A holiday blizzard brought the entire Northeast to a halt, but it didn’t stop NYSNA members from caring for their patients.
The storm made travel nearly impossible, dropping 20 inches of snow on Dec. 26 and 27 on the New York metropolitan area and more than a foot in Upstate New York and Southern New Jersey. Businesses were closed, vehicles were banned from the highways, and airline, train, and bus passengers were stranded. But thousands of hard-working NYSNA members worked extra shifts or took extraordinary measures to get to their posts.
“Some HHC RNs worked 30 hours in the emergency room, and in the pediatric and adult ICUs,” said Elizabeth Atkinson, NYSNA release time representative for Kings County Hospital Center. “Buses in Brooklyn weren't running. Some nurses told me they walked five hours to get here. Others walked for hours, gave up, and went home.”
A handful of members shared their stories on NYSNA’s Facebook page. “Thankfully, my Jeep handles well in the snow and I got in Monday,” shared Susan Mantovani from St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown. She said her normal 20 minute commute by car took more than an hour. “My husband offered to go get other nurses if they were stuck, too. All in all, all of our nurses for our unit made it in safe and sound. But I am hearing horror stories from other departments and hospitals.”
“I got stuck at work, did two shifts and almost three,” posted another RN in New York City.
“The roads were clogged with buses and other vehicles that couldn’t get over the mounds of snow,” reported one RN from Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center. “Elevated trains stopped running. Very few day shift workers could get to the medical center to relieve the night shift. Food and places to rest were limited, but they stayed.” Maimonides’ vice president of nursing, NYSNA member Tom Smith, changed his holiday plans and arrived back in Brooklyn before the storm to prepare.
Some Maimonides nurses worked for 36 hours. One wanted to be home with her 9½-month old, but remained by her patients. She was grateful her husband was able to care for the baby. An oncology nurse who works days, came in at 7 p.m. to send exhausted staff home. She was driven as far as her husband could drive her and walked the rest of the way.
“When I got to work, I think I was the third person to come to my unit, and the morning shift was applauding!” said Aura Miranda-Agosto, a night-shift telemetry nurse at Wyckoff Height Medical Center in Brooklyn. “I was happy to relieve my peers and ready to take charge of the unit and my patients.” The night went smoothly and they were hoping they could change shifts without a glitch. “Of course, that didn’t happen.”
The supervisor said the night shift had to stay because the morning staff, except one LPN, wasn’t able to make it due to the weather. “As registered professional nurses that have a passion and serious commitment to our profession and responsibility to our patients, we stayed,” Miranda-Agosto said. She ended up working two 12-hour shifts.
“I kept myself going by thinking we are in an unusual circumstance, which requires the usual dedication and resilience from nurses to care for our vulnerable patients,” she said. Patients and families – even physicians – were very supportive and appreciative that the RNs were here for them. “I felt so privileged to work with my peers. Despite how tired we were, we were supportive and respectful to each other and assisted each other any way we could.”
Patient care managers ensured that the staff's basic needs were met – such as getting adequate rest when they started to feel fatigued. Meals were also provided. “This helped the staff care for our patients safely and effectively,” Miranda-Agosto said. “I think as nurses, we are equipped to face uncertainties and handle diverse situations in the most positive way as possible.”
Her last shift over, she found her car covered with snow. She didn’t have a shovel. “I asked myself, ‘How am I going to get my car out of here after I worked two shifts?’ Then I thought, ‘Think positive and things will fall into place.” She saw a young man across the street, drinking coffee, with a shovel in his other hand. “He asked me if I needed help to get my car out of the snow. I enthusiastically said, ‘Yes!’”
The young man helped her dig out her car. She was about to give him money, but he said, “I know you’re a nurse. If you ever take care of my mom, who is in the hospital, just take good care of her.”
I said, “Thank you!” Then, I thought to myself, ‘I had a really great day!’”
The New York State Nurses Association is the voice for nursing in the Empire State. With more than 37,000 members, it is the state's largest union and professional association for registered nurses. It supports nurses and nursing practice through education, research, legislative advocacy, and collective bargaining.