as her symptoms worsened, reluctant to expose paramedics or hospital staffers to the virus. When Oldfield agreed that an ambulance should be called, she wanted the paramedics to be advised to take every precaution.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published June 30, 2020

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The ‘Life Of The Party’ Who Bonded With Patients

(Courtesy of Christina Ravanes)

John Abruzzo

Age: 62
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York
Date of Death: April 2, 2020

Long Island is where John Abruzzo was born, raised, worked and died. The second of 14 children, he was the “life of the party,” said his daughter, Christina Ravanes. He loved poker and fishing. He had a son as well, and three grandchildren.

Abruzzo developed strong friendships with patients, said Susan Knoepffler, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “He had a winning smile. He was kind of a teddy bear,” she said.

He tested positive for COVID-19 in late March and died five days later. “I went from seeing my dad at a wedding,” Ravanes said, “to the next time I see him, it’s ashes.”

John’s wife, Mary Abruzzo, died eight days later, on her birthday, Ravanes said, likely from complications related to Type 1 diabetes (she had not been exposed to John when he was infected).

As of June 18, no other nurses at Huntington hospital had died of COVID-19, Knoepffler said, adding that the facility was well prepared and never ran out of supplies. What’s missing, she said, is Abruzzo.

— James Faris, James Madison University | Published June 26, 2020

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A Nurse And Pastor Who Tended To Bodies And Souls

(Courtesy of the Boles family)

Dorothy Boles

Age: 65
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Greenwood Leflore Hospital in Greenwood, Mississippi
Date of Death: April 3, 2020

Dorothy Boles had two callings: one as a healer and the other as an ordained minister.

“Mama Boles,” as she was known, was a counselor and caretaker, said longtime friend and colleague Glory Boyd. Boles mentored aspiring ministers at First Chosen Tabernacle Church and welcomed recovering patients into her home.

“She went over, above and beyond,” said Boyd, the hospital’s chief nursing officer. “She cared for other people before she cared for herself.”

When patients leaving the hospital didn’t have the means to recover on their own, Boles opened her home to them, her son Marcus Banks told a local newspaper. Most stayed a few days. One young man stayed five years.

“Once she nursed him back to health, he just hung around,” Banks told the paper. “She just felt that nobody could take care of him like she could.”

Boles was admitted March 22 to the hospital where she had worked for 42 years. She was among the first four people to die of COVID-19 in Leflore County.

The hospital renamed the nurses’ station in her memory.

Michaela Gibson Morris | Published June 26, 2020

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Pediatric Nurse Wore ‘Minions’ Scrubs And Connected With Children

(Courtesy of Carlos Dominguez)

Karla Dominguez

Age: 33
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso, Texas
Date of Death: April 19, 2020

Karla Dominguez’s medical “practicing” began at a young age, with a doctor’s bag she got one Christmas. “Every time I came home, she’d say, ‘Let me listen to your heart; let me see how you’re doing,’” recalled her father, Carlos Dominguez.

She dreamed of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. Hurdles getting into medical school dampened her spirits. Then she pursued nursing, a field in which she blossomed.

“She was so full of joy, so happy with her work,” said Dominguez, a doctor. She wore scrubs with cartoon Minions and managed to connect with even the most challenging patients, her father said. A few years into her nursing career, she considered reapplying to medical school, but ultimately decided to stick with nursing because it allowed for more interaction with patients.

In early April, she began experiencing excruciating headaches — symptoms that have since been associated with COVID-19. She visited urgent care and the emergency room and was twice denied a coronavirus test. She was eventually hospitalized. Tests revealed she had the virus and CT scans showed brain hemorrhaging.

Dominguez doesn’t know how his daughter contracted the virus but suspects she may have contracted it at work. Providence did not respond to a request for comment.

— Maureen O’Hagan | Published June 26, 2020

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Passionate EMT And Volunteer Firefighter Was ‘Constantly On Call’

(Courtesy of Shana Konek)

Jeremy Emerich

Age: 40
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Lehigh Valley Health Network MedEvac in Center Valley, Pennsylvania
Date of Death: May 21, 2020

Jeremy Emerich and his girlfriend, Shana Konek, made a pact: Home is home. Work is work.

They set aside time to do things they loved, like watching “The Big Bang Theory” or walking their two beagle-mix puppies. “Unless we scheduled it in, it wasn’t happening,” Konek said.

An Army veteran who served in Iraq, Emerich “was passionate and loved a challenge,” Konek said. When he wasn’t taking emergency shifts, he volunteered for the Exeter Township Fire Department. “He was constantly on call, always lending a helping hand,” said Konek, an emergency medical services dispatcher.

If families of patients were in shock, he’d comfort them — sometimes in Spanish, to his colleagues’ surprise. Emerich worked long shifts caring for COVID-19 patients across the Lehigh Valley, for which he was equipped with adequate protective gear, Konek said. His employer could not be reached for comment.

On April 25, Emerich’s appetite began to wane and he complained of “a little fever.” Konek took his temperature: 104 degrees. A week later, he was in the ICU.

On May 8, Emerich told Konek he was signing some paperwork and would call her back.

“I never got that call,” Konek said.

Eli Cahan | Published June 26, 2020

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He Bridged Cultures With Cooking And Camaraderie

(Courtesy of Diana Ese Odighizuwa)

Paul Odighizuwa

Age: 61
Occupation: Food services coordinator
Place of Work: Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon
Date of Death: May 12, 2020

When Paul Odighizuwa left Nigeria in 1987, he enrolled at Portland State University to study visual arts and began a decades-long career at OHSU, a large teaching hospital. He became a pillar of the area’s close-knit Nigerian community.

“Paul was such a go-to guy,” said Ezekiel Ette, a friend. “If you needed something done, Paul would do it, and do it graciously.”

As a student, he helped paint a prominent mural depicting African and African American heroes — it stood for decades in Portland’s King neighborhood.

Odighizuwa, who worked in the hospital’s food services department, cooked traditional Nigerian dishes at home — as well as American-style pancakes with “crispy edges,” his daughter, Diana, said.

In mid-March, his union complained that management in Odighizuwa’s department was not allowing proper social distancing. Eleven people in the department became ill, and Odighizuwa died.

OHSU did not respond to a request for comment.

— Maureen O’Hagan | Published June 26, 2020

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She Answered A Calling And Helped Fellow Native Americans

(Courtesy of Charmayne Bedonie)

Barbara Bedonie

Age: 56
Occupation: Certified medication aide
Place of Work: Cedar Ridge Inn in Farmington, New Mexico
Date of Death: May 16, 2020

Barbara Bedonie was happily raising three children when she realized she wanted to do more. She enrolled to become a certified nursing assistant, which turned out to be a calling.

“She was truly happy working,” her daughter Charmayne Bedonie said. “I’ve been hearing so many stories from families she’s helped.”

For 17 years, Barbara worked at a nursing home and received awards for perfect attendance. Management admired her work ethic enough to pay for her to become a certified medication aide. She was Navajo and could speak to residents at the home in their Indigenous tongue.

“I know she helped a lot of people just by speaking the language,” Charmayne said.

The home had reported a number of COVID cases. Bedonie tested negative for the virus repeatedly, but, overwhelmed by fatigue, she knew something was wrong. She was hospitalized and finally a test confirmed she had the coronavirus, Charmayne said.

Charmayne expressed praise for the hospital and the nursing home. Her employer did not respond to questions about protective gear and said only, “Cedar Ridge Inn misses our beloved colleague very much.”

Charmayne said families have been sharing stories about her mother. “They say she was a beautiful soul, inside and out,” she said.

Maureen O’Hagan | Published June 23, 2020

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Travel Nurse Was ‘A Country Boy At Heart’

Denny Gilliam and his wife, Amanda Marr Gilliam (Courtesy of Amanda Marr Gilliam)

Denny Gilliam

Age: 53
Occupation: Travel nurse
Place of Work: NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, via Trustaff
Date of Death: May 7, 2020

Amanda Marr Gilliam was on a cigarette break when Denny Gilliam threw that first glance. “Those blue eyes caught me,” she said. “The very next day, we started dating.”

Gilliam treasured family time, like movie nights, when the kids would pile into the couple’s king-size bed with chips and French onion dip.

“A country boy at heart,” Gilliam loved the outdoors, Amanda said. He took the family hunting for ginseng, digging for frogs and camping throughout the Appalachian Mountains near their home in Pelham, Tennessee. He and Amanda liked to fish in Lake Chickamauga for crappie and bluegill.

Gilliam was a committed nurse — it was his second career, after serving in the military. In April, when he learned New York hospitals were short-staffed in the pandemic, he felt obliged to serve.

In early May, when Amanda didn’t hear from him for “what felt like eternity,” she called 35 hotels near the hospital before finding where he’d checked in. A private investigator confirmed: He had died days earlier of COVID-19.

“My worst fear came true,” Amanda said.

Eli Cahan | Published June 23, 2020

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‘He Explored Life Without Restrictions’

(Courtesy of Monique Bertolotti)

Gianmarco Bertolotti

Age: 42
Occupation: Mason
Place of Work: Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City
Date of Death: April 22, 2020

Decades ago, two girls asked Gianmarco Bertolotti to the senior prom. Even as a teenager, Bertolotti was “such a sweet soul,” said Monique Bertolotti, his sister. Instead of rejecting either one, he skipped prom.

As a child visiting grandparents in Rapallo, Italy, Bertolotti would invariably return from town with “focaccia, espresso and stories of the friends he’d made.” As an adult, the man known as “G-Funk” had “a special way about him,” Monique said, “forg[ing] a lasting bond with everyone he met.”

An avid traveler, he’d visited New Orleans and Japan in recent years. “He explored life without restrictions,” Monique said.

A mason, Bertolotti took the subway from his home in Queens every morning to help repair the hospital’s ceilings, floors, soap dispensers and sharps collectors. But on April 13, he called his sister because he was coughing up blood after carrying a case of seltzer up three flights of stairs.

The next morning, he went to the emergency room. A week later, he was dead.
“Protecting our employees … has been our priority from day one,” the hospital said in a statement.

Eli Cahan | Published June 19, 2020

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An Unflappable Nurse Who Loved Playing Tour Guide

(Courtesy of Michelle Helminski)

Edwin Montanano

Age: 73
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Wellpath at Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 5, 2020

Edwin Montanano went to the U.S. Open every year. He loved Broadway shows, especially “Miss Saigon,” but also “Les Misérables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats.” He liked candy — Symphony bars and M&M’s. And he and his wife, Annabella, relished hosting guests.

“My parents always had an open-door policy, and [growing up] it was always a very busy house,” said Michelle Helminski, his daughter. “When relatives or friends would come to visit, my dad would take them to New York — he was an expert tour guide.”

In more recent years, his four young grandchildren became a focal point in his life.

Montanano, who studied nursing in his native Philippines, worked at St. Michael’s Medical Center in New Jersey for 30 years alongside Annabella; Michelle and her brother, Matthew, were born at the hospital. After retiring, Edwin returned to work as a nurse at a nearby prison.

Helminski said she does not know whether her father contracted the virus at work, but as of May, at least three other workers at the prison had died of COVID-19. A representative from Wellpath, Montanano’s employer, wrote that, “Our clinical personnel have ongoing access to masks, gowns, and other PPE, as well as the training to use it effectively.”

Montanano developed COVID-19 symptoms in late March and died at St. Michael’s.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published June 19, 2020

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A Former Marine Whose Altruism Shined In The Operating Room

(Courtesy of Valerie Alford)

Jerry Alford

Age: 60
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Date of Death: April 22, 2020

Jerry Alford brought the same meticulous care to nursing he’d learned as a reconnaissance Marine. He was a stickler for maintaining a sterile workspace and never passed on the chance to lighten a co-worker’s load.

Jerry dedicated 32 years to nursing and spent 27 of them married to Valerie, a trauma ICU nurse. Together they raised three sons and had three grandchildren.

When the pandemic hit, Jerry transferred to the emergency room, where Valerie believes he contracted COVID-19, despite access to personal protective equipment. Jerry’s employer did not respond to questions about whether he may have contracted the virus at work.

Jerry had celebrated his 60th birthday in January with a blowout surprise party. His wife and sons invited family he hadn’t seen in years. “Not knowing that was going to be his last birthday,” said Valerie, “that’s the best thing I could have done for him.”

— Suzannah Cavanaugh, City University of New York | Published June 17, 2020

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An Urgent Care Physician Beloved By His Patients

(Courtesy of Nikki Friedman)

Arthur Friedman

Age: 62
Occupation: Urgent care physician
Place of Work: Independent Physician Association of Nassau/Suffolk counties in Smithtown, New York
Date of Death: April 30, 2020

When Arthur Friedman did not get into medical school in the United States, he enrolled in a school in Tampico, Mexico, teaching himself Spanish. “He was willing to do whatever it took,” said Eric Friedman, his son.

Arthur went on to open his own urgent care facility in Commack, New York. Though he was best known for his decades of work there, he was working at a clinic in Smithtown over the past year.

Arthur loved boating, the outdoors and hoped to retire soon in Florida, to be near his children. When COVID-19 hit, he put those plans aside.

“He seemed like a superhero to us. Nothing fazed him,” said Nikki Friedman, his daughter. Arthur began to experience symptoms on April 10 and tested positive shortly after. (His employer did not respond to requests for comment.)

He died on April 30 and was buried next to his youngest son, Greg, who died in 2014.

Scores of Arthur’s former patients reached out to his children after his death to express their love and gratitude for him.

— Madeleine Kornfeld, City University of New York | Published June 17, 2020

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A Former Foster Child Who Was Charting Her Own Path

(Courtesy of the Fuqua family)

Clair Fuqua

Age: 28
Occupation: Receptionist
Place of Work: Pineville Children’s Clinic in Pineville, Louisiana
Date of Death: April 2, 2020

Clair Fuqua was figuring out her path in life.

On her phone, she saved pictures of wedding dresses and venues, anticipating a proposal from her boyfriend of over two years, according to her parents, Curt and Claudia Fuqua. With an infectious smile, Clair welcomed young patients to the clinic, but she was looking forward to other roles in life.

“She was finally going to decide what she was going to do,” Curt said.

Her parents, who adopted Clair and two of her younger siblings when she was 10, hoped she would follow her passion for adoption and foster care into a career. Clair valued the love and stability of her forever family; before their adoption, Clair and her siblings had lived in six different foster homes.

When the coronavirus surfaced in Louisiana, Clair was already fighting bronchitis. At work, she wore a mask to keep her cough to herself. Days after a colleague was diagnosed with COVID-19, Clair developed a fever.

Clair’s employer declined to confirm how many staff members had become sick with COVID-19 or to comment for this story.

Clair was hospitalized on March 22.

“Everyone thought she would pull through,” Curt said.

In Clair’s honor, friends have donated Bibles and more than $2,100 to a local charity that supports children in the foster care system.

Michaela Gibson Morris | Published June 17, 2020

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A Loving Mother And Nurse Who ‘Always Looked Tremendous’

(Courtesy of Scott Papetti)

Marybeth Papetti

Age: 65
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: CareOne at Livingston Assisted Living in Livingston, New Jersey
Date of Death: March 24, 2020

Marybeth Papetti cared for beautiful things. She planted a garden filled with “a thousand different colors” of flowers, according to her son, Scott Papetti. Her nails, hair and makeup were always done, whether hanging out with girlfriends or dining out with her husband. “She always looked tremendous,” said Scott.

“You wouldn’t have thought she had any health issues,” said Scott, referring to her pulmonary fibrosis, a condition where lung tissue is scarred and blocks oxygen from passing through freely.

Scott does not know where his mother contracted the novel coronavirus, or whether she had adequate PPE at work. Marybeth worked as the director of nurses at an assisted living facility in New Jersey, which, as of June 11, had reported 39 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff and 15 deaths. But she also attended parties and continued regular appointments with a pulmonologist.

Papetti went to the hospital on March 12 with a fever and shortness of breath. She stayed there for two weeks before she died.

Almost everyone who sent messages after Marybeth passed talked about how well put together she was, according to Scott. “She would have been a wreck with not getting her hair done,” he joked.

— Lila Hassan | Published June 17, 2020

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Pitching In After Retirement, Traveling Nurse Was An Adventurer

(Courtesy of Tiffany Olega)

Rosary Celaya Castro-Olega

Age: 63
Occupation: Traveling registered nurse
Place of Work: Various hospitals in Los Angeles County
Date of Death: March 29, 2020

Rosary Celaya Castro-Olega wasn’t what you’d call shy. At her daughter’s basketball games, she was the loudest voice in the bleachers. She dressed head-to-toe in purple: purse, glasses, phone, scrubs. She was Kobe Bryant’s No. 1 fan. And she loved sharing stories with patients.

Her oldest daughter, Tiffany Olega, recalled meeting her mother’s patients.

“They’d say, ‘Your mom has told me all about you!’” she recounted. “She didn’t just do her rounds and disappear.”

Even after retiring in 2017 from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, she couldn’t stay away. She filled in at hospitals that were shorthanded. In between, she traveled the globe. In 2019, she visited Germany, Japan and China.

She had a cruise planned in March. When it was canceled because of the coronavirus, she took shifts at various hospitals in Los Angeles County, hoping to help out. Olega doesn’t know if her mom cared for COVID patients. But Castro-Olega and her twin daughters — Olega’s younger sisters — developed symptoms in mid-March. All three wound up hospitalized. Castro-Olega never came home.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti honored her as the first health care worker to die of COVID-19 in L.A. County.

Maureen O’Hagan | Published June 12, 2020

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Phlebotomist Often Struck Patients’ Funny Bones

Jess Fajardo (Left) and her friend Maria Hernandez (Courtesy of Maria Hernandez)

Jessica ‘Jess’ Fajardo

Age: 30
Occupation: Phlebotomist
Place of Work: Center for Hypertension and Internal Medicine in Odessa, Texas
Date of Death: April 12, 2020

Jessica “Jess” Fajardo had the same best friend for 28 of her 30 years: Maria Hernandez. They hung out in school and after school. They got jobs at a restaurant and, later, a video arcade. They rented an apartment.

Even when Hernandez married, moved away and had children, they talked or texted daily. “She would take care of anybody she could,” Hernandez said.

In phlebotomy, Fajardo found a career she loved. Patients loved her, too — even though her job was sticking them with needles. More than one commented on her sense of humor, her skill, her bubbly cheer.

In late March, Fajardo started coughing, but with no identified coronavirus cases in the county, she was diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis. It got worse. When a colleague was hospitalized with COVID-19, Fajardo went for a test. Days later, she sought emergency care.

Dr. Madhu Pamganamamula, who runs the clinic where Fajardo worked, said precautions had been in place since mid-March. Ultimately, six employees tested positive for the virus; four others tested positive for the antibodies.

Hospitalized and intubated, Fajardo’s condition appeared to be improving. But she died after doctors removed her ventilator. Said Hernandez, “she was an amazing friend.”

Maureen O’Hagan | Published June 12, 2020

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A ‘Protective’ Presence, He Drove Seniors To Medical Appointments

(Courtesy of Rebecca Garrett)

Brian Garrett

Age: 45
Occupation: Van driver for patients
Place of Work: Columbine Health Systems in Fort Collins, Colorado
Date of Death: March 31, 2020

Brian Garrett had classic COVID-19 symptoms: cough, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, breathing difficulty and loss of taste. But he fell ill early in the pandemic’s U.S. spread, his wife, Rebecca, said, and the health clinic he visited said it was probably the flu.

By March 23, the otherwise vigorous, nearly 6-foot-5 father of four (ages three to 20) told Rebecca, “Something’s just not right inside.” He was admitted to the hospital that day. County health officials registered his as a COVID-19 death.

Garrett, who transported senior residents to medical appointments, became ill before the use of protective gear became widespread. “We had that conversation that all these people would be so vulnerable,” Rebecca said. “He became ill so early on that no one was [wearing] masks.”

A spokesperson for his employer did not respond to requests for comment about whether Garrett was exposed to COVID-19 at work.

On Facebook, Garrett’s nephew, Brandon Guthrie, posted that Brian was a protective figure. “He was our tall older brother,” Guthrie wrote. Despite his imposing stature, it was his kindness that stood out. In an interview, Guthrie said, “He genuinely cared about everybody.”

Sharon Jayson | Published June 12, 2020

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From A Traumatic Childhood To A Life ‘Bigger Than Himself’

(Courtesy of the Simpson family)

James Simpson

Age: 28
Occupation: Mental health technician
Place of Work: Sunstone Youth Treatment Center in Burien, Washington
Date of Death: April 10, 2020

James Simpson’s difficult childhood in the foster care system led him to a career at a youth mental health center — where he worked with kids who reminded him of himself. “He had been through so much trauma and abandonment as a child,” said Chezere Braley, his cousin. “And he did not become a product of his environment.”

James’ sister Kamaria Simpson described him as the life of the party. “He was always smiling, even if he was having a bad day,” she said.

James’s family believes he contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak at work, where eight of the center’s 15 residents were infected. Sunstone waited over a week before telling James he may have been exposed to the virus, Kamaria said. She said the center also delayed in providing employees with adequate protective gear and that when her brother became sick, he was told to come in anyway. On April 6, he was sent home with a fever; he died in his apartment four days later.

In a written statement, Sunstone’s parent company, Multicare, said the organization “took early and aggressive steps to prevent the spread of the virus” at work, including “early access to PPE, sanitizer, training for staff and testing.” It added that the company’s policy was always to direct staff to stay home when sick.

Braley and Kamaria said they’re grieving, but they’re also angry. “He risked his life,” said Braley. “He deserved so much better.”

— Holly DeMuth, City University of New York | Published June 12, 2020

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A Physician Assistant Who Mentored Residents At His Hospital

(Courtesy of Alexander Beylinson)

Alex Bass

Age: 52
Occupation: Physician assistant
Place of Work: NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: April 10, 2020

Alex Bass was technically a physician assistant, but his patients all called him “Dr. Bass,” a title his boss said was well-deserved.

“His patients often sent us letters, thanking us for the services that he provided and saying how great he was,” said Dr. Abdo Kabarriti, chief of urology at Coney Island Hospital.

Bass moved to the U.S. from Ukraine in his mid-20s. Rather than redoing medical school, he decided to become a PA. His extensive knowledge led him to mentor numerous urology residents.

“He helped a lot of people really become who they are today,” Kabarriti said.

When Bass noticed a fever spike in mid-March, he stopped going to work and made an appointment with Dr. Alexander Beylinson, his primary physician and friend of 26 years.

He arrived at his office on March 20 looking “very sick,” so Beylinson tested him for COVID-19 and sent him to the hospital.

A few days later, the test came back positive. At that point, it was too difficult for Bass to talk. Soon after, he was put on a ventilator, until he died.

The hospital did not comment on whether Bass had worked with COVID-19 patients.

Beylinson was one of the 10 people at Bass’ funeral. He doesn’t feel he achieved closure, he said, and still considers Bass his “hero.”

— Shoshana Dubnow | Published June 10, 2020

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‘There Were So Many Things She Had Unfinished’

(Courtesy of Brittany Mathis)

Dulce Garcia

Age: 29
Occupation: Clinical interpreter
Place of Work: University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Date of Death: May 26, 2020

Dulce Garcia loved to dance. On weekends, she would escape with friends to the Luna Nightclub in Durham, where they would romp to bachata, merengue and reggaetón. “It was our ritual,” said Brittany Mathis, one of her close friends.

At dawn, those unable to safely drive would sleep over at Garcia’s. “She was the group mom,” Mathis said. “She’d tell us, ‘We don’t want to lose anyone.’”

Garcia was “the rock and foundation” for her family, Mathis said. As a teen, Garcia cared for siblings while her parents worked. She also volunteered at the neighborhood Boys & Girls Club.

When Garcia learned about the health care gaps faced by Spanish speakers, she joined the hospital. There, she was “surprised at how much she could help,” Mathis said, “and how many needed her.”

The week after she picked up a Sunday shift, she developed a fever. Mathis was not sure whether she received personal protective equipment (PPE). “Our PPE policies have always followed CDC guidance,” the hospital said through a spokesperson.

The symptoms “wouldn’t go away,” Mathis said. “It just doesn’t feel real. There were so many things she had unfinished.”

Eli Cahan | Published June 10, 2020

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A Friendly Nursing Assistant Who Worked Into Her 70s

Antonia ‘Tony’ Sisemore

Age: 72
Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of Work: Stollwood Convalescent Hospital at St. John’s Retirement Village in Woodland, California
Date of Death: April 30, 2020

Antonia Sisemore always wore a smile — around her family, at church and at her job at a retirement home, where she worked through the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Facebook post, her colleagues called her “one of our most talented and dedicated CNAs.” She worked “tirelessly and unfailingly to deliver care, compassion, and love to those more vulnerable than herself,” it said. (Her family declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Comments remarking on her kindness and work ethic poured in from patients and their families. “She went the extra mile to [make] sure I had what I needed and was comfortable,” wrote a former patient. “Tony was one of my mother’s caregivers,” wrote another Facebook user. “She was selfless … it breaks my heart that the residents will no longer have her.” Some mentioned that Sisemore cheered people up with her sense of humor. “I remembered you [danced] in front of me,” another former patient wrote.

Sisemore’s obituary says she battled COVID-19 for four weeks after passing away from complications from the virus. The nursing home where Sisemore worked reported 66 confirmed cases and 17 deaths according to county data. Over half of the infections were among staff members. The facility did not respond to requests for comment.

Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published June 10, 2020

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A Nurse, Family Linchpin And Generous Aunt

(Courtesy of Mario Thompson)

Adlin Thompson

Age: 56
Occupations: Certified nursing assistant and endoscopy technician
Places of Work: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Isabella Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in New York City
Date of Death: April 24, 2020

Adlin Thompson had 20 siblings and more than 30 nieces and nephews. Like her, many of them immigrated to New York City from St. Kitts and Nevis in the early 1980s. With such a large family, it was difficult to keep track of everyone, said Adlin’s son, Mario Thompson. But Adlin did — she was the glue who kept the family together.

Adlin worked long hours between her two jobs. When she wasn’t at the nursing home or the hospital, she visited family, and “never came home empty-handed,” often toting gifts of socks or perfume, Mario said.

Adlin cared for patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at both her jobs. She was always covered in protective gear, said Mario. Still, he worried that her asthma made her particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Mario believes she contracted the virus at the nursing home, where he said she had more direct contact with patients.

A spokesperson for the facility said it “followed state guidelines as it relates to infection prevention and control procedures.”

Adlin died four days after testing positive for COVID-19. She was alone in her home, preparing to go to the hospital.

— Lila Hassan | Published June 10, 2020

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Housing Supervisor Committed Herself To Helping The Vulnerable

(Courtesy of Barbara Abernathy)

Michelle Abernathy

Age: 52
Occupation: Residential services supervisor
Place of Work: Elisabeth Ludeman Developmental Center in Park Forest, Illinois
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Barbara Abernathy said she is trying to figure out what to do with six bins of toys her daughter bought for neighborhood children.

Growing up in Chatham, a middle-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Michelle Abernathy “was always trying to help somebody,” Barbara said.

Michelle spent decades investigating child abuse and neglect while holding night jobs mentoring children.

A supervisor at a state-run facility for developmentally disabled adults, she bought clothes, games and snacks for residents. A staff memo lauded her “big heart and nurturing personality.”

She fell ill March 28 and was hospitalized April 6, too weak to walk.

Three other workers at the facility died of COVID-19. A spokesperson for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents workers at Ludeman, said that early in the pandemic the staff had a “huge struggle” to get personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Illinois Department of Human Services said it “can’t say precisely” how workers caught the virus and was working to provide sufficient PPE.

After long professing that she was too busy for marriage, Abernathy recently had become engaged to Torrence Jones, a colleague. She had planned to surprise her mother with the news but never had the chance.

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Published June 5, 2020

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A Loving Bookkeeper Who ‘Had The Most Awesome Laugh’

(Courtesy of Sean Diaz)

Cassondra Grant Diaz

Age: 31
Occupation: Nursing home bookkeeper
Place of Work: Chelsea Place Care Center in Hartford, Connecticut
Date of Death: April 29, 2020

Cassondra Diaz was a receptionist-turned-bookkeeper at a nursing home in her hometown.

“She was my therapist, my fashion consultant, my hair designer,” said her older sister, Takara Chenice. “I called her my ‘big little sister.’”

Loved ones described her as “an old soul,” loyal to her family, including her husband, Sean Diaz. In their free time, the couple would hit the highway for a long drive, venturing to parks, lakes and the beach.

Her family believes she contracted the coronavirus at work. A spokesperson for Chelsea Place confirmed that the nursing home had COVID cases among staff and patients. It said staffers were provided with personal protective equipment. Despite wearing protective gear, removing her work clothes at the door and showering after work, Cassondra developed symptoms in mid-April.

On April 29, she woke up having difficulty breathing and pain in her leg, said Sean, who called an ambulance. She died that day.

Sean keeps a photo of her in their car. “My six years with her were better than any lifetime I had before her,” he said.

— Madeleine Kornfeld, City University of New York | Published June 5, 2020

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A Doting Family Man, He Was A Long-Standing Fixture At His Hospital

(Courtesy of Susan Ferranti and family)

David Ferranti

Age: 60
Occupation: Hospital equipment coordinator
Place of Work: St. Elizabeth‘s Medical Center in Brighton, Massachusetts
Date of Death: May 2, 2020

David Ferranti was committed to his two families — both at home and at work. In his job on the engineering unit, he was really part of every team in the hospital, wrote St. Elizabeth’s president, Harry Bane, in a note to employees. “He was always worried about ‘his nurses’ and ‘his departments’ having what they needed to best care for our patients.”

Ferranti worked at the hospital for almost 42 years “and he loved every day of it,” said his father, Savino Ferranti. St. Elizabeth’s was treating many COVID-19 patients when David became infected with the virus, his father said, but it was impossible to say where he caught it. St. Elizabeth’s had no further comment about his case.

Ferranti was a family man “and the greatest son you can imagine,” his father said. He had a wife, Susan, and a son, John.

Ferranti worked in his garden and enjoyed walks in nature. A history buff, he was born in Wiesbaden, Germany. His father, a descendant of Italian immigrants, served in the military there, where he met David’s mother, Renate.

For his family, tragedy hit twice within weeks. David’s aunt Ann Ferranti died of the disease a few weeks before David. The advice David would have given to anyone, said his father, “is to stay safe, whatever it takes.”

Katja Ridderbusch | Published June 5, 2020

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A Nurse For Whom Family Was Everything — And Patients Were Like Family

(Courtesy of the Mazzarella family)

Kelly Mazzarella

Age: 43
Occupation: Clinical nurse manager
Place of Work: Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital in Mount Vernon, New York
Date of Death: May 8, 2020

Even as a girl, Kelly Mazzarella had her sights set on helping others. She turned this innate altruism into a 16-year career at a community-based teaching hospital.

Karen Jedlicka was blown away by the care her big sister showed every patient. “People would be going through the worst things in their lives and she was just there for them,” Jedlicka said.

Mazzarella showed that same compassion with her husband, Ronnie Mazzarella, and daughters, Hailey and Kristina. She never missed an opportunity to tell her daughters how proud they made her, Jedlicka said.

In July 2019, Mazzarella was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that brought on painful bouts of swelling. She worked on and off through March, helping with the influx of COVID patients. She was diagnosed on April 2 and died five weeks later. Her employer did not respond to requests for comment.

Nicol Maursky, a lifelong friend, organized a GoFundMe for the family. A staggering outpouring has brought in close to $75,000.

“She just had such a love and a light that emanated from her,” Jedlicka said. It’s “very comforting to know everybody felt the same way that we did.”

— Suzannah Cavanaugh, City University of New York | Published June 5, 2020

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A Proud New Orleanian And Community Caretaker

(Courtesy of Talisa Pace)

Jana Prince

Age: 43
Occupation: Case manager
Place of Work: Salvation Army in New Orleans, Louisiana
Date of Death: April 6, 2020

A “natural New Orleanian,” Jana Prince was bubbly and loving, her brother Paul Prince said.

Since high school, Jana knew she wanted to be a social worker. She grew up with cerebral palsy, wearing a leg brace and diligently practicing physical therapy so she could walk. Kids bullied her about her disability, but nothing would stop Jana from connecting with her community.

“She was trying to share her strength with other people, because she just didn’t want to see people suffer,” cousin Talisa Pace said. “She really wanted to help the Black community.”

One day in mid-March, Jana had trouble breathing, Paul said. She was hospitalized for more than a week before she was intubated, and died the next day. The family said they did not know whether she was infected at work, especially given how early she became infected; the Salvation Army declined to comment.

Her mother, Barbara Prince, died of the virus three days later.

The duo lived together and got on like Laverne and Shirley. They often took care of Paul’s twin 6-year-old boys. “I don’t know how one would have survived without the other,” Paul said.

Jana and Pace had dreamed of opening a coffee shop and counseling center. “She would have been the highlight of the whole place,” Pace said.

— Theresa Gaffney, City University of New York | Published June 5, 2020

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‘She Always Listened And Never Judged’

(Courtesy of Tiana Mohabir)

Tina Reeves

Age: 58
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, Ohio
Date of Death: April 27, 2020

When Tina Reeves visited her grandchildren, music would blast from the car. Wale’s “On Chill” rang out: “Trying to hear all your problems, so I can lighten the load.”

“She loved her music,” said daughter Tiana Mohabir, “even though she had no rhythm for squat.”

Reeves had an ear for the rhythm in other people’s lives, though. Younger co-workers called her “Mother Advice,” Mohabir said. In interactions with prisoners and officers alike “she always listened,” Mohabir said, “and never judged.”

She called her three daughters daily, “checking in on all of us.”

When Reeves started coughing in early April, Pickaway Correctional had already reported more than 1,500 cases of COVID-19.

“PPE [personal protective equipment] was, and continues to be, available to staff,” a prison spokesperson said. The family said their mother did not have access to adequate PPE.

By April 13, Reeves was hospitalized with COVID-19. She called her daughter to ask her to take care of paying her utility, insurance and cable bills. “I didn’t think twice,” Mohabir said, “because I didn’t want them shut off when she got home.”

Within 24 hours, Reeves was intubated. On the bedside table, her phone kept ringing.

Eli Cahan | Published June 5, 2020

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An ‘Icon,’ Hospital Secretary ‘Brightened Every Situation’

(Courtesy of Glenna Swann)

Joan Swann

Age: 70
Occupation: Intensive care unit secretary
Place of Work: Kent Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island
Date of Death: April 29, 2020

When things were slow at the hospital, Joan Swann would head down to the gift shop.

If someone was having a hard day — the security guard, the patient transporter, the barista — she might buy them a candle. Or charm bracelet. Or a Vera Bradley handbag.

“She brightened every situation,” said Glenna Swann, her daughter. A former nurse, Joan coached trainees from behind the administrative desk. They called her an “icon” who was the reason many stayed working in the intensive care unit.

When Joan was admitted to the hospital, those she had long cared for returned the favor. Her isolation room was adorned with blue hearts, and following her intubation, the nurses would FaceTime the family in. During quiet hours, they sat at her bedside.

The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

After Joan died, the family found “thousands upon thousands” of unused greeting cards, sorted by occasion (weddings or Christmas) and emotion (sympathy or humor).

In the coming weeks, Joan’s cherished grandson, Adam, will complete high school. Glenna is still choosing from among Joan’s graduation cards for him.

Eli Cahan | Published June 5, 2020

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In A Family Who Lost Both Mother And Son, Food Was Love

(Courtesy of Lloyd Torres)

Louis Torres

Age: 47
Occupation: Food service director
Place of Work: Queens Boulevard Extended Care Facility in Woodside, New York
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Louis Torres went into the family business. He grew up adoring his mother’s Philippine home cooking, so it was natural to channel his passion for food into comforting others. As a food service director at a nursing home in his native Queens, he could cook and work in health care as his mother did.

Feeling terrible on March 30, Louis called his older brother, Lloyd, after work. “He was struggling to make it from the subway station,” Lloyd said.

Louis lived with his mother, Lolita, 73, a retired hospital clerk. She also had severe COVID-19 symptoms.

By the next day, mother and son had been taken by ambulance to separate hospitals. In the chaos, Lloyd said, it took an entire day of panicked calls to find their mother, who was still in the emergency room.

A few days later, Lloyd was able to pray the rosary with Lolita over the phone, and it seemed to calm her. Before they hung up, she asked that Lloyd take care of his brother. Louis made the same request about his mother before going on a ventilator.

“Their last words to me [were to] take care of each other, my God,” Lloyd said, his voice cracking.

On April 7, Lolita died. Louis died the next day.

In the weeks since then, Lloyd was comforted by a powerful dream.

“I woke up and smelled the frying of food,” he said, invoking his mother’s cooking. “That’s how she showed her love.”

— Kathleen Horan | Published June 5, 2020

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Theater Brought Them Together, Then Life Imitated Art

(Courtesy of Harriet Clark Webber)

Barry Webber

Age: 67
Occupation: General surgeon
Place of Work: Mount Sinai Queens in New York City
Date of Death: April 18, 2020

Barry Webber wanted to understand how things worked. That curiosity and drive motivated him to reconstruct an old Jeep, build a computer, take up rock climbing and, of course, become a surgeon.

He pursued medicine when he realized he wasn’t going to become a concert pianist, said his wife, Harriet Clark Webber.

They met when Harriet was a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and Barry moonlit as a supernumerary — a non-dancing extra on stage — for the company. “He just wanted to be around the theater,” she said.

Barry honed his surgery skills in a Brooklyn emergency room in the 1980s. “It was a rough time to be in an ER in Brooklyn,” Harriet said. “He was treating a lot of gunshot wounds and trauma.”

They married in 1996 and had two sons, now 22 and 20.

Like so many Americans, when COVID-19 struck, the couple watched “Contagion,” a 2011 film about a pandemic. Barry said it gave him a bad feeling.

On March 27, his fears were realized. He texted his wife: “I’m sick.”

Harriet believes he contracted the virus at work before the hospital ordered the universal use of protective gear.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published June 5, 2020

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Brooklyn Radiologist Was ‘Kind, Simple, Loving And Devoted’

David Wolin and his daughter, Helena Cawley (Courtesy of Helena Cawley)

David Wolin

Age: 74
Occupation: Radiologist
Place of Work: The Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

By 10 a.m. on Sundays, David Wolin and his wife, Susan, would have completed one-quarter of the New York Times crossword.

When the grandchildren arrived, Wolin greeted them with bagels, lox, whitefish “and the best scrambled eggs in the entire world,” said Helena Cawley, his daughter.

Wolin was “kind, simple, loving and devoted.” A radiologist specializing in mammography, he was “committed to learning everything he could,” Cawley said. “The latest medical journal was always on his nightstand.”

He and Susan would skip off to their home upstate on Wolf Lake, where they might take out a rowboat, a bottle of chardonnay and a brick of Roquefort cheese under the stars. “All they needed was each other,” Cawley said.

In late March, Wolin complained of “bad colds” but deferred testing. Brooklyn Hospital was overwhelmed with COVID-19. A hospital spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

On March 30, when Cawley couldn’t reach her father, she called the doorman of his building. He reluctantly shared the news: Wolin had died overnight.

Susan was hospitalized that day and died weeks later. “We’re grateful in a way,” Cawley said, “because we don’t know how they could have lived without each other.”

Eli Cahan | Published June 5, 2020

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‘Working There Was The Proudest Accomplishment Of His Life’

(Courtesy of Maria Joy Agtarap)

Romeo Agtarap

Age: 63
Occupation: Emergency room nurse
Place of Work: NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City
Date of Death: April 24, 2020

Joy and Romeo Agtarap met in Queens in the 1980s, when they were both young nurses, newly arrived from the Philippines. Joy Agtarap said her husband was a jokester who had a vibrant personality that often made him the life of the party. At gatherings, he liked to get people onto the dance floor.

“He’s a very good dancer ― sometimes he made the line dances too hard and people would get lost!” she remembered.

He was also a dedicated emergency room nurse. Agtarap had spent 20 years at what his wife said was his “dream job” at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

“Working there was the proudest accomplishment of his life,” she said. He was still seeing patients when the pandemic hit. (The hospital did not respond to requests to comment on whether he had adequate personal protective equipment).

Romeo was diagnosed with COVID-19 in late March. Joy, who had left nursing due to an injury, became sick a week later. They were both hospitalized ― he at NewYork-Presbyterian and she at a facility on Long Island. As Joy recovered, she anxiously awaited updates on her husband’s condition.

“It was the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me. I was going crazy in there waiting for calls about him,” she said. He died on April 24. “I believe he took the worst of the virus for me, that’s why I’m still here,” she said.

Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published June 2, 2020

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As Nurse And Minister, She Tended To Her Patients, Flock ― And Garden

(Courtesy of Elijah Ailende)

Felicia Ailende

Age: 67
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Bria of Forest Edge in Chicago
Date of Death: April 20, 2020

Felicia Ailende was a beacon of unity to her family and members of Maranatha Chapel in Evergreen Park, Illinois, where she was a minister. She counseled many, helping keep marriages intact and lives on track, her son Elijah Ailende said. Though her six children were very different from one another, she saw the best in each.

An immigrant from Nigeria, she planted a garden each year and used the produce to cook West African dishes. When there were too many cucumbers, hot peppers or greens, she shared with neighbors.

At Bria of Forest Edge, a nursing home, Felicia cooked for residents at times or prayed for them, Elijah said.

Administrator Julie Kosman said in a statement that Ailende was a hardworking nurse who was pleasant and funny and had a great rapport with residents.

She is one of three workers at the facility who have died of COVID-19; two residents also died. The facility reported 132 infections.

Elijah said staffers had to reuse surgical masks provided by the facility. Administrators did not tell them when residents and other staff members got the virus “so they could take precautions and safeguard their lives,” he said.

Kosman’s statement says “full PPE” — personal protective equipment — was available to staffers and there is no reason to believe Ailende was exposed to COVID-19 “within our facility.” She “had no known contact with any resident or staff member who showed symptoms or had tested positive for COVID-19.”

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published June 2, 2020

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He Practiced What He Preached, Caring For Inmates With Mental Illness

(Courtesy of Gwendolyn Davis)

Bishop Bruce Edward Davis

Age: 57
Occupation: Shift leader for forensic service technicians
Place of Work: Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia
Date of Death: April 11, 2020

In sermons at his Pentecostal church, Bishop Bruce Davis preached love. On weekdays, he practiced it by feeding, bathing and caring for patients at a maximum-security psychiatric hospital. Davis worked for 27 years at the state facility, said his wife, Gwendolyn Davis.

As a boy, Davis would break his pencils in half to share with his twin sister. At church, he hosted youth parades and gave away computers, bicycles and groceries. He distilled the Bible into simple lessons, she said, once winning over a parishioner with a sermon based on “The Wizard of Oz.”

When COVID-19 emerged, Davis and his co-workers at the psychiatric facility were told they couldn’t wear masks or gloves because it wasn’t part of their uniform, she said. Five days after a close co-worker tested positive for COVID-19, Davis was hospitalized, she said.

More than 70 workers at the hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, according to state data; Davis is one of two who have died. A hospital spokesperson declined to comment on Davis’ case.

After Davis’ illness, his entire household – Gwendolyn, three children and a grandchild – got sick with COVID-19, Gwendolyn said. Their adult son, who has autism, was hospitalized, Gwendolyn said. Their daughter, 22, recovered and returned to work at the same hospital.

“It is extremely hard for her to go back to work there,” Gwendolyn said.

Melissa Bailey | Published June 2, 2020

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Dedicated Dad And Technologist ‘Was As Smart As They Come’

(Courtesy of Junette Francis)

Devin Francis

Age: 44
Occupation: Radiologic technologist
Place of Work: Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Devin Francis was due to get married June 27 to his longtime love, Micela Scott, mother of their 11-year-old daughter, Dekayla.

Scott said her fiancé was a devoted father.

“He’d take [Dekayla] to school every morning. He’d help her with her homework,” she said. “He just wanted peace to his life and us to have a good life.”

“He had a very jovial spirit,” said his youngest sister, Junette Francis.

Devin took a COVID test at Jackson Memorial after his shift on April 6 — it came back positive. His breathing became labored and he died at home early on April 8.

His family and a hospital representative said it was unclear whether he came into contact with patients with COVID-19. Devin also worked in fleet services for American Airlines.

Colleagues admired his work ethic.

“No matter where we were in life, he never had less than two jobs,” said Milton Gonzalez, a hospital co-worker. “He was as smart as they come.”

Sharon Jayson | Published June 2, 2020

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A Pediatric Neurosurgeon Who Separated Conjoined Twins

(Courtesy of Judy Goodrich)

James Goodrich

Age: 73
Occupation: Pediatric neurosurgeon
Place of Work: Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York City
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

James Goodrich was a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, best known for separating conjoined twins ― a rare and risky procedure. Over the course of his career, he was directly involved in about 10 cases, advising on dozens more.

A late bloomer academically, Goodrich began his undergraduate studies at age 24, after returning from Vietnam, where he served in the Marines.

“He had seen a neurosurgeon when he was in Vietnam, and he just was fascinated at what they were able to do,” said Judy Goodrich, his wife of 50 years. “I thought, just try to become a doctor first.”

He was also known for innovations regarding conditions affecting the skull. He helped develop standards for treating craniosynostosis, in which the bones of a child’s skull fuse too soon, preventing the brain from growing properly.

Goodrich was an avid collector ― of antique medical books, pre-Columbian medical artifacts, rare watches and fine wines, among other things. He surfed, cultivated bonsai trees and played the didgeridoo.

He had seen patients in the clinic in early March, just before flying to Mexico for a family vacation. He soon began to feel ill, and when he returned to New York, he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He was hospitalized on March 25 and died five days later.

Read more here.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published June 2, 2020

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She Brought ‘Calming Presence’ And Fun To Nursing Home

(Courtesy of Howard Fox Jr.)

Leola Grady

Age: 59
Occupation: Recreational aide
Place of Work: Bria of Forest Edge in Chicago
Date of Death: April 10, 2020

Leola Grady had planned to be with her son and granddaughter in Mississippi for Mother’s Day but did not live to make the trip.

At the Bria of Forest Edge nursing home, she entertained residents, including with a “good game of cards,” administrator Julie Kosman said. “She had a calming presence about her.”

When Grady fell ill, a nurse at the facility was already sick with the coronavirus. A nursing aide whose name has not been released also died of COVID-19. Staff at the facility, with SEIU union leaders, spoke out saying they were unaware their co-workers were dying until they saw it on the news.

Howard Fox Jr., Grady’s son, said his mother was his best friend. An honest, straightforward and loving person, she enjoyed listening to the blues. “I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat it,” he said. “It hurts. … I look at our picture. I cry.”

Fox said his mother went to a Chicago hospital with COVID symptoms but was sent home. She was found dead several days later. A Cook County spokesperson confirmed she died of pneumonia due to COVID-19.

Kosman said the facility does not believe Grady or the nurse, Felicia Ailende, “were exposed to COVID-19 within our facility. They had no known contact with any resident or staff member who showed symptoms or had tested positive for COVID-19.”

As of May 27, Bria of Forest Edge has reported 132 coronavirus cases and two deaths to Illinois officials. In the statement, Kosman said it reported worker deaths to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which shows three pending death investigations at the facility.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published June 2, 2020

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Young Nurse Lived A Life Of ‘No Regrets’

(Courtesy of the Guzman family)

Krist Angielen Castro Guzman

Age: 35
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Meadowbrook Manor in Bolingbrook, Illinois
Date of Death: May 2, 2020

Krist Guzman packed a lot into her short life. She worked full time while studying to become a registered nurse. She had three children, one a newborn.

Smart, funny and outgoing, she nurtured relationships.

“Hers was a life of no regrets,” said a cousin, Jeschelyn Pilar.

In a Navy family that moved often, she was close with her brother, Anjo Castro.

“She was my role model,” said Castro, who also pursued a medical career as an independent duty corpsman in the Navy.

The pandemic hit home when their uncle, pediatric surgeon Dr. Leandro Resurreccion III, died March 31.

Guzman told family she had seen COVID patients. Worried she didn’t have adequate protective gear, she scrambled to find some online.

Meadowbrook has registered the worst COVID outbreak in Illinois, with more than three dozen deaths. Nursing home spokesperson Marissa Kaplan said in a statement: “Meadowbrook puts the safety and welfare of its residents and staff at the forefront of everything we do.” She did not address whether there was sufficient protective gear.

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Published June 2, 2020

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Selfless Nephrologist Fought For Her Life While Treating Others

(Courtesy of the Khanna family)

Priya Khanna

Age: 43
Occupation: Nephrologist
Place of Work: Khanna Nephrology in Glen Ridge, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Priya Khanna came from a family of doctors, and she knew the risks of contracting the deadly coronavirus. She was immunocompromised and actively seeing patients days before she became ill with COVID-19.

On April 1, Priya was hospitalized in the same facility where her father, Satyender Dev Khanna, had been brought days earlier. He was also being treated for COVID-19.

From her hospital bed, Priya checked in on friends, reviewed patient files and communicated with the physician who was seeing patients in her stead. She continued to do so until she was put on the ventilator.

“She literally worked for others until she could no longer breathe for herself. That was Priya,” said childhood friend Justin Vandergaag. “Always putting others first with a smile.”

“She was a devoted daughter, sister and aunt,” said childhood friend Laura Stanfill. “Her healing gifts extended not only to her patients but, in the many ways, she made everyone in her life feel important and loved.”

Read more here.

— Natalia Megas | Published June 2, 2020

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‘He’s One Of Our Legends’

(Courtesy Stephanie Mahoney)

James ‘Charlie’ Mahoney

Age: 62
Occupation: Pulmonologist
Place of Work: SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York City
Date of Death: April 27, 2020

James “Charlie” Mahoney eschewed hospital hierarchies.

“He didn’t treat people like underlings,” said his sister, Saundra Chisholm. “He would talk to housekeeping like he would talk to the chief of the hospital. That’s why he was so well respected.”

Growing up on Long Island, Mahoney was an ace student and athlete. He was one of only a handful of Black students at his medical school and throughout his training. He and his brother, Melvin Mahoney, worked side by side at SUNY Downstate for many years, a public hospital that treats a mostly minority and low-income patient population.

When the pandemic hit New York in March, Mahoney, who specialized in respiratory care, “ran into the fire,” Melvin said. But his hospital, like other underfunded public institutions in the city, was short of protective equipment and staff.

Mahoney started experiencing symptoms in early April, and was hospitalized soon after. He died on April 27.

“He’s one of our legends ― he’s one of our giants,” said Julien Cavanaugh, a neurology fellow at SUNY Downstate who trained under Mahoney.

Read more here.

Ankita Rao, The Guardian | Published June 2, 2020

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Psychiatric Nurse Knew Her Patients’ Hometowns And Hobbies

(Courtesy of Eddie Ballard)

Shenetta White-Ballard

Age: 44
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Legacy Nursing and Rehabilitation of Port Allen, Louisiana
Date of Death: May 1, 2020

Eddie Ballard was baking “Pecan Delight” pie at the Piccadilly Cafeteria in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when Shenetta White, accompanying her auntie and grandmother, leaned over the buffet counter to grab a Jell-O.

“She gave me this look,” Ballard said, and he gathered the confidence to ask for her number. On their first date he quickly realized “not only was she beautiful, but she was mature beyond her years.”

That maturity manifested across her life.

As a nurse to psychiatric patients, she was adored by those she “saw as people more than just patients,” Ballard said. She knew their parents’ names, their hometowns and hobbies. At home, White-Ballard was “queen of the house,” Ballard said. She handled the errands and the finances, while “her two boys [Ballard and his son, Warren] hung on whatever she asked.”

With a preexisting condition, White-Ballard depended on supplemental oxygen. She died May 1, just three days after developing COVID-19 symptoms.

In an email, a Legacy spokesperson wrote that the facility had followed all guidelines and “had more than enough PPE.”

The first piece of jewelry Ballard bought his wife was a bracelet that read: “Love is patient, love is kind, love never ends.”

“I hadn’t read that in 11 years,” he said, “but boy, it’s still true.”

Eli Cahan | Published June 2, 2020

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From His ICU Bed, Nurse Planned To Help Fight COVID After Recovery

Christopher Dean with his wife, Natalya Kubaevskaya (Photo by Donna Dean/Courtesy of Natalya Kubaevskaya)

Christopher Dean

Age: 37
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Northport VA Medical Center’s Valley Stream Clinic in Valley Stream, New York
Date of Death: April 15, 2020

When Christopher Dean went to the emergency room, he was “absolutely positive” he would be in the hospital a few days, get some fluids and oxygen and then go home.

“He was always optimistic, full of life,” said Natalya Kubaevskaya, his wife of 10 years. “And he had a big heart.”

When tests came back positive for COVID-19, he planned to recover and then help fight the disease by donating blood and plasma. Three weeks later, he was dead.

He had mild asthma, his wife said, but was a healthy man who loved snowboarding, swimming and racquetball.

His father, Alvin Dean, shared on a GoFundMe page that Christopher Dean caught the coronavirus at work. Northport said by email that it provided “PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Kubaevskaya, who recently finished treatment for breast cancer, said Dean pushed her to keep going.

Daughter Donna, 15, struggles with her adoptive father’s death. “There are moments,” Kubaevskaya said, “when she tries to convince herself that he’s still in the hospital and will come home soon.”

Katja Ridderbusch | Published May 29, 2020

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A Robotic Surgery Expert Who ‘Just Made Everything Fun’

(Courtesy of the Lopez family)

Maria Lopez

Age: 63
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago
Date of Death: May 4, 2020

“What lady? I don’t see a lady here.”

That was the sort of self-deprecating comment Maria Lopez would fire back when teased by a co-worker about an etiquette faux pas in the operating room.

Lopez knew how to break the tension, said chief nurse anesthetist Mary Ann Zervakis Brent, a colleague since 2005. Lopez called everyone “amigo” or “amiga,” regardless of rank.

“She just made everything fun,” Zervakis Brent said.

Lopez was an expert in robotic surgery and trained others to use the equipment.

She taught her two daughters to be independent. The oldest of nine kids, Lopez fought her father’s expectation that she forgo college, said her daughter Maria, who was named for her.

Lopez’s symptoms appeared days after she returned to work from leave for knee surgery. She planned to retire April 30.

In the hospital, Lopez tried to stay positive. Yet during one FaceTime call, daughter Maria said, “she just broke down. She said, ‘I wouldn’t want anyone I love going through what I’m going through right now.’”

A hospital official confirmed in a statement that Lopez died of complications of COVID-19.

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Published May 29, 2020

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With Retirement In Sight, She Died Awaiting COVID Test Results

(Courtesy of Hannilette Huelgas)

Hazel Mijares

Age: 66
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Amsterdam Nursing Home in New York City
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

Faith was central to Hazel Mijares’ life. She was a lay leader at Trinity United Methodist Church in Jersey City, New Jersey.

She was drawn to church as a child in the Philippines, sister Hannilette Huelgas said. Theirs was a big family with nine children. At get-togethers, Mijares always led the prayers.

After a long career, Mijares was finally ready to retire in late March.

She worked through March 13, burned up accrued paid time off, then stopped back a week later for her last day. As she said her goodbyes, she noticed a little cough.

Learning that one of her patients had died of COVID-19, Mijares tried several times to get tested. Her results were expected March 30. When Huelgas called that day, Mijares didn’t answer. She had died waiting for the results, which the family learned were positive.

As of May 24, the nursing home had recorded 45 presumed-COVID deaths. Officials there did not respond to requests for comment, but a phone recording updated May 21 said they had “completed COVID-19 testing of residents” and had “begun testing of all staff.”

“Our dedicated and caring staff are continuing the Amsterdam tradition of providing exceptional care,” the recording noted.

Mijares “had wanted to go to Jerusalem, to the Philippines,” Huelgas said. “And she didn’t even get to enjoy retirement.”

Maureen O’Hagan | Published May 29, 2020

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You Could Count On Him ‘For Anything’

(Courtesy of Griselda Bubb-Johnson)

Adiel Montgomery

Age: 39
Occupation: Security guard
Place of Work: Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: April 5, 2020

When Griselda Bubb-Johnson couldn’t reach her friend Marva — hospitalized with COVID-19 — Bubb-Johnson called her son, Adiel Montgomery.

Montgomery, a security guard in the hospital’s emergency department, found Marva in the ICU. He then did “everything for her,” Bubb-Johnson said. When Marva was cold, he got a blanket. When she was hungry, he got food. When her phone died, he found a charger.

“Some people boast about their children, but I didn’t have to,” Bubb-Johnson said, “because everybody knew you could count on Adiel for anything.”

Montgomery doted on residents as a part-time supervisor at the Urban Resource Institute, a domestic violence shelter. He invited his godbrothers for Golden State Warriors games, Thanksgiving and sometimes for his mom’s renowned oxtail dish.

Two weeks after Montgomery noted he couldn’t taste his lunch, he experienced acute chest pain. When, after 12 hours in the ER, his heart stopped “nobody could believe it,” Bubb-Johnson said.

Montgomery was vocal about a lack of personal protective equipment for hospital security guards, according to a New York Times report. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

Montgomery’s 14-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, never got to say goodbye. She wrote a poem to put in the coffin.

“Don’t worry,” Bubb-Johnson told her. “He’ll read it. I promise.”

Eli Cahan | Published May 29, 2020

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Traveling Nurse ‘Wanted To Be Somebody’

(Courtesy of Daniel Perea)

David Joel Perea

Age: 35
Occupation: Traveling registered nurse
Place of Work: Lakeside Health & Wellness Suites in Reno, Nevada, via MAS Medical Staffing
Date of Death: April 19, 2020

David Joel Perea would call in from Maine, Vermont, Minnesota and, ultimately, Nevada, with the same request: “Mom, can you send tamales?” Dominga Perea would ship them overnight. This is how she always knew where her son was.

A traveling nurse routinely pulling 80-hour weeks, David “had a tremendous work ethic,” said his brother, Daniel. A young David, returning from his father’s mechanic shop, said, “I don’t want to spend life sweating under a car,” Dominga recalled. “I want to be somebody.”

Dominga was proud of him, “for doing God’s work.”

When “mijito” didn’t respond to her text April 6, Dominga knew something was wrong: “I could always tell how David was. If he said ‘Hi, Mama,’ he was happy. If he said ‘I’m fine, Mom,’ he was tired.”

This time he said neither. “Don’t panic, Mama,” David wrote, “just pray for me. I have the COVID.”

His workplace did not respond to requests for comment.

David FaceTimed with his mother on Easter Sunday. “He was starving, but he struggled even eating mashed potatoes,” Dominga said, “because he couldn’t breathe.” The next morning, he was on a ventilator and never woke up.

Eli Cahan | Published May 29, 2020

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His Church Became His Second Home

(Courtesy of Lean Carlo Romualdo)

Ritchie Villena

Age: 44
Occupation: Physical therapist
Place of Work: SportsMed Physical Therapy clinic in Glen Rock, New Jersey, placed by AHVIA Staffing Solutions in Jersey City
Date of Death: April 15, 2020

When Ritchie Villena emigrated from the Philippines in 2011 after studying physical therapy, he struggled. Then he got in touch with Lean Carlo Romualdo, a fellow Filipino physical therapist in New York state. Villena moved in with him and secured a good job at a sports medicine clinic.

He became devoted to his church, Iglesia Ni Cristo, where he spent hours singing with the choir and practicing the organ. “He’s not an outgoing person,” Romualdo said. “But if you ask people in his religious group here in Rockland County, everyone will know him.”

Romualdo’s 7-year-old still plays the “Baby Shark” song Villena taught him on the piano, asking, “Is Uncle Ritchie coming back home?”

It’s unclear how Villena contracted the coronavirus. According to the staffing agency, he worked until March 13 and took ill the following week. On March 26, he called 911 with difficulty breathing; he was hospitalized until his death.

Villena, who only recently gained permanent residency status, hadn’t seen his family in nine years. “Every time his mom calls me, she wants to see Ritchie’s stuff,” Romualdo said. As he gives a video tour of Villena’s room, she can’t stop crying. He promised to pack everything and send it home.

Maureen O’Hagan | Published May 29, 2020

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Nurse With ‘Heartwarming’ Smile Did Her Best For Her Children

(Courtesy of Anderson Family)

Jenniffer Anderson-Davis

Age: 44
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Meramec Bluffs Life Plan Community in Ballwin, Missouri
Date of Death: April 14, 2020

As a single mother, Jenniffer Anderson-Davis was determined to give her three children everything they needed, so she pursued her nursing degree while delivering pizza to make ends meet.

“She always did the best that she could to give them the best life,” her brother Earl Anderson said.

Most recently, Anderson-Davis worked as an admission and discharge nurse at a senior living community. Her mother, Edna Anderson, said that Anderson-Davis was concerned about residents who returned to the facility after visiting Florida (it has since banned reentry for residents who spent time away).

Anderson-Davis tested positive for COVID-19 on April 9 and died at home five days later. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened a fatality investigation at Meramec Bluffs on April 16.

Lutheran Senior Services, the nonprofit that operates Meramec Bluffs, acknowledged Anderson-Davis’ death but did not respond to specific questions about her case. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Jenniffer’s coworkers remember her as a thorough and well-respected nurse who had a smile that could warm any heart.”

Cara Anthony, Kaiser Health News | Published May 26, 2020

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A Tireless Nurse, She Loved Her Children And Travel

(Courtesy Stefaney Cicala)

Susan Cicala

Age: 60
Occupation: Registered nurse
Places of Work: Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey; Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 4, 2020

Susan Cicala worked long hours. A typical workday began at the hospital surgery department at 5:30 a.m. She’d work there until 2 p.m., and an hour later would start her next eight-hour shift at a nearby state prison. She worked weekends, too.

As for sleep? “She must have slept somewhere, but I don’t know,” her son, Steven Cicala, said with a laugh. “She was the hardest worker I ever met.”

Reminiscing on Facebook, colleagues said she talked about her two children constantly. She started wrapping Christmas presents in May. She loved to travel, to Disney World and national parks, and saw vacations as opportunities to learn about the world beyond New Jersey — on a trip to Hawaii, she delved into the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Cicala became sick in late March and died in early April; her family said they presume she contracted the virus at one of her jobs.

“She didn’t go anywhere else,” Steven said.

As of May 21, the New Jersey Department of Corrections had tallied 152 COVID-19 cases at the prison where Cicala worked; 134 of those diagnoses were among staffers. In early May, the union representing Cicala and other workers filed a safety complaint saying precautions have been inadequate and may have led to Cicala’s death. A spokesperson for the prison health care agency that employed Cicala said that it had followed all state and federal guidelines, and that the staff was provided with personal protective equipment.

Maureen O’Hagan | Published May 26, 2020

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The Single Mother Dreamed Of Opening A Nursing Home

(Courtesy of Rebecca Gbodi)

Helen Gbodi

Age: 54
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
Date of Death: April 19, 2020

Helen Gbodi was known for helping elderly neighbors and fellow churchgoers — picking up their medications and groceries and accompanying them on walks. She even dispatched her daughter, Rebecca Gbodi, to shovel snow in neighbors’ driveways.

“Even when she didn’t have a lot, she would always give,” Rebecca said of her mother, who worked long hours to put her children through college and helped pay school fees for other relatives. This year, she embarked on her own dream: crafting plans to open her own nursing home, her daughter said.

Gbodi understood the severity of COVID-19 early on. In March, she called every person in her contacts list, including people she hadn’t talked to in years, to make sure they were aware and taking precautions, her daughter said. Though she did not actively care for patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, such patients were being treated on her floor, her daughter said.

Days later, she was fighting for her life. By the time she was hospitalized with COVID-19, she was too weak to lift her arm for a virtual handshake with her daughter on FaceTime.

“At the end of the day, she was willing to put her life in danger for others,” Rebecca said.

Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published May 26, 2020

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Always Upbeat, Patient Transporter Was A Sewing Wiz

(Courtesy of the Ismayl family)

Gabrail ‘Gabe’ Ismayl

Age: 62
Occupation: Patient transport worker
Place of Work: Swedish Hospital in Chicago
Date of Death: May 6, 2020

Caring, upbeat, always first to arrive at a party. Gabrail Ismayl loved an excuse to don a suit and splash on cologne.

That’s how Fidelline Youhanna remembers her uncle. “Everybody loved Gaby,” she said.

After migrating from Syria in the 1980s, Ismayl ran wholesale clothing shops on Chicago’s North Side. He was a wiz with the sewing machine and enjoyed altering dresses, making curtains and doing creative projects for family and friends.

Later, his people skills were an asset as he wheeled patients where they needed to go.

As the pandemic took hold, Ismayl worked despite health conditions that elevated his risk, Youhanna said.

“I think he just liked his job,” she said. “He made a lot of friends there.”

On May 6, Ismayl was self-isolating in the basement of the house he shared with two sisters. He was short of breath, Youhanna said. By evening, he was dead.

Ismayl was employed by management services company Sodexo. The CEO of its health care division in North America, Catherine Tabaka, said in a statement that his passing “is a tragic loss for Sodexo and we mourn an incredible friend and presence.”

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Published May 26, 2020

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Charismatic Surgical Technician Taught His Kids To Be ‘Faithful To Your Job’

(Courtesy of the Martinez family)

Juan Martinez

Age: 60
Occupation: Surgical technician
Place of Work: University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago
Date of Death: April 27, 2020

It was easy to befriend Juan Martinez.

The surgical technician “could start a conversation up with anyone about anything,” said Jose Moreno, an operating room nurse and co-worker.

He went out of his way to teach others what he learned from 34 years in the field, said his son, Juan Martinez Jr., who followed his dad’s career path at the same hospital.

The military veteran and former church pastor set an example “to be faithful to your job,” his son said.

Due to retire April 30, Martinez anticipated spending time with his grandchildren, traveling and opening Bible education centers in Mexico, his family said.

After feeling tired and feverish, he went to be tested for COVID-19 on April 17. His symptoms were so severe that he was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he worked.

Family members said Martinez did not engage in direct patient care but came in contact with staffers who did.

Juan Jr. said that losing his dad has been like a nightmare, and that he and his siblings are “leaning on the Lord and praying a lot, just like how our father taught us.”

Mary Chris Jaklevic | Published May 26, 2020

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Memory Care Nurse Set Fear Aside

(Courtesy of Jessica Forbes)

Nina Forbes

Age: 56
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Silverado memory care facility in Alexandria, Virginia
Date of Death: April 25, 2020

Nina Forbes refused to let fear stop her from living.

She was terrified of flying. But a few years ago, Forbes got on a plane for the first time to watch her younger daughter Jennifer play volleyball.

COVID-19 also scared Forbes, and as a nurse at an assisted living facility, she knew the virus posed a serious risk. Still, she continued showing up to work.

Forbes tested COVID-positive just after Easter. Chills, body aches and a fever kept her from attending family dinner that Sunday. By the following weekend, she struggled to breathe and couldn’t walk on her own. An ambulance took her to the hospital.

Her older daughter, Jessica, said her mother didn’t have the necessary protection at work. Forbes sometimes wore trash bags to protect herself, she said.

In a statement, a representative for the facility said it met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for personal protective equipment. Employees sometimes used trash bags as an added layer of protection, worn over a disposable gown, according to the representative.

Forbes appeared to do what she wanted even in her final moments. Jennifer was able to visit her mother in the hospital, and Forbes died shortly after she left, Jessica said. “It was like she waited for her to leave.”

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News | Published May 19, 2020

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A Family Man Who Loved Disney, Took Risks To Help Others

(Courtesy of AMR Southwest Mississippi)

David Martin

Age: 52
Occupation: Paramedic
Place of Work: AMR Southwest Mississippi, covering Amite and Wilkinson counties
Date of Death: April 22, 2020

On March 22, David Martin changed his Facebook profile picture. Around his smiling face, the frame read, “I can’t stay home … I’m a healthcare worker.”

Outside of work, he was a dedicated family man with two children, known for his love of Disney.

Martin, who covered 1,420 square miles across two rural counties, had cared for people with suspected COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to his death, said Tim Houghton, chief of operations for AMR Southwest Mississippi.

“We do what we do knowing the risks,” Houghton said. But Martin’s death was “a hard hit.”

On March 23, at the end of a shift, Martin told a supervisor he had mild flu symptoms. A month later, he died at a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

AMR paramedics had N95 masks and protective gear and followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Houghton said. “We have not yet had a shortage.”

In Facebook posts honoring Martin, colleagues described his excitement before trips to Disney World. In his memory, his fiancee, Jeanne Boudreaux, shared a photo of a hot air balloon ride at Disney Springs.

Michaela Gibson Morris | Published May 19, 2020

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For a 9/11 First Responder, ‘Sitting on the Sidelines Was Never in His DNA’

(Courtesy of Erin Esposito)

Matthew ‘Matty’ Moore

Age: 52
Occupation: Radiologic technologist
Place of Work: Northwell Health’s GoHealth Urgent Care in Eltingville, Staten Island, New York City
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

Matthew Moore “would give the shirt off his back to help others,” said his sister, Erin Esposito.

A former firefighter and Staten Island native, “Matty” Moore volunteered as a first responder for weeks after 9/11, “even when everyone else stopped going,” Esposito said.

Moore was known as “a gentle giant” in Prince’s Bay, his brother-in-law Adam Esposito said. He was a devoted churchgoer and a beloved member of “The Beach Boys Firehouse” (as Engine 161/81 was nicknamed).

He even came through as Santa Claus, delivering gifts on Christmas morning to the children of two firefighters who died on 9/11.

Moore became an X-ray technologist, cherishing the ability to help those seeking urgent care. When COVID-19 emerged, he continued showing up to work. “Sitting on the sidelines was never in his DNA,” Erin Esposito said.

At the time, the family was reassured that he was receiving the personal protective equipment he needed. Despite his precautions, when Matty contracted COVID-19, it tore through his lungs, which had been damaged at ground zero.

As Matty lay dying, Esposito sought to reassure her brother. “You’ve done enough for us,” she told him, over the phone. Moments later, Matty’s heart stopped beating.

Eli Cahan | Published May 19, 2020

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‘Gentle Soul’ Had A Brilliant Mind And A Big Heart

Neftali “Neff” Rios

Age: 37
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: St. Francis Hospital’s intensive care unit in Memphis, Tennessee
Date of Death: April 26, 2020

Hospital colleagues loved working with Neftali “Neff” Rios. He was humble, kind and capable, a “gentle soul” who always strived to learn something new. Not just smart — “I’m talking extremely intelligent,” his brother Josue Rios said. And he simply loved people. Nursing was a perfect fit.

Neff worked at a small hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, then earned his master’s in business administration with an emphasis on health care, and moved to St. Francis, hoping to enter management.

In mid-April, he came down with fever, body aches and a terrible cough and tested positive for the coronavirus. Several family members got sick, too. His parents were hospitalized.

On April 26, Neff collapsed at home, unable to catch his breath. His wife, Kristina, called 911, started CPR and waited for the EMTs. When they arrived, he had already died.

The family believes he was exposed at work. A spokesperson for the hospital declined to comment, citing family privacy.

“Neff was never scared” of catching the virus at work, Rios said. “You take an oath to take care of people, no matter what.”

Maureen O’Hagan | Published May 19, 2020

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His Warmth And Generosity Brought Diverse Clients To His Pharmacy

(Courtesy of the Titi family)

Saif Titi

Age: 72
Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of Work: Noble Pharmacy in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

When the pandemic hit, Saif Titi was working six days a week at his Jersey City pharmacy and had no interest in slowing down. As was his way, he wanted to be helpful.

“He didn’t really run it as a business,” said Titi’s son, Justin. “He wasn’t trying to make profit. He was really just trying to help people.”

Titi was born in Jaffa in the last days of British rule in Palestine and grew up a refugee in the Gaza Strip. After studying in Egypt, Austria and Spain, he immigrated to New Jersey in 1972 and bought Noble Pharmacy a decade later.

The pharmacy became a fixture in the community, known as a place immigrants could go for help and advice, often in their native language. If they couldn’t afford medication, Titi would give it to them for free. “All different types of people from different cultures would come and they would instantly fall in love with him,” Justin said.

Active in the local Arab American community, Titi gave to charity and sent money home regularly. A Facebook tribute included dozens of stories of his generosity and mentorship. “We all lost the sweetest and the most noble man on earth,” wrote one relative.

Titi, a father of three adult children, developed symptoms of COVID-19 in late March. He died in the hospital on April 7. His wife, Rachelle, also became infected and has taken some six weeks to recover. In quarantine, the family has been unable to grieve together.

Noa Yachot, The Guardian | Published May 19, 2020

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Social Worker Was A ‘Big Voice’ In His Community

(Courtesy of Donna Welch)

Gerald Welch

Age: 56
Occupation: Social worker and behavioral specialist
Place of Work: Opportunity Behavioral Health in Reading, Pennsylvania
Date of Death: April 15, 2020

Donna Welch had sworn she would “never, ever, ever get married again.” Then Gerald appeared.

They met on MySpace, and she quickly realized that “our spirits connected.” On their first date, at Donna’s house in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Gerald proposed — and Donna said yes. “It was like he came down on a bolt of lightning from heaven,” she said.

Gerald’s fiery passion and courage to speak out served him as a boardroom advocate for underperforming students in the school district, and at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, where he resurrected a scholarship now named in his honor.

“He had a big voice,” Donna said, “and he was not afraid to use it.” His “Families, Organizations and Communities United in Service” podcast combined Gerald’s lived experience overcoming drugs and his spirituality to support others struggling with addiction.

So even as the state’s COVID cases mounted, Gerald was a dutiful companion for his clients with severe autism — he took them to the supermarket in Lancaster and the laundromat in Lebanon. “Wherever they needed to go, he went,” Donna said. “He cared so much for them, and they loved him dearly.”

“We all did,” she added.

Eli Cahan | Published May 19, 2020

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Hardworking Immigrant Realized His Dream To Practice Medicine In US

Jesus Manuel Zambrano and his son, Jesus Manuel Jr.
(Courtesy of the Zambrano family)

Jesus Manuel Zambrano

Age: 54
Occupation: Pediatrician
Place of Work: Private practice in Freeport, New York; attending physician at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

Jesus Manuel Zambrano studied medicine in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New York in the 1990s.

He hustled, working in fast food and as a school bus driver between studies, his wife, Sandra, said. He completed his residency in 2010.

In the meantime, they had two children: Jesus Manuel Jr., 22, and Angelyne Ofelia, 18. Jesus Manuel Jr., who uses a wheelchair, never veered far from his father during family outings to restaurants and parks, and Holy Week vacations.

Zambrano’s bond with his son informed his care for his patients. “There was not a single day we met and talked when we didn’t talk about his son,” said Dr. Magda Mendez, a former colleague.

Zambrano spent days in private practice, Sandra said, and in the evenings treated others at the hospital, which saw COVID cases.

In early March, he felt ill. He took the next day off — a rare occurrence, Sandra said. He was taken to the hospital where he worked, where he died after a week and a half of care.

In becoming a physician in the United States, Zambrano had realized his lifelong dream. He wished the same for his family.

“He had a lot of plans for his children, a lot of dreams,” Sandra said. “He took them with him.”

Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, Kaiser Health News | Published May 15, 2020

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Quick-Witted And Quick To Serve, Firefighter ‘Always Had Your Back’

(Courtesy of the Zerman family)

Robert Zerman

Age: 49
Occupation: Volunteer firefighter
Place of Work: Pioneer Hose Company No. 1 in Robesonia, Pennsylvania
Date of Death: April 16, 2020

Anyone who met Robert Zerman would see two things: He was devoted to firefighting and emergency medical services, and he had a quick sense of humor.

“He probably went on tens of thousands of calls,” said Anthony Tucci, CEO of the Western Berks Ambulance Association. Tucci, who knew Zerman for over three decades, added, “he always had your back, always knew his stuff.”

Most recently, Zerman was a volunteer assistant fire chief. He responded to an emergency in March in which the patient had COVID-19 symptoms.

“That was before there was really any guidance to wear PPE,” Tucci said.

Soon Zerman got sick, leading the family to suspect that he’d contracted the coronavirus on that call, Tucci said. Zerman tested positive and was hospitalized. He seemed to be improving before taking a bad turn.

Berks County, in eastern Pennsylvania, is among the state’s hardest hit, recording around 3,500 total cases and nearly 200 deaths by mid-May.

Representatives from two dozen first responder agencies lined the streets for Zerman’s funeral procession.

Maureen O’Hagan | Published May 19, 2020

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Lighthearted Nurse ‘Lit Up the Room’

(Courtesy of Alisa Bowens)

Linda Bonaventura

Age: 45
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Wildwood Healthcare Center in Indianapolis
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Even on bad days, Linda Bonaventura’s lighthearted sense of humor made people feel better, her sister Alisa Bowens said.

Bonaventura dedicated her career to children with special needs and seniors. She did her best to keep her spirits up while working 16-hour days.

“We like to say she was laughter,” Bowens said. “She lit up the room.”

In a statement, Ethan Peak, executive director of Wildwood, called Bonaventura a dedicated nurse who “would do anything for her residents and co-workers.”

As the list of patients and employees with COVID-19 grew longer at Wildwood, Bonaventura refused to live in fear, Bowens said.

Bowens recalled the day her sister confessed she was spraying herself with Lysol to kill the germs on her clothes. She did the same for a co-worker. A Wildwood spokesperson said the nursing home had sufficient personal protective equipment for employees.

The sisters, in one of their last conversations, told each other they would be at peace if death came during the pandemic. A short time later, Bonaventura tested positive for COVID-19. Just a week after coming down with a sore throat and fever, she died.

“She believed in fate,” Bowens said. “We shared that belief. But it was still a shock.”

Cara Anthony, Kaiser Health News | Published May 15, 2020

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Nurse’s Death Ripples Through The Heart Of An Extended Community

(Courtesy of Courtney Christian)

Sheila Faye Christian

Age: 66
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Care Pavilion Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia
Date of Death: April 19, 2020

So many people are mourning the death of Sheila Christian, her daughter set up a website to comfort them all.

Christian was a longtime friend of Tina Knowles-Lawson ― the mother of Beyoncé — who posted about the loss on Instagram.

But Christian was also a superstar at the center where she worked for 26 years and among those who knew her. She was the kind of person who brought lunch to a new co-worker and hosted a baby shower for someone without close family, according to her daughter and a memorial board.

At the outset of the COVID crisis, Christian was not given personal protective equipment, her daughter, Courtney Christian, 30. She said her mother received a mask only in late March. A lawyer for the center acknowledged Christian’s death and said federal guidelines were followed but didn’t respond to specific questions about protective gear.

Christian was diagnosed April 2. She endured more than a week of fever, chills and coughing, but seemed to be on the mend. She had been cleared to return to work when she collapsed at home. An outpouring of grief followed, her daughter said.

“She just helped and cared for so many people,” she said. “People I had never met.”

JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News | Published May 15, 2020

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At Work, Church And Home, Army Veteran Gave It His All

(Courtesy of Shlonda Clark)

Roy Chester Coleman

Age: 64
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of Death: April 6, 2020

Shlonda Clark calls her father her “favorite superhero.”

It was one of Roy Coleman’s many roles. For the past 11 years, the Army veteran and EMT worked as a housekeeper at the VA hospital in his hometown. He was a church deacon, Sunday school teacher and usher. He also volunteered with special-needs adults.

Roy had a big family, with three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“He was funny, he was kind, he was giving,” said Mabel Coleman, his wife of 40 years.

“If he didn’t like you, something was wrong with you,” added Clark.

Coleman fell ill March 23. After three trips to the emergency room, he was admitted March 27, with a fever and labored breathing.

“It was the last time I saw him,” Mabel said.

He tested positive for COVID-19 and died at the hospital where he had worked.

His family said he was concerned about the lack of personal protective equipment. The VA medical center said by email it “has and continues to use PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Katja Ridderbusch | Published May 15, 2020

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Beloved Doctor Made House Calls, Treated Patients Like Family

(Courtesy of the Giuliano family)

Michael Giuliano

Age: 64
Occupation: Family practice physician
Place of Work: Mountainside Medical Group in Nutley, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 18, 2020

For 39 years, Michael Giuliano practiced old-fashioned family medicine.

He made house calls. He visited his patients in the hospital rather than asking another physician to check in on them. He saw generations of the same family.

“Some patients would show up here at the house,’” said Giuliano’s wife, Marylu, a nurse and the office manager of his solo practice. “Patients would call and he’d say, ‘Come on over, I’ll check you out.’ He always went above and beyond.”

A father of five and a grandfather of four, Giuliano was jovial, with a quirky sense of humor and love of Peanuts characters, especially Charlie Brown. He liked to tell patients, “I’ll fix you up.”

“He treated all of his patients like family,” said Nutley Mayor Joseph Scarpelli.

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Giuliano ordered N95 masks, his family said, but suppliers were out and sent surgical masks instead. Giuliano wore two at a time.

The week of March 16, Giuliano saw four patients with respiratory symptoms who later tested positive for COVID-19. About two weeks later, he tested positive.

Giuliano continued to see patients from home using telemedicine until he was hospitalized. He died 11 days later.

— Michelle Crouch | Published May 15, 2020

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He Tried To Reassure His Family Until The End

(Courtesy of Sheryl Pabatao)

Alfredo Pabatao

Age: 68
Occupation: Orderly
Place of Work: Hackensack Meridian Health Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey
Date of Death: March 26, 2020

After 44 years of marriage, Alfredo Pabatao still bought his wife, Susana, flowers.

“They were that type of couple that you rarely see nowadays,” their youngest daughter, Sheryl Pabatao, 30, said. “They set such a high standard for us, their kids — that may be the reason why I’m still single.” She said her father was a patient man who could fix just about anything.

The Pabataos came from Quezon City, just outside Manila, in the Philippines. Alfredo worked at a car dealership, and Sheryl said she and her siblings grew up comfortably.

But the couple wanted more for their five children, and immigrated to the United States in October 2011. “The first year that we were here, was really, really tough,” Sheryl remembered. Her oldest two siblings, already adults by the time the Pabataos’ immigration application cleared, had to stay behind.

Alfredo found a job as an orderly at a hospital in New Jersey, where he worked for nearly two decades. In mid-March, he told his family he had transported a patient with signs of COVID-19; he fell ill days later. In a statement, his employer wrote: “We have policies and procedures in place to protect our team members and patients that are all in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

Sheryl said the family’s last conversation with her father was via FaceTime, with him on his hospital bed. Connected to oxygen, he insisted he wasn’t gravely ill. He made jokes and even demonstrated yoga poses to reassure his wife and children. He died soon after.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published May 15, 2020

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A ‘Selfless’ Mother Who ‘Always Had The Right Words’

(Courtesy of Sheryl Pabatao)

Susana Pabatao

Age: 64
Occupation: Assistant nurse
Place of Work: Bergen New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, New Jersey
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

Susana Pabatao became a nurse in her late 40s, after her family immigrated to the United States.

It eased some of her longing for her own mother, whom she had left behind in the Philippines, her daughter, Sheryl Pabatao said. “It helped her to know that she was helping other people — something that she couldn’t do for my grandmother,” Sheryl said. Susana treated her older patients as if they were her own parents, she added.

Susana was warm, selfless and a constant source of comfort. Sheryl said, “My mom always had the right words.”

Susana’s husband, Alfredo Pabatao, began showing symptoms of COVID-19 in mid-March, and Susana became ill soon after. Sheryl, who described the two as “inseparable,” said: “When my dad got sick, it’s like part of her was not there anymore.”

Alfredo was hospitalized, and Susana spent her last days at home resting and speaking with him on FaceTime. Sheryl, who lived with her parents, said she overheard the two console each other one morning. “My mom was telling my dad, ‘We’ve gone through so many things, we’re going to get through this.”

Alfredo died on March 26. Susana died four days later.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published May 15, 2020

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Air Force Doctor Had Served In The White House

(Courtesy of the Medical Center of Annandale)

Steven Perez

Age: 68
Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of Work: Medical Center of Annandale in Annandale, Virginia
Date of Death: May 7, 2020

When George H.W. Bush announced his 1988 run for the presidency, Steven Perez was one of the doctors who gave him a clean bill of health.

An “Air Force brat” who was born in the United Kingdom, Perez served as a flight surgeon and medical director in the Air Force Medical Service Corps before practicing as a physician in the White House from 1986 to 1990, according to a statement from his family.

“It was the honor of his life,” his son, Benjamin Perez, said.

Perez went into private practice in San Antonio in the early ’90s before opening his own clinic in Northern Virginia. He also taught at the University of Virginia.

According to his family, he made a promise to God and “never refused medical aid to the poor who came to his office, even accepting yams as payment on occasion.”

Perez’s family describes him as a proud grandfather to his three grandchildren (with two more on the way); he loved the University of Southern California Trojan football, the Dallas Cowboys and the Nationals.

“He could make anyone laugh, knew just what to say, and showed profound love for his friends and family,” his family wrote in an obituary. “Every person he met felt like they were the reason he was there.”

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published May 15, 2020

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She Jumped At Chance To Lend Her Nursing Skills To Her Beloved New York

(Courtesy of the Sell family)

Rosemary Sell

Age: 80
Occupation: Pediatric nurse practitioner
Place of Work: New York City public schools
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

Rosemary Sell was a New Yorker through and through. Born in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, she went to nursing school in Greenwich Village and raised her five boys on the Lower East Side.

In the 1960s, she traveled to Berlin, where she worked as a nurse for the British army and met her future husband, Peter. A lifelong love of travel was born. Gregarious and high-energy by nature, she loved meeting new people. “Wherever she’d go, she’d make a new friend,” said her son, also named Peter.

In later years, Sell spent much of her time in Florida. But she jumped at opportunities to lend her nursing skills to her home city and see her grandchildren and friends.

In February, she was contacted by a firm that places nurses on temporary assignments. Her children were concerned about the encroaching pandemic, especially given her age. “But they need a nurse,” she responded. She traveled to New York to fill in as a nurse at several schools citywide just as the pandemic took hold. The firm, Comprehensive Resources, did not respond to questions on protections for its contractors.

Sell began developing symptoms in mid-March, just before the citywide school closure went into effect. She returned home to Florida, where she died from pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

Before Rosemary died, she had been hatching her next adventure with a friend: to travel to India. She wanted to see the Taj Mahal.

Noa Yachot, The Guardian | Published May 15, 2020

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A Hands-On Pharmacist Who Made The Big City Feel Smaller

(Courtesy of Zair Yasin)

Ali Yasin

Age: 67
Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of Work: New York City Pharmacy in East Village, Manhattan
Date of Death: May 4, 2020

Ali Yasin was a small-town druggist in a big city filled with impersonal, chain-store pharmacies. He found a way to operate a robust business and still be on a first-name basis with his customers. Over the years, he became their medical consultant, insurance whisperer and friend.

Jen Masser said she stumbled into Yasin’s pharmacy the first time, covered from hands to elbows in hives. “Something is happening, see someone right away,” Yasin advised. “This could be a serious disease.” He turned out to be right, encouraging her to keep seeing doctors until she finally got the proper autoimmune diagnosis.

Born in Pakistan, Yasin moved to the United States in 1979 and worked in various pharmacies before opening his own in 2001. He ran it with the help of his four sons.

In March, after serving customers in hard-hit Manhattan in his typical hands-on manner, Yasin contracted a cough and tested positive for COVID-19. By month’s end, he was in the hospital on a ventilator. He died May 4.

The storefront window of the Yasin family pharmacy is pasted with condolence cards. Son Zair Yasin said the outpouring has been immense: “I didn’t realize until he was gone how many people he touched.”

— Kathleen Horan | Published May 15, 2020

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Nurse Wouldn’t Abandon Her Patients Or Let Family Worry

(Courtesy of the Isaacs family)

Marsha Bantle

Age: 65
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Signature Healthcare in Newburgh, Indiana
Date of Death: May 1, 2020

Marsha Bantle’s family begged her to quit after a resident in the nursing home where she worked was diagnosed with COVID-19.

But Bantle wouldn’t leave. “My patients can’t leave their rooms, they can’t see their families. They really need me right now,’” she told her cousin Carol Isaacs.

Bantle tried to reassure relatives she would limit her exposure, but, on April 17, her temperature spiked. Bantle, who lived alone, holed up at home. She finally called her family when it was clear she needed to be hospitalized.

“That’s Marsha for you,” her cousin John Isaacs said. “She didn’t want us to worry.”

Even while hospitalized, Bantle was selfless, said Shay Gould, the ICU nurse who cared for her. She offered to turn off her medication pump to save the nurse a trip. She asked for other patients’ names to pray for them.

After about a week, Bantle had a stroke, likely brought on by the COVID-19 infection. Within days, she died.

Since April, the nursing home has had 52 positive cases and 13 COVID-19 deaths, including Bantle’s. In a statement, Signature Healthcare said: “The loss of any of our residents or staff, for any reason, is devastating.”

— Michelle Crouch | Published May 12, 2020

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Pharmacist, Feeling Sick, Didn’t Want To Let Patients Down

(Courtesy of the Boynes family)

Sean Boynes

Age: 46
Occupation: Pharmacist
Place of Work: AbsoluteCare Medical Center & Pharmacy in Greenbelt, Maryland
Date of Death: April 2, 2020

When the coronavirus began circulating in the Washington metropolitan region, Sean Boynes went to work.

“Patients need their medicine,” he told his wife, Nicole.

The medical center where he worked bills itself as “a medical home for the sickest of the sick”; many of its patients struggle with chronic illness and poverty. Boynes was the Greenbelt branch’s first pharmacist.

He was an “incredible, loving guy,” said Dr. Gregory Foti, chief of innovative operations at AbsoluteCare.

Boynes was a proud Howard University alumnus and had three degrees — a bachelor’s of science in biology, a master’s in exercise physiology and a doctorate in pharmacy — from the institution.

In early March, Boynes and his wife began feeling sick. Boynes didn’t want to stop working but thought “taking a sick day might be OK,” Nicole said. He also took a break from being a jungle gym to his eight- and 11-year-old girls. Nicole called him “Super Dad.”

Nicole got better, but Sean, who had asthma, saw his breathing deteriorate.

On March 25, Nicole dropped him at the hospital doors. The medical staff confirmed COVID-19. The family never saw him again.

Foti said AbsoluteCare follows CDC recommendations, such as providing staff with face masks, and declined to comment on where Boynes became infected. He said “it was literally impossible to tell” where Boynes had contracted the virus.

To honor him, AbsoluteCare is naming the Greenbelt pharmacy after Boynes.

Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020

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A Spry EMT, He Made ‘The Ultimate Sacrifice’

(Courtesy of Toni Lorenc)

John Careccia

Age: 74
Occupation: Emergency medical technician and rescue squad chief
Place of Work: Woodbridge Township Ambulance and Rescue Squad in Iselin, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

“That’s not the way you throw a curveball!” John Careccia famously declared to his grandson at a family picnic, according to his daughter, Toni Lorenc. Careccia then threw the ball so wide that it broke a window in her shed.

“That’s how you throw the batter off,” he said, brushing off the mishap.

“Typical Pop-Pop,” Lorenc said. “He had so much confidence in himself.”

Careccia, who worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 30 years, harnessed his self-confidence into a second career. Inspired by two EMTs who saved his son’s life, he became a volunteer EMT in 1993. A consummate educator, he taught CPR, mentored young EMTs and gave catechism classes at his church, Lorenc said.

A spry 74, Careccia responded to 911 calls as chief of his rescue squad, a volunteer position. On a March 25 call, he evaluated a coronavirus patient, said Ed Barrett, squad president. Careccia died of COVID-19 several weeks later.

At his firehouse memorial service, Careccia was summoned over a loudspeaker for his “last call.”

“Having heard no response from Chief Careccia, we know that John has made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Steve Packer, a previous squad president. “His leadership, dedication, compassion and friendship will be greatly missed.”

Melissa Bailey | Published May 12, 2020

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Police Officer Turned Nurse Practitioner Was Pursuing A Doctorate

(Courtesy of Dennis Graiani)

Kevin Graiani

Age: 56
Occupation: Family nurse practitioner
Place of Work: Rockland Medical Group in Garnerville, New York
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

Kevin Graiani always wanted to work in health care, according to Dennis Graiani, one of his three sons. But his mother told him he needed a pension, so he became a cop.

Kevin, who grew up in the Bronx, served five years on the New York City Housing Authority police force, then 15 on a suburban police force in Spring Valley, New York. He was a “brilliant officer,” said Lt. Jack Bosworth of Spring Valley.

Known for his dry sense of humor, Kevin often rattled off quotes from movies. He played bagpipes for the Rockland County Police Emerald Society, a law enforcement group. When he retired from police work, he began nursing school and became a nurse practitioner in 2018.

Kevin, who worked at a private practice, became sick on March 10 and was later diagnosed with COVID-19, Dennis said.

He loved learning and was set to finish classes this summer for his doctorate of nursing practice, said Lynne Weissman, his professor and program director at Dominican College.

He was an “extremely bright student” with a 3.7 GPA, Weissman said.

She has nominated him for a posthumous degree.

Melissa Bailey | Published May 12, 2020

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School Nurse ‘Was A Mother To Many’

(Courtesy of the Howard family)

Marilyn Howard

Age: 53
Occupation: School nurse
Place of Work: Spring Creek Community School in Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: April 4, 2020

Marilyn Howard was known for her generosity and never missing a party. Born in Guyana, she came to the U.S. as a teenager. She helped raise her five brothers, putting her ambitions on hold. “She was a mother to many,” her brother Haslyn said.

In her mid-30s, she turned to her own career goals. She steadily racked up four nursing degrees and recently had begun studying to become a nurse practitioner.

Howard, who lived in Queens, New York, was a school nurse in Brooklyn, where she regularly treated children with chronic illnesses associated with poverty. The week before the pandemic shuttered schools, a fellow nurse had a fever and cough.

Days later, Howard developed the same symptoms. After initially improving, she took a sudden turn for the worse April 4. As her brother drove her to the hospital, her heart stopped. She was declared dead at the hospital.

In tribute, hundreds turned out on Zoom to mark Nine-Night — a days-long wake tradition in the Caribbean — where loved ones shared photos, sang songs and recounted Howard’s effect on their lives.

The pandemic has since ripped through Howard’s extended family, infecting at least a dozen relatives. (One cousin was hospitalized but was released and is recovering.) The family has evolved into a sprawling triage team, monitoring one another’s temperatures, delivering food, charting emergency contacts and nearby hospitals.

Howard’s brothers hope to start a foundation in her name to help aspiring nurses in the U.S. and West Indies. “The best way to honor her spirit and her memory is to bring more nurses into this world,” said her brother Rawle. “We need more Marilyns around.”

Noa Yachot, The Guardian | Published May 12, 2020

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Post-Retirement, She Tirelessly Rejoined Workforce

(Courtesy Bethany MacDonald)

Nancy MacDonald

Age: 74
Occupation: Receptionist
Place of Work: Orchard View Manor, a nursing home and rehabilitation center in East Providence, Rhode Island
Date of Death: April 25, 2020

Nancy MacDonald tried retiring, but couldn’t make it stick.

For 20 years, she was a middle school teaching assistant and cheerleading coach. At home, she loved painting rocks and watching “Blue Bloods” and “American Idol.” She was married with two adult children.

A lifelong Rhode Islander, Nancy was a people person, her daughter, Bethany MacDonald, said. “She always wanted to help others.”

So, in 2017, it was natural that she’d go back to work, this time at a nursing home.

As Orchard View’s COVID case count escalated, MacDonald worried. Still, she kept coming in — washing and reusing her N95 respirator and having her temperature taken daily.

Tim Brown, an Orchard View spokesperson, said the facility has “extensive infection control,” satisfying government guidelines. He would not say how often employees receive new N95s.

On April 13, MacDonald began coughing. By April 16, she was hospitalized. Her COVID test came back positive. She died 10 days later ― almost a week after her last conversation with her daughter.

“I said, ‘Mama, we love you,’” Bethany said. “The last words she said to me were, ‘I love you, too.’”

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020

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Despite Danger, Semi-Retired Nurse Kept Caring For ER Patients

(Courtesy of the Miles family)

Sheena Miles

Age: 60
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Scott Regional Hospital in Morton, Mississippi
Date of Death: May 1, 2020

At age 60, Sheena Miles was semi-retired. She usually worked every other weekend, but as COVID-19 emerged in Mississippi, she worked four weekends in a row from mid-March to mid-April.

“I’ve got a duty,” she told her son, Tom Miles.

The economy where she lived is dominated by poultry plants, and the county has been a coronavirus hot spot. Sheena was diligent with protective gear, wearing her mask and doubling up on gloves, Tom said. She stayed home when she wasn’t working.

“Losing Sheena has been a tragic loss, as she had been a part of our hospital for 25 years,” said Heather Davis, a hospital administrator.

Sheena took ill on Easter Sunday. By Thursday, Tommy Miles, her husband of 43 years, drove her to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Two long weeks passed. The family was allowed to say goodbye in person, and on their way into her room, an ICU nurse told them that years ago Sheena had cared for his infant daughter. “‘Your mom saved her life,’” the nurse said.

“That was a little comfort in the storm,” Sheena’s son said.

Michaela Gibson Morris | Published May 12, 2020

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A Nurse Who Was Living Her Dream Of Working In The U.S.

(Courtesy of Venus Donasco-Delfin)

Anjanette Miller

Age: 38
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Community First Medical Center and Kindred Chicago Lakeshore in Chicago, and Bridgeway Senior Living in Bensenville, Illinois
Date of Death: April 14, 2020

As a child, Anjanette Miller dreamed of becoming a nurse in the U.S. She studied in her native Philippines and worked briefly in Saudi Arabia before fulfilling her wish in 2001.

Miller settled in Chicago and worked as a supervising nurse at three facilities. Her sister, Venus Donasco-Delfin, said Miller got along well with co-workers who shared her work ethic.

“At work, I think, she was strict, but beyond work, she’s a great friend,” Donasco-Delfin said. One of five siblings, she was the “pillar of the family” and supported relatives back home.

“I studied psychology for two years,” Donasco-Delfin said, “but she kept calling me [in the Philippines] and said, ‘No, Venus. … You have to pursue nursing. You will make a difference.’” Donasco-Delfin, now in Canada, became a nurse.

Miller started feeling sick in mid-March and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early April. She self-isolated, chronicling her illness on YouTube and Facebook. She was hospitalized April 5 and died nine days later.

Miller had hoped to retire to the Philippines and pursue her other passion, filmmaking. Last year she traveled back home to shoot scenes for a project. “The movie she was making is about her life story,” Donasco-Delfin said. “But it’s not finished yet.”

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published May 12, 2020

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He Took The Time To Put Patients At Ease

(Courtesy of Holy Name Medical Center)

Jesus Villaluz

Age: 75
Occupation: Patient transport worker
Place of Work: Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 3, 2020

After Jesus Villaluz died from COVID-19 complications, colleagues lined the hallway at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, to say goodbye. They’d never done that for anyone else.

“Jesus knew many and meant a lot to all of us, so this gesture felt like the right thing to do,” said hospital spokesperson Nicole Urena.

The hospital, and surrounding Bergen County, have been hit hard by the pandemic. By May 8, Holy Name had treated more than 6,000 COVID patients, 181 of whom died.

Villaluz worked at Holy Name for 27 years. In a Facebook post, the hospital memorialized Villaluz’s generosity: He once won a raffle and shared the winnings with colleagues, an anecdote New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy repeated at a news conference. Family members declined requests for an interview.

Co-worker Hossien Dahdouli said Villaluz’s compassion for patients was exemplary. He never rushed anyone, took the time to chat with patients and was always concerned for their privacy and safety, Dahdouli said.

Years ago, after Dahdouli had a sad day caring for deteriorating ICU patients, he asked Villaluz why he always appeared so happy.

“He said, ‘My worst day at work is better than someone’s best day as a patient.’”

Anna Almendrala, Kaiser Health News | Published May 12, 2020

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Family Vacations And Reggae Gave Rhythm To His Life

(Courtesy of Nina Batayola)

Don Ryan Batayola

Age: 40
Occupation: Occupational therapist
Place of Work: South Mountain Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Vauxhall, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 4, 2020

April 4 was the day Don and Nina Batayola had planned to leave for London on a 10-day European vacation. Instead, that was the day Don died of COVID-19.

The Springfield, New Jersey, couple loved to travel ― on their own or with their children, Zoie, 10, and Zeth, 8. Disney World. Road trips to Canada. Every year for a week they would savor the beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Don’s love of reggae music prompted a trip to Jamaica to visit Bob Marley’s birthplace.

The Batayolas, both occupational therapists, moved to New Jersey from the Philippines 13 years ago to pursue their careers.

“He loved to help,” Nina said. “He had such the ability to make everybody smile or laugh.”

Don worked with at least one patient and a handful of colleagues who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, and in late March, he developed symptoms. Nina came home from work for lunch on March 31 to find him struggling to breathe. She dialed 911.

He was hospitalized, then she also developed COVID symptoms. Self-isolating at home, Nina talked with Don once a day. She thought he seemed stronger but, on the fourth day, his heart suddenly stopped.

Michelle Andrews | Published May 8, 2020

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Even On ‘The Saddest Day … She Could Make You Laugh’

(Courtesy of Kim Bruner)

Brittany Bruner-Ringo

Age: 32
Occupation: Licensed vocational nurse
Place of Work: Silverado Beverly Place in Los Angeles
Date of Death: April 20, 2020

When it was Brittany Bruner-Ringo’s turn to pick the family vacation, it was always New Orleans. A city so full of life.

And that is how family described the 32-year-old who left the Oklahoma plains for the excitement of Southern California.

“She always made the best of things,” her mother, Kim Bruner, said. “It could be the saddest day, and she could make you laugh.”

Bruner-Ringo worked at a dementia care center. On March 19, she admitted a patient flown in from New York. She suspected he might have COVID-19, and she was nervous. For fear of frightening the patients, she hadn’t been allowed to wear a mask or gloves, she told her mom by phone that night. (A spokesperson from her employer said, “We have no issues in our environment using appropriate masking and gloves and have followed CDC guidelines throughout this pandemic. We have always had adequate PPE to protect our residents and associates.”)

The following day, the patient grew worse. Bruner-Ringo checked into a hotel to isolate from her roommate. She later tested positive for COVID-19, but when she developed symptoms did not complain ― even to her mom: “She would say, ‘I’m fine. I’m going to beat this. Don’t worry about me.’”

Bruner, a veteran nurse herself, called the hotel front desk for help getting an ambulance to her daughter. She had just hung up with her daughter, who insisted she was fine, while struggling to breathe.

Samantha Young, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020

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He And His Wife Shared A Lust For Travel ― And A COVID Diagnosis

(Courtesy of LaKita Bush)

Joshua Bush

Age: 30
Occupation: Nurse and nursing student
Place of Work: Benton House of Aiken in Aiken, South Carolina
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

Joshua Bush never let his wife, LaKita, forget that she was five hours late for their first date.

“He never held back telling the truth,” LaKita said, with a doleful laugh.

They met online in 2011, each attracted to the other’s lust for travel. For Joshua’s 30th birthday, they took a cruise to Bermuda. He yearned to go farther afield to Tokyo to revel over anime.

Joshua began his nursing career after high school, eventually ending up at Benton House of Aiken, an assisted living facility. Joshua and LaKita, who works in human resources for a hospital, thought it was allergy-related when they both fell ill in late March. Benton House had no confirmed COVID cases at the time, LaKita said. Even still, the staff was taking precautions.

A doctor prescribed Joshua flu medication, but his symptoms — fever and aches but no cough — worsened, and he was admitted to a hospital in Augusta, Georgia, on April 4.

“That was the last time I saw him alive,” LaKita said.

Over the next few days, both tested positive for the coronavirus. Joshua was sedated in the hospital for two weeks and died on April 17. LaKita recovered at home.

Joshua was earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. May would have marked the couple’s fifth anniversary.

Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020

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Her Sudden Death Blindsided Husband And Autistic Son

(Courtesy of Vincent Carmello)

Karen Carmello

Age: 57
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Maryhaven Center of Hope in Port Jefferson Station, New York
Date of Death: April 16, 2020

Karen Carmello had an intimate understanding of working with intellectually disabled patients.

Her 26-year-old son, Steven, has autism. According to her husband, Vincent, the two spoke by phone every day. Steven would recall exactly what he did, and Karen listened intently.

“She could do no wrong in his eyes, ever,” Vincent said. “It’s a very special bond, but it’s one that she earned.”

Sharing the news of her death was shattering: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do — letting him know.”

When Karen took ill, she discovered that a patient in her ward had tested positive for COVID-19. She was hospitalized March 23. Eight days later, she sent Vincent her last text, at 2:17 a.m., before going to the ICU.

On April 16, hospital staff called and asked whether Vincent would be comfortable signing a do-not-resuscitate order. He hadn’t been able to see his wife, so he didn’t completely grasp how grave her condition was.

“I thought, ‘OK, this must be a formality,’” he said. “I authorized it. And I got a call within two hours that she passed. I was stunned.”

— Shoshana Dubnow, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020

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His Facebook Posts Left Clues Of A Tragic Timeline

(Courtesy of Felicia Dodson-Hill)

Maurice Dotson

Age: 51
Occupation: Certified nursing assistant
Place of Work: West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin, Texas
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

Maurice Dotson’s sister knew something was wrong when her older brother didn’t post his daily Facebook update.

“We knew he was good as long as he posted every morning,” Felicia Dodson-Hill, of Jacksonville, Arkansas, said.

Dotson, 51 ― a certified nursing assistant for 25 years at the West Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin — had begun caring for COVID-19 patients.

He sounded positive on Facebook, posting on March 30: “We are going through scary, difficult times, but better days are coming.”

Days later, family in Arkansas couldn’t reach him.

“We had been trying to get in contact with him since April 1st,” his sister said. “On April 3rd, he posted that he had to go to the hospital ― that he was not feeling good.”

Dodson-Hill said the hospital sent him home. Her mother finally reached him on April 6 or 7.

“He told my mom he didn’t have the energy to barely talk,” Dodson-Hill said.

Dawunna Wilson, a cousin from Hazen, Arkansas, said Maurice called an ambulance on April 8. Results from his coronavirus test done at the hospital came back positive the next day. “From there, it was pretty much downhill,” Wilson said.

Sharon Jayson | Published May 5, 2020

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Community Salutes Nurse Who Loved Baseball

(Courtesy of Leigh Ann Lewis)

Barbara Finch

Age: 63
Occupation: Licensed practical nurse
Place of Work: Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center in Emporia, Virginia
Date of Death: March 29, 2020

When Barbara Finch got excited, she’d scrunch her hands into fists and wave them around like a kid at Christmas. She did it when the Atlanta Braves scored, or while watching her grandkids play baseball, her No. 1 passion outside work.

Finch spent her 37-year nursing career in the emergency department of the hospital in Emporia, Virginia (population of about 5,000), where one of her four children, Leigh Ann Lewis, worked as an EMT.

Lewis knew her mother was well liked: Patients she transported from the hospital would rave that Finch had been sweet and compassionate.

Finch fell ill on March 17 and died in an ICU 12 days later. As a hearse carried her casket to the graveyard, Lewis said, people lined the way at driveway mailboxes, churches and stores, holding signs that read, “We love you,” “Praying for you,” “Hugs.” At her hospital, employees released balloons to the sky.

“It seemed like, in our area, she knew everybody — either she worked with them, or they were a patient of hers at some point,” Lewis said. “It was a very, very large outpour of love and comfort and solidarity.”

Melissa Bailey | Published May 8, 2020

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‘He Loved To Work,’ With No Plans To Retire

(Courtesy Giancarlo Pattugalan)

Tomas Pattugalan

Age: 70
Occupation: Internal medicine physician
Place of Work: Private practice in Jamaica, Queens, New York
Date of Death: March 29, 2020

Tomas Pattugalan’s kids had been encouraging him to retire. Even after 45 years of medicine, Pattugalan wasn’t ready to slow down.

“He loved his patients. He loved to work. He loved to help others,” said Giancarlo, his son. “He had an enormous capacity to give of himself.”

A father of three, Pattugalan grew up in the Philippines, immigrating to the U.S. in the 1970s. He was a devout Catholic — attending Mass weekly ― and “karaoke master,” Giancarlo said.

In early March, Pattugalan began testing patients for COVID-19. His medical history, including a family history of strokes and high blood pressure, heightened his own risk. So after tests of two patients returned positive, he got tested himself. On March 24, he learned he had the coronavirus.

“He made a joke and said Prince Charles had tested [positive] too, and he was sharing royalty,” Giancarlo said. “He was making light of it, not trying to get any of us worried.”

Pattugalan had a cough. Then came wheezing. His oxygen levels dropped. He tried hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment touted by President Donald Trump that has yielded mixed results. Nothing helped.

On March 29, Pattugalan agreed to seek hospital care. He died that day.

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 8, 2020

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Says Widow Battling Cancer: ‘He Was My Backbone’

(Courtesy of Melissa Castro Santos)

Darrin Santos

Age: 50
Occupation: Transportation supervisor
Place of Work: NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral Health Center in White Plains, New York
Date of Death: April 4, 2020

Melissa Castro Santos had just started a new treatment for multiple myeloma when her husband, Darrin, got sick.

For nearly two weeks, he isolated in their bedroom, but after he began gasping for air, he went to the hospital. He died of COVID-19 days later.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Castro Santos said.

As a transportation supervisor, Santos delivered health care workers and equipment between hospitals in the New York metropolitan area. He loved his job, Castro Santos said, and was known to drive doctors wherever and whenever they were needed, through heavy traffic and snowstorms.

Castro Santos, who has been battling cancer since 2012, said her husband doted on their three teenagers, all avid athletes. He arranged his work schedule to attend as many of their games as possible. When he couldn’t make it, she would call him on FaceTime so he could catch glimpses of the action.

Unable to hold a funeral, they arranged for burial five days after Santos died. Friends lined the streets in cars in a show of support as the family drove to and from the cemetery.

Now Castro Santos is confronting cancer without her husband. “He was my backbone. He was the one who took me to chemotherapy and appointments.”

Anna Jean Kaiser, The Guardian | Published May 8, 2020

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An Animal Lover Who Loved Aerospace, She Died Alone At Home

(Courtesy of Aubree Farmer)

Lisa Ewald

Age: 53
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit
Date of Death: April 1, 2020

Lisa Ewald was a nurse to many living things, human and otherwise.

When her neighbor Alexis Fernandez’s border collie had a stomach blockage, Ewald hooked the dog up to an IV four times a day. “She was this dedicated nurse who nursed my dog back to health,” Fernandez said.

Ewald also loved gardening, aerospace and comic book conventions.

Ewald told Fernandez that a patient she had treated later tested positive for COVID-19, and that she was not wearing a mask at the time. Two days later, after seeing the patient, she got sick. After delays in accessing a test, she learned on March 30 that she was infected with the coronavirus.

A hospital spokesperson acknowledged that staff who treat coronavirus patients have a higher risk of exposure, but said there was “no way to confirm” how a staff member contracted the virus.

On March 31, Ewald didn’t answer when Fernandez texted her. The next day, Fernandez and a hospital nurse went to Ewald’s home to check on her and found her unresponsive on the couch.

“I said, ‘Aren’t you going to go take her pulse or anything?’” Fernandez said. “The nurse just said, ‘She’s gone.’”

Melissa Bailey | Published May 5, 2020

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An Ardent EMT Who Seemed To Have Nine Lives

(Courtesy of Ben Geiger)

Scott Geiger

Age: 47
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Atlantic Health System in Mountainside and Warren, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Scott Geiger wasn’t always enthusiastic about school, but at age 16 he brought home a tome the size of two phone books. It was a manual for emergency medical technicians, and he devoured it, said his younger brother, Ben Geiger.

Scott was certified as an EMT at 17. He never married or had kids, but did not seem to miss those things.

“He was so focused on being an EMT and helping people in their most vulnerable and desperate moments,” Ben said. “That’s really what made him feel good.”

Scott loved playing pool each week with friends. He was a loyal New York Jets football fan, content to joke about their follies and watch them lose. He was quiet. And he seemed to have nine lives, his brother said, surviving hospitalizations for epilepsy as a kid and blood cancer around age 40.

When the coronavirus began to tear a path through northern New Jersey, he faced his EMT work with resolve. He downplayed his symptoms when he first fell ill in late March, but wound up spending 17 days on a ventilator before he died. The family has had to mourn separately, with the brothers’ father, who lived with Scott, in quarantine, and their mother confined to her room in a nursing home that has COVID-19 cases.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020

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Caring Nurse ‘Always Put Herself Last’

(Courtesy of Lisa Lococo)

Theresa Lococo

Age: 68
Occupation: Pediatric nurse
Place of Work: Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: March 27, 2020

Theresa Lococo spent most of her life at the hospital, working as a pediatric nurse for almost 48 years.

“There wasn’t a day that goes by she wouldn’t come home and tell me about her patients,” said her daughter, Lisa Lococo. “She had to be forced to take her vacation days.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly saluted her lifelong service to New Yorkers, saying, “She gave her life helping others.”

Theresa had dogs — “sometimes too many,” Lisa said — and lived with her son, Anthony, in the home she owned for decades. She loved cooking and watching cooking shows, reading and following soap operas.

Theresa wasn’t tested for COVID-19. But Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn, was hit hard by the coronavirus.

Days before dying, she described nausea. Friends recalled a cough. Her supervisor encouraged her to stay home, her daughter said.

Lisa called her mother on March 27, just as Anthony was dialing 911 for help.

“She always put others first,” Lisa said. “She always put herself last.”

Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020

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He Was Full Of Life And Planning For The Future

(Courtesy of the Luna family)

Felicisimo “Tom” Luna

Age: 62
Occupation: Emergency room nurse
Place of Work: Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 9, 2020

Tom Luna was a joker, a lively and outgoing man who thrived on the fast-paced and varied action of the emergency room. He also adored his three daughters, something clear to all who knew him.

“Tom was a fantastic emergency nurse. He was well liked and loved by his peers,” Gerard Muench, administrative director of the Trinitas emergency department, said in a statement. “His greatest love was for his wife and daughters, who he was very proud of.”

His oldest daughter, Gabrielle, 25, followed his path to become an ER nurse. When Tom fell ill with the coronavirus, he was admitted to the hospital where she works. At the end of her 12-hour night shifts, she made sure he had breakfast and helped him change his clothes. She propped a family photo next to his bed.

Tom’s wife, Kit, also a nurse, said that when some of his symptoms appeared to let up, they talked about him recovering at home. He was a planner, she said, and was already talking about their next family vacation, maybe to Spain.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020

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Air Force Veteran Went ‘Above And Beyond For Patients’

Michael Marceaux and his wife, Dunia, when he graduated from nursing school in 2018 (Courtesy of Drake Marceaux)

Michael Marceaux

Age: 49
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Christus Highland Medical Center and Brentwood Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of Death: April 16, 2020

After Michael Marceaux retired from the Air Force, he went back to school. In 2018 he launched a new career as an emergency room nurse.

“Everyone who worked with him said he was so happy,” said Drake Marceaux, one of his four sons. “He was willing to go above and beyond for patients.”

As the coronavirus spread throughout Louisiana, Michael developed a cough and fever. Soon afterward, he tested positive for COVID-19.

“He didn’t seem too worried,” Drake said. “He just wanted to make sure not to give it to other people.”

A spokesperson with Christus Health said Michael would be missed for “how he always had a positive attitude, even after a hard shift. His laughter brought joy to others.” The spokesperson declined to answer questions about workplace safety conditions.

Drake said he wanted his father to be remembered for how much he was loved.

His funeral was livestreamed on Facebook. “At one point, there were 2,000 viewers watching his service,” Drake said. “As much as he didn’t want attention, it gravitated toward him.”

Victoria Knight, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020

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She Loved To Give Gifts And Never Forgot Her Hometown

(Courtesy of Courtesy of Donald Jay Marcos)

Celia Lardizabal Marcos

Age: 61
Occupation: Telemetry charge nurse
Place of Work: CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles
Date of Death: April 17, 2020

Whenever she traveled to her hometown of Tagudin in the Philippines, Celia Lardizabal Marcos showered family with gifts and delighted in planning weekend outings for everyone, said her eldest son, Donald.

And when she returned home to California, she brought presents for her sons. “She always thought of how her family could be happy,” he said.

Trained as a nurse in her home country, Marcos immigrated to the United States in 2001 and settled in Los Angeles. Three years later, she became a telemetry charge nurse, a specialist who tracks patients’ vital signs using high-tech equipment.

On April 3, she was one of three nurses who responded after a suspected COVID patient went into cardiac arrest. Wearing a surgical mask, she intubated the patient. Three days later, she had a headache, body aches and difficulty breathing.

Her symptoms worsened, and she was admitted April 15 to the hospital where she had worked for 16 years. That was the last time Donald spoke to his mother. Two days later, she went into cardiac arrest and died that night.

Her sons plan to honor her wishes to be cremated and buried in Tagudin, alongside her parents.

Christina M. Oriel, Asian Journal | Published May 5, 2020

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‘Hero Among Heroes,’ Doctor Cared For Generations Of Patients

Francis Molinari (right) with his siblings (from left) Janice, Albert and Lisa (Courtesy of Lisa Molinari)

Francis Molinari

Age: 70
Occupation: Physician
Place of Work: Private practice in Belleville, New Jersey; privileges at Clara Maass Medical Center
Date of Death: April 9, 2020

In late March, Dr. Francis “Frankie” Molinari told his sister Lisa he was “down for the count,” with chills, fever and trouble breathing.

“Frankie, you know what you have,” she recalled telling him.

“Yes.”

Two days later, he collapsed at home and was rushed to Clara Maass Medical Center. Colleagues stayed by his side as he succumbed to COVID-19.

“We take solace in the fact that he was cared for by colleagues and friends who deeply loved and respected him,” his sister Janice wrote in a blog. “He died a hero among heroes.”

Molinari, a New Jersey native who was married with an adult daughter, was the oldest of four siblings. His sisters describe him as a positive guy who loved music, fishing and teasing people with tall tales: He went to medical school in Bologna, Italy, and he liked to say he had played pinochle with the pope.

Molinari practiced medicine for over four decades, caring for generations of patients in the same family. His family suspects he contracted the coronavirus at his private practice.

“A friend had once described us as four different legs of the same table,” Janice wrote. “Now I’m stuck on the fact that we are only a three-legged table. Less beautiful, less sturdy. Broken.”

Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News | Published May 5, 2020

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5-Foot-Tall ‘Fireball’ Was A Prankster To Her Sons

(Courtesy Josh Banago)

Celia Yap-Banago

Age: 69
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Research Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri
Date of Death: April 21, 2020

Celia Yap-Banago was a 5-foot-tall “fireball,” said one co-worker. She had moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1970 and worked for nearly 40 years for the HCA Midwest Health system. Her family said she was planning for retirement.

Her son Josh said she showed her love through practical jokes: “You knew she loved you if she was yelling at you or if she was pranking you.”

“She was very outspoken,” said Charlene Carter, a fellow nurse. “But I later learned that’s a really good quality to have, as a nurse, so you can advocate for your patients and advocate for yourself.”

In March, Yap-Banago treated a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19. Carter said Yap-Banago was not given personal protective equipment because she was not working in an area designed for COVID patients. She spent her final days in isolation to protect others.

A spokesperson for HCA Midwest Health said that medical staff received adequate personal protective equipment in line with CDC guidelines.

Josh said she spoke with reverence of her patients and their families. “She was always focused on the family as a whole, and that the family was taken care of, not just the patient in the bed,” he said.

Alex Smith, KCUR | Published May 5, 2020

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In Ministry And Rescue Missions, ‘He Put His All Into It’

(Courtesy of the Birmingham Family)

Billy Birmingham Sr.

Age: 69
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Kansas City Missouri Fire Department
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Bill Birmingham Jr. fondly remembers the year his father took on a new career. The whole family studied, even acting out scenes to ensure Billy Birmingham Sr., a minister, was ready for his emergency medical technician exam.

“He put his all into it,” the son recalled.

Billy Birmingham passed the test. And from the late 1990s on, he served as an EMT and a minister.

His family rallied again for his doctorate in pastoral theology. During nearly four decades as a minister, he founded two churches.

“He had a heart for other people,” his son said. “Whatever he could do for other people, he would do it.”

As an EMT with the Kansas City Fire Missouri Department, he was exposed to the novel coronavirus. The cough came in March.

“‘I’m just tired.’ That’s what he kept saying,” his son said. His dad went to the hospital twice. The first time he told the staff about his symptoms and underlying health conditions, then they sent him home.

The second time he arrived in an ambulance. Just over two weeks later, his final hours arrived.

Hospital staff set up a video chat so his family could see him one last time.

Cara Anthony, Kaiser Health News | Published May 1, 2020

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Jovial Man Trained Scores Of Doctors In Obstetrics, Gynecology And Kindness

(Courtesy of Ashley Ulker)

Luis Caldera-Nieves

Age: 63
Occupation: OB-GYN doctor
Place of Work: University of Miami and Jackson health systems in Miami
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

“Somos felices.” That was Dr. Luis Caldera-Nieves’ signature signoff after a cesarean section or patient visit or at the end of a difficult shift. “We’re happy,” he meant, and often, when he was around, it was true.

Caldera-Nieves, a popular OB-GYN, trained scores of doctors and helped bring thousands of babies into the world in his 25 years at the University of Miami and Jackson health systems.

Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, he worked as an Air Force doctor before joining UM, said longtime co-worker Dr. Jaime Santiago. Caldera-Nieves was so devoted to his patients that he often gave them his private phone number — and his wife’s, Santiago said.

Because he was so jovial, he earned the nickname “the Puerto Rican Santa Claus,” Santiago said.

“He was truly loved and admired by everyone who worked with him, and will be remembered for his humor and never-ending positive energy,” said Dr. Jean-Marie Stephan, who trained under Caldera-Nieves.

In a statement, UM and Jackson confirmed Caldera-Nieves died from complications of COVID-19 and said they “grieve the loss of our esteemed and beloved colleague.” He is survived by his wife and six adult children.

Melissa Bailey | Published May 1, 2020

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A Cluster Of Illness Robs Community Of Another Fearless EMT

(Courtesy of Vito Cicchetti)

Kevin Leiva

Age: 24
Occupation: Emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Saint Clare’s Health in Passaic, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

When Kevin Leiva died of COVID-19 in early April, it was a second crushing loss to his close-knit team of EMT workers. Their colleague, Israel Tolentino Jr., had died one week before.

“People were scared that everyone was going to die from it,” said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health, where the men worked. “After Izzy died, we all started getting scared for Kevin.”

Leiva, according to an obituary, “was always worried about his crew.” He was “very proud” of his work and was recalled to have said “becoming an EMT was an act of God.”

He met his wife, Marina, online while they were in high school. She moved a thousand miles to build a life with him. He loved spending time at their home, playing guitar and tending to his tegu lizards, AJ and Blue.

As COVID-19 ramped up, the station’s three ambulances each handled up to 15 dispatches a shift, roughly double the usual number. In a busy 12-hour shift, EMTs often responded to calls continuously, stopping only to decontaminate themselves and the truck.

Leiva “always had a joke” that helped to defuse stressful situations and bring his co-workers together, Cicchetti said.

Michelle Andrews | Published May 1, 2020

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Firefighting And ‘Helping People’ Were In His Blood

(Courtesy of the Terre Haute Fire Department)

John Schoffstall

Age: 41
Occupation: Paramedic and firefighter
Place of Work: Terre Haute Fire Department in Terre Haute, Indiana
Date of Death: April 12, 2020

John Schoffstall grew up around firehouses, and it was at his own firehouse in Terre Haute, Indiana, that he was exposed to the coronavirus.

A paramedic and firefighter with the Terre Haute Fire Department for almost 12 years, Schoffstall died April 12 at age 41. Deputy Chief Glen Hall said investigations by the county health department and his own department “determined John contracted the virus from another firefighter in the firehouse.” Four other firefighters “had symptoms but none progressed.”

“We respond every day to potential COVID patients,” Hall said.

Jennifer Schoffstall, his wife of 18 years, said her husband went to the hospital March 28.

“His breathing was so bad in the ER, they just decided to keep him,” she said. “He regressed from there.”

Hall said Schoffstall’s “biggest hobby was his family,” with a son, 17, and a daughter, 13.

Schoffstall’s father had been a volunteer firefighter, Jennifer said, and her husband signed up for the New Goshen Volunteer Fire Department when he turned 18.

“He loved the fire service and everything about it,” she said. “He loved helping people.”

Sharon Jayson | Published May 1, 2020

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Boston Nurse, A Former Bus Driver, Was A Champion For Education

(Courtesy of Teadris Pope)

Rose Taldon

Age: 63
Occupation: Nurse
Place of Work: New England Baptist Hospital in Boston
Date of Death: April 12, 2020

Rose Taldon was just 5 feet tall. But when she bellowed out the window, her kids ran right home.

“She didn’t take any crap,” said her daughter, Teadris Pope.

Taldon raised three children with her husband on the street where she grew up in Dorchester, Boston. She was respected as a strong Black woman, earning a nursing degree while working in public transit for 23 years. Described as stern, she still was quick to tickle her eight grandkids.

Taldon was generous: Even as she lay in a hospital in April, exhausted from the coronavirus, she arranged to pay bills for an out-of-work friend, her daughter said.

It’s unclear whether Taldon caught the virus at her hospital, designated for non-COVID patients. Hospital officials said three patients and 22 staff have tested positive.

Once her mother was hospitalized, Pope couldn’t visit. On Easter morning, a doctor called at 2 a.m., offering to put Taldon on a video call.

“I just talked until I had no words,” Pope said. “I was just telling her, ‘We’re so proud of you. You worked so hard raising us. … You’ve gone through a hell of a fight.’”

An hour later, her mother was gone.

Melissa Bailey | Published May 1, 2020

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Unflappable First Responder With An Ever-Ready Smile

(Courtesy of Vito Cicchetti)

Israel Tolentino Jr.

Age: 33
Occupation: Emergency medical technician and firefighter
Place of Work: Saint Clare’s Health and the Passaic Fire Department, both in Passaic, New Jersey
Date of Death: March 31, 2020

When Israel Tolentino Jr. arrived for his EMT shift one morning in March, he seemed fine. Then he got a headache. Then a fever came on, and he was sent home, said Vito Cicchetti, a director at Saint Clare’s Health.

Izzy, as he was called, was an EMT who fulfilled his dream to become a firefighter. In 2018, the former Marine took a job with the Passaic Fire Department but kept up shifts at Saint Clare’s.

He was husband to Maria Vazquez, whom he’d met at church, according to nj.com. They had two young children.

The work pace could be brutal during the pandemic. In a 12-hour shift, Tolentino and his partner were dispatched to one emergency after another, each typically lasting under an hour but requiring nearly that long to decontaminate their gear and truck.

Izzy died in hospital care. The coronavirus tore through his EMT team. Most eventually recovered. But his friend and co-worker Kevin Leiva also died.

Izzy’s unflappable, cheerful presence is missed, Cicchetti said: “No matter how mad you were, he’d come up with a smile and you’d be chuckling to yourself.”

Cicchetti hasn’t replaced either man: “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.”

Michelle Andrews | Published May 1, 2020

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Their Decade-Long Dream Marriage Ends In Nightmare

(Courtesy of the Detroit Fire Department)

Capt. Franklin Williams

Age: 57
Occupation: Firefighter and medical first responder
Place of Work: Detroit Fire Department in Detroit
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Capt. Franklin Williams stood at the altar on his wedding day and pretended to hunt for the ring. He patted his chest, then his pants legs and looked up at his soon-to-be wife with a million-dollar smile.

He was always clowning and “so silly,” said Shanita Williams, his wife, recalling how he wanted to make her laugh. Williams, 57, died from complications of the novel coronavirus on April 8 — one month before the couple’s 10-year wedding anniversary.

Williams had been on an emergency call with a verified COVID patient before falling ill, according to Detroit Fire Department Chief Robert Distelrath. He died in the line of duty.

Crews are equipped with personal protective equipment including a gown, N95 mask and gloves. But it’s easy for a mask to slip ― “when you’re giving [chest] compressions, your mask isn’t staying in place all the time,” said Thomas Gehart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association.

When Williams fell sick on March 24, he moved to the guest bedroom and never returned to work.

“I’m thankful and thank God for having him in my life,” Shanita said, adding that she keeps hoping this is a nightmare and she’ll soon wake up.

Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News | Published May 1, 2020

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A 9/11 First Responder, He Answered The Call During The Pandemic

(Courtesy of the Valley Stream Fire Department)

Mike Field

Age: 59
Occupation: Volunteer emergency medical technician
Place of Work: Village of Valley Stream on New York’s Long Island
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Mike Field had a strong sense of civic duty. An emergency medical technician, he was a first responder with the New York Fire Department (FDNY) on 9/11. He was also a member of his community’s all-volunteer fire department since 1987.

After he retired from FDNY in 2002, he took a job making and posting street signs with his local public works department. He continued to volunteer with Valley Stream’s fire department and mentoring the junior fire department. When he wasn’t responding to emergencies or training future emergency technicians, he led a Boy Scout troop and volunteered for animal causes.

“Here’s somebody who cares about the community and cares about its people,” said Valley Stream’s mayor, Ed Fare, who had known Mike since the seventh grade.

Stacey Field, Mike’s wife, said he found his calling early, after his own father experienced a heart attack. “When the fire department EMTs came and helped his dad, he decided that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.

Their three sons ― Steven, 26; Richie, 22; and Jason, 19 — have followed in their father’s footsteps. Steven and Richie are EMTs in New York; Jason plans on training to become one as well. All three volunteer at the same fire station their father did.

In late March, Mike and fellow volunteer responders were called to an emergency involving a patient showing symptoms of COVID-19. Field died on April 8.

Sharon Jayson | Published April 29, 2020

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Nurse Fought For His Life In Same ICU Where He Cared For Patients

(Courtesy of Romielyn Guillermo)

Ali Dennis Guillermo

Age: 44
Occupation: Nurse
Place of Work: Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue, New York
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

In 2004, Ali Dennis Guillermo, his wife, Romielyn, and their daughter came to New York from the Philippines to find a better life.

Everything fell into place. The former nursing instructor landed a job at Long Island Community Hospital, often working in intensive care or the emergency room. He enjoyed the intensity of ER work, his wife said. As years passed, the couple had two sons and settled into a close-knit Philippine community.

As COVID-19 emerged, Guillermo was posted to the step-down floor, working with patients transitioning out of intensive care.

A lot of the nurses on his floor had gotten sick with the virus, his wife said, and “everybody was scared.”

And then, Guillermo felt achy, with a fever that soared to 102. He went to the hospital and X-rays were taken, but he was sent home. Within days, his blood oxygen level plummeted.

“My nails are turning blue,” he told his wife. “You should take me to the ER.”

He was admitted that night in late March, and they never spoke again.

In the ICU unit where he’d often worked, Guillermo was intubated and treated. Nearly two weeks later, he died.

Michelle Andrews | Published April 29, 2020

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An Eager Student, He Aimed To Become A Physician Assistant

(Courtesy of Catrisha House-Phelps)

James House

Age: 40
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Omni Continuing Care nursing home in Detroit
Date of Death: March 31, 2020

James House had a voracious appetite for learning about and a fascination with the human body.

His sister, Catrisha House-Phelps, traces it back to childhood visits to a dialysis center where their father received treatments. “That was what tugged at his heart,” she said. “He just always wanted to know ‘why.’”

House-Phelps said her brother adored his five children, treasured his anatomy and physiology books and got a kick out of the residents he cared for at Omni Continuing Care. “He thought they were family; he just said they were funny people,” she said. He had hoped to go back to school to become a physician assistant.

House came down with what he thought was the flu in mid-March. His sister said he tried to get tested for COVID-19 but was turned away because he was not showing textbook symptoms and had no underlying health issues. On March 31, after resting at home for over a week, House returned to work. Hours later, he collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

He texted his sister with updates on his condition. “I’m about to be intubated now,” he wrote. It was the last message he sent her.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 29, 2020

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She Loved A Parade And Catering To Patients

Pamela Hughes and her daughter, Brie
(Courtesy of Angie McAllister)

Pamela Hughes

Age: 50
Occupation: Nursing home medication aide
Place of Work: Signature HealthCARE at Summit Manor in Columbia, Kentucky
Date of Death: April 13, 2020

Pamela Hughes lived her entire life in rural Columbia, Kentucky, but longed for wide, sandy beaches. For vacation, Hughes and her daughter, Brie, 26, eagerly drove 14 hours to Daytona Beach, Florida, or Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

After high school, Hughes worked at Summit Manor, a nursing home in Columbia, for 32 years. She knew which residents preferred chocolate milk or applesauce with their medication; she remembered their favorite outfits and colors. Hughes’ shy demeanor vanished each December when she and co-worker Angie McAllister built a float for the town’s Christmas parade competition.

“We built 10 floats over 10 years,” McAllister said. “We got second place every year.”

Even after several residents tested positive for the coronavirus, Hughes dismissed her worsening cough as allergies or bronchitis. The nursing home was short on help and she wanted to serve her patients, Brie said.

Days later, the public health department suggested her mother get tested. She tested positive, and her health worsened — food tasted bitter, her fever soared, her hearing dulled. On April 10, Hughes was taken by ambulance to a hospital, then by helicopter to Jewish Hospital in Louisville. Barred from visiting, Brie said goodbye over FaceTime.

Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published April 29, 2020

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The Family Matriarch And ‘We’re Failing Miserably Without Her’

(Courtesy of Ginu John)

Aleyamma John

Age: 65
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Queens Hospital Center in New York City
Date of Death: April 5, 2020

Aleyamma John’s family wanted her to retire. Her husband, Johnny, an MTA transit worker, had stopped working a few years earlier. He and their son Ginu urged her to follow suit. “We told her, ‘I’m sure Dad wants to see the world with you — you need to give him that opportunity,’” Ginu said.

She demurred. “I think she found fulfillment in being able to serve,” Ginu said. “She was able to hold people’s hands, you know, even when they were deteriorating and be there for them.” She began her career as a nurse in India 45 years ago; she and her husband immigrated to the United Arab Emirates, where their two sons were born, and moved to New York in 2002.

Ginu said his mother, a devout Christian, found joy in tending to her vegetable garden and doting on her two grandchildren. She cooked dishes from her native India and filled the Long Island home she shared with Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s family with flowers.

In March, as Queens Hospital Center began to swell with COVID-19 patients, John sent her family a photo of herself and colleagues wearing surgical hats and masks but not enough personal protective equipment. Days later, she developed a fever and tested positive for the virus. Johnny, Ginu and Ginu’s wife, Elsa, a nurse practitioner, also became ill.

When John’s breathing became labored, her family made the difficult decision to call 911. It would be the last time they saw her. “We’re 17 days in, and I feel like we’re failing miserably without her,” Ginu said.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 29, 2020

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‘A Kind Man’ Looking Forward To Retirement

(Courtesy of Jesse Soto)

Thomas Soto

Age: 59
Occupation: Radiology clerk
Place of Work: Woodhull Medical Center, a public hospital in Brooklyn, New York
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

After more than 30 years at one of New York City’s busy public hospitals, Thomas Soto loved his job but was looking forward to retiring, said his son, Jesse Soto, who lived with him.

At Soto’s busy station near the emergency room, he greeted patients and took down their information.

“Everybody saw him before their X-rays,” Soto, 29, said. “He smiled all day, made jokes. He was a kind man.”

As COVID patients began to overwhelm Woodhull and other emergency rooms across the city, Soto said that at first his father didn’t have any protective gear.

He eventually got a mask. But he still grew very sick, developing a high fever, body aches and a wracking cough. After a week, Soto said, “he couldn’t take it anymore.”

He went to Woodhull, where he was admitted. When they tried to put him on a ventilator two days later, he died. The hospital did not respond to requests for comment.

Michelle Andrews | Published April 29, 2020

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‘Blooming’ In Her First Job On Path To Becoming A Nurse

(Courtesy of the Viveros family via GoFundMe)

Valeria Viveros

Age: 20
Occupation: Nursing assistant
Place of Work: Extended Care Hospital of Riverside, California
Date of Death: April 5, 2020

At 20 years old, Valeria Viveros was “barely blooming,” developing the skills and ambition to pursue a nursing career, said Gustavo Urrea, her uncle. Working at Extended Care Hospital of Riverside was her first job.

Viveros, born in California to Mexican immigrants, grew attached to her patients at the nursing home, bringing them homemade ceviche, Urrea said. About a month ago, as he watched her cook, play and joke with her grandmother, he noticed how much her social skills had grown.

When she would say “Hi, Tío,” in her playful, sweet, high-pitched voice, “it was like the best therapy you could have,” Urrea recalled. Viveros, who lived with her parents and two siblings, was enrolled in classes at a community college.

Viveros felt sick on March 30, went to a nearby hospital and was sent home with Tylenol, Urrea said. By April 4, she couldn’t get out of bed on her own. She left in an ambulance and never came back.

“We’re all destroyed,” he said. “I can’t even believe it.”

On April 5, county health officials reported a coronavirus outbreak had sickened 30 patients and some staff at her nursing home. Trent Evans, general counsel for Extended Care, said staffers are heartbroken by her death.

Viveros was “head over heels in love with the residents that she served,” he said. “She was always there for them.”

Melissa Bailey | Published April 29, 2020

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Surgical Technician Made Friends Everywhere She Went

Monica Echeverri Casarez (Courtesy of Jorge Casarez)

Monica Echeverri Casarez

Age: 49
Occupation: Surgical technician
Place of Work: Detroit Medical Center Harper University Hospital in Detroit
Date of Death: April 11, 2020

Monica Echeverri Casarez was in constant motion, said her husband, Jorge Casarez. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, she worked as a Spanish-English interpreter in clinical settings. She was the kind of person whose arrival at a mom and pop restaurant would elicit hugs from the owners. She also co-founded Southwest Detroit Restaurant Week, a nonprofit that supports local businesses.

Twice a month, she scrubbed in as a surgical technician at Harper University Hospital. “She liked discovering the beauty of how the body works and how science is clear and orderly,” Casarez said. She was organized and intuitive, qualities that are assets in the operating room. On March 21, she posted a photo of herself in protective gear with the caption: “I’d be lying if I said I wan’t at least a bit nervous to be there now.” Since many elective surgeries had been canceled, Echeverri Casarez was tasked with taking the temperatures of people who walked into the hospital and making sure their hands were sterilized.

Soon after, Echeverri Casarez and Casarez began feeling ill. Quarantined together, Echeverri Casarez tried to make the best of the situation. She baked her husband a cake — chocolate with white frosting. She died a few days later.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 24, 2020

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A Whip-Smart Neurologist Endlessly Fascinated With The Brain

Gary Sclar (Courtesy of Jennifer Sclar)

Gary Sclar

Age: 66
Occupation: Neurologist
Place of Work: Mount Sinai Queens in New York City
Date of Death: April 12, 2020

Gary Sclar was a whip-smart neurologist who loved comic books, “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars,” said his daughter, Jennifer Sclar. He was deeply compassionate with a blunt bedside manner.

“My dad was fascinated with the brain and with science,” Jennifer Sclar said. “His work was his passion, and it’s what made him the happiest, besides my brother and me.” Set to retire in June, he was looking forward to writing about politics and neurology.

Gary Sclar saw patients who were showing COVID-19 symptoms and knew his age and underlying health conditions ― he had diabetes — put him at risk for developing complications from the illness. His daughter pleaded with him to stop going to the hospital.

In early April, he mentioned having lost his sense of smell, and on April 8 he collapsed in his home. He was hospitalized a few days later and agreed to be intubated. “I don’t think he realized, like, that this was the end,” Jennifer Sclar said. “He brought his keys. He brought his wallet.”

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 24, 2020

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An Exacting But Loving Aunt, She Was A Mentor Until The End

Araceli Buendia Ilagan (Courtesy of Jhoanna Mariel Buendia)

Araceli Buendia Ilagan

Age: 63
Occupation: Intensive care unit nurse
Place of Work: Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami
Date of Death: March 27, 2020

For Jhoanna Mariel Buendia, her aunt was a constant ― if distant — presence. Araceli Buendia Ilagan emigrated from their hometown Baguio, in the Philippines, to the U.S. before Buendia was born, but she remained close to her family and communicated with them nearly every day.

“She was one of the smartest people I ever knew,” Buendia, 27, said. Buendia Ilagan, who at one point looked into adopting her niece so she could join her and her husband the United States, encouraged Buendia to become a nurse, and talked her through grueling coursework in anatomy and physiology. Buendia is now a nurse in London.

Buendia Ilagan was also demanding. “Whenever she visited the Philippines, she wanted everything to be organized and squeaky-clean,” Buendia said.

The last time the two spoke, in late March, Buendia Ilagan didn’t mention anything about feeling ill. Instead, the two commiserated over their experiences of treating patients with COVID-19; as always, her aunt offered her advice on staying safe while giving the best possible care. She died four days later.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020

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A Beloved Geriatric Psychiatrist And Church Musician Remembered For His Cooking Skills

(Courtesy of Nida Gonzales)

Leo Dela Cruz

Age: 57
Occupation: Geriatric psychiatrist
Place of Work: Christ Hospital and CarePoint Health in Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Dr. Leo Dela Cruz was nervous about going to work in the weeks before he died, his friends said. Like many in the region, Christ Hospital had an influx of COVID-19 patients and faced a shortage of ventilators and masks.

Dela Cruz was a geriatric psychiatrist and didn’t work in coronavirus wards. But he continued to see patients in person. In early April, Dela Cruz, who lived alone, complained only of migraines, his friends said. Within a week, his condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator at a nearby hospital. He died soon after.

Friends said he may have been exposed at the hospital. (In a statement, hospital representatives said he didn’t treat COVID-19 patients.)

Dela Cruz, the oldest of 10 siblings, came from a family of health care professionals. His friends and family — from Cebu, Philippines, to Teaneck, New Jersey — remembered his jovial personality on Facebook. He won “best doctor of the year” awards, played tennis and cooked traditional Cebu dishes.

Nida Gonzales, a colleague, said he always supported people, whether funding a student’s education or running a church mental health program. “I feel like I lost a brother,” she said.

Ankita Rao, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020

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Alabama Nurse Remembered As Selfless But Sassy

Rose Harrison (Courtesy of Amanda Williams)

Rose Harrison

Age: 60
Occupation: Nurse
Place of Work: Marion Regional Nursing Home in Hamilton, Alabama
Date of Death: April 6, 2020

Rose Harrison, 60, lived to serve others ― her husband, three daughters, grandchildren and the residents of the nursing home where she worked. Though the Alabama nurse was selfless, she also had a sassy edge to her personality and a penchant for road rage, her daughter, Amanda Williams said.

“Her personality was so funny, you automatically loved her,” Williams said. “She was so outspoken. If she didn’t agree with you, she’d tell you in a respectful way.”

Harrison was not wearing a mask when she cared for a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19 at Marion Regional Nursing Home in Hamilton, Alabama, her daughter said. She later developed a cough, fatigue and a low-grade fever, but kept reporting to duty all week. Officials from the nursing home did not return calls for comment.

On April 3, Williams drove her mother to a hospital. The following evening, Harrison discussed the option of going on a ventilator with loved ones on a video call, agreeing it was the best course. Williams believed that her mother fully expected to recover. She died April 6.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 22, 2020

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Connecticut Social Worker Had Angelic Singing Voice And A Zest For Life

(Courtesy of the Hunt family)

Curtis Hunt

Age: 57
Occupation: Social worker
Places of Work: Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center and New Reach, both in New Haven, Connecticut
Date of Death: March 23, 2020

At a shelter for adults recovering from addiction, residents looked forward to the days when Marion “Curtis” Hunt would take the stage, emceeing talent shows and belting out Broadway and gospel tunes.

It wasn’t part of his job description as a social worker. It was just one of the ways he went “above and beyond,” said his supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, Daena Murphy. “He had a beautiful voice,” she said. “He was just a wonderful person — funny, engaging, always a huge smile on his face.”

Hunt, the youngest of four brothers, earned his master’s in social work from Fordham University at 52, and was baptized at his brother’s Pentecostal church at 54. He was a devoted uncle who doted on his dog and cat, Mya and Milo.

It’s unclear how Hunt got infected, but one patient he worked with had tested positive for COVID-19, as did two co-workers, according to Dr. Ece Tek, another supervisor at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center. Hunt died on March 23, one week after developing flu-like symptoms, said his brother John Mann Jr.

Melissa Bailey | Published April 22, 2020

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To The End, King-Smith Was Driven By A Desire To Help Others

Kim King-Smith (Courtesy of Hassana Salaam-Rivers)

Kim King-Smith

Age: 53
Occupation: Electrocardiogram technician
Place of Work: University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey
Date of Death: March 31, 2020

Kim King-Smith was a natural caregiver. An only child, she grew up close to her extended family, including her cousins Hassana Salaam-Rivers and Sharonda Salaam. After Salaam developed multiple sclerosis, King-Smith visited her every day.

“She’d bring her sweets that she wasn’t supposed to have and share them with her,” Salaam-Rivers said. King-Smith’s desire to care for others was the reason she became an electrocardiogram technician, her cousin added. “If a friend of a friend or family member went to the hospital, she would always go and visit them as soon as her shift was over,” she said.

In March, King-Smith cared for a patient she said had symptoms of COVID-19; she soon fell ill herself and tested positive for the virus. It seemed like a mild case at first, and she stayed in touch with family via FaceTime while trying to isolate from her husband, Lenny.

On March 29, Salaam-Rivers checked in on her cousin and noticed she was struggling to breathe. She urged her to call an ambulance. After King-Smith was hospitalized, she exchanged text messages with her mother and cousin. As the day progressed, her messages carried increasingly grave news, Salaam-Rivers said. Then she stopped responding.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 22, 2020

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On The Eve Of Retirement, VA Nurse Succumbs To COVID-19

(Courtesy of Mark Accad)

Debbie Accad

Age: 72
Occupation: Clinical nursing coordinator
Place of Work: Detroit VA Medical Center in Detroit, Michigan
Date of Death: March 30, 2020

Nurse Divina “Debbie” Accad had cared for veterans for over 25 years and was set to retire in April. But after contracting the novel coronavirus, she spent her final 11 days on a ventilator — and didn’t survive past March.

She joined a growing list of health care professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic who have died from COVID-19.

Accad, 72, a clinical nursing coordinator at the Detroit VA Medical Center, dedicated her life to nursing, according to her son Mark Accad.

“She died doing what she loved most,” he said. “That was caring for people.”

Read more here.

Melissa Bailey | Published April 15, 2020

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California Nurse Thrived In ER and ICU, But Couldn’t Survive COVID-19

Jeff Baumbach and his wife, Karen
(Courtesy of the Baumbach family)

Jeff Baumbach

Age: 57
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, California
Date of Death: March 31, 2020

Jeff Baumbach, 57, was a seasoned nurse of 28 years when the novel coronavirus began to circulate in California. He’d worked in the ER, the ICU and on a cardiac floor. Hepatitis and tuberculosis had been around over the years but never posed a major concern. He’d cared for patients who had tuberculosis.

Jeff and his wife, Karen Baumbach, also a nurse, initially didn’t consider it significantly riskier than challenges they’d faced for years.

“He’d worked in the ICU. He was exposed to so many things, and we never got anything,” she said. “This was just ramping up.”

One day during work, Jeff sent a sarcastic text to his wife: “I love wearing a mask every day.”

Within weeks, he would wage a difficult and steady fight against the virus that ended with a sudden collapse.

Read more here.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020

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Nurse’s Faith Led Her To Care For Prisoners At A New Jersey Jail

(Courtesy of Denise Rendor)

Daisy Doronila

Age: 60
Occupation: Registered nurse
Place of Work: Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny, New Jersey
Date of Death: April 5, 2020

Daisy Doronila had a different perspective than most who worked at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, a New Jersey lockup 11 miles from Manhattan. It was a place where the veteran nurse could put her Catholic faith into action, showing kindness to marginalized people.

“There would be people there for the most heinous crimes,” said her daughter, Denise Rendor, 28, “but they would just melt towards my mother because she really was there to give them care with no judgment.”

Doronila, 60, died April 5, two weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The jail has been hit hard by the virus, with 27 inmates and 68 staff members having tested positive. Among those, another nurse, a correctional officer and a clerk also died, according to Ron Edwards, Hudson County’s director of corrections.

Doronila fell ill before the scope of the jail infections were known. She was picking up extra shifts in the weeks before, her daughter said, and planning on a trip to Israel soon with friends from church.

That plan began to fall apart March 14, when someone at the jail noticed her coughing and asked her to go home and visit a doctor.

Read more here.

Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020

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An Army Veteran, Hospital Custodian ‘Loved Helping People’

(Courtesy of Michelle Wilcox)

Alvin Simmons

Age: 54
Occupation: Environmental service assistant
Place of Work: Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, New York
Death: March 17, 2020

Alvin Simmons started working as a custodian at Rochester General Hospital, in New York state, weeks before he fell ill. “He loved helping people and he figured the best place to do that would be in a hospital,” his sister, Michelle Wilcox said.

An Army veteran who had served in the first Gulf War, Simmons loved karaoke and doted on his three grandchildren, Wilcox said. “He was a dedicated, hardworking individual who had just changed his life around” since a prison stint, she said.

According to Wilcox, Simmons began developing symptoms shortly after cleaning the room of a woman he believed was infected with the novel coronavirus. “Other hospital employees did not want to clean the room because they said they weren’t properly trained” to clean the room of someone potentially infected, she said. “They got my brother from a different floor, because he had just started there,” she said. (In an email, a hospital spokesperson said they had “no evidence to suggest that Mr. Simmons was at a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 by virtue of his training or employment duties at RGH.”)

On March 11, he visited the emergency room at Rochester General, where he was tested for COVID-19, Wilcox said. Over the next few days, as he rested at his girlfriend’s home, his breathing became more labored and he began to cough up blood. He was rushed to the hospital on March 13, where he was later declared brain-dead. Subsequently, he received a COVID-19 diagnosis. Simmons died on March 17.

Danielle Renwick, The Guardian | Published April 15, 2020

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Nurse At Nevada VA Dies After Caring For Infected Colleague

(Courtesy of Bob Thompson)

Vianna Thompson

Age: 52
Occupation: Nurse
Places of Work: VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System and Northern Nevada Medical Center in Reno, Nevada
Date of Death: April 7, 2020

Nurse Vianna Thompson, 52, spent two night shifts caring for a fellow Veterans Affairs health care worker who was dying from COVID-19.

Two weeks later, she too was lying in a hospital intensive care unit, with a co-worker holding her hand as she died.

Thompson and the man she treated were among three VA health care workers in Reno, Nevada, to die in two weeks from complications of the novel coronavirus.

“It’s pretty devastating. It’s surreal. Reno’s not that big of a city,” said Robyn Underhill, a night nurse who worked with Thompson in the ER at Reno’s VA hospital the past two years.

Thompson, who dreamed of teaching nursing one day, died April 7, joining a growing list of health care professionals killed in the pandemic.

Read more here.

Melissa Bailey | Published April 15, 2020

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Dr. J. Ronald Verrier Was Busy Saving Lives Before The Pandemic

(Courtesy of Christina Pardo)

J. Ronald Verrier

Age: 59
Occupation: Surgeon
Place of Work: St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, New York
Date of Death: April 8, 2020

Dr. J. Ronald Verrier, a surgeon at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, spent the final weeks of his audacious, unfinished life tending to a torrent of patients inflicted with COVID-19. He died April 8 at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York, at age 59, after falling ill from the novel coronavirus.

Verrier led the charge even as the financially strapped St. Barnabas Hospital struggled to find masks and gowns to protect its workers — many nurses continue to make cloth masks — and makeshift morgues in the parking lot held patients who had died.

“He did a good work,” said Jeannine Sherwood, a nurse manager at St. Barnabas Hospital who worked closely with Verrier.

“He can rest.”

Read more here.

Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News | Published April 15, 2020

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America’s First ER Doctor To Die In The Heat Of COVID-19 Battle

(Courtesy of Debra Vasalech Lyons)

Frank Gabrin

Age: 60
Occupation: Doctor
Places of Work: St. John’s Episcopal in Queens, New York, and East Orange General in New Jersey
Date of Death: March 26, 2020

At about 5 a.m. on March 19, a New York City ER physician named Frank Gabrin texted a friend about his concerns over the lack of medical supplies at hospitals.

“It’s busy ― everyone wants a COVID test that I do not have to give them,” he wrote in the message to Eddy Soffer. “So they are angry and disappointed.”

Worse, though, was the limited availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) — the masks and gloves that help keep health care workers from getting sick and spreading the virus to others. Gabrin said he had no choice but to don the same mask for several shifts, against Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

“Don’t have any PPE that has not been used,” he wrote. “No N95 masks ― my own goggles — my own face shield,” he added, referring to the N95 respirators considered among the best lines of defense.

Less than two weeks later, Gabrin became the first ER doctor in the U.S. known to have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Read more here.

Alastair Gee, The Guardian | Published April 10, 2020

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This story is part of “Lost on the Frontline,” an ongoing project from The Guardian and Kaiser Health News that aims to document the lives of health care workers in the U.S. who die from COVID-19, and to investigate why so many are victims of the disease. If you have a colleague or loved one we should include, please share their story.