Upstate nurses coming to NYC to join fight against coronavirus

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The upstate medical cavalry is coming to relieve shell-shocked and exhausted New York City nurses who’ve been battling the coronavirus pandemic for weeks, under a new program set up by the nurses’ union.

“Nurses want to do everything they can to slow the spread of COVID-19 and do what they do best — care for patients. We want to make it possible for them to go where the need is greatest,” Pat Kane, executive director of the NYS Nurses Association, said Monday of the Upstate COVID Nurses Corps program.

Nurses at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital (CVPH) in Plattsburgh near the Canadian border are among the nurses to answer the call.

The upstate hospital is partnering with the NYSNA to send nurses from Plattsburgh to the city in phased stages.

The first nurses are starting Tuesday at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island.

“I asked CVPH earlier for a leave of absence to go to New York City to help, but was denied,” said nurse Cassie Stanley.

“We’ve been preparing for the surge upstate, but too many nurses are on hold, which makes no sense when people so desperately need help. When I saw the email about the Upstate COVID Nurse Corps, I was excited because if I were in that situation, I would want my fellow nurses to come help out, too. I’m comfortable with new challenges and feel eager to start.”

And chaplain nurse Caitlin McNulty-Bletard added, “I’ve been a nurse for about a year — no one really prepares you for a pandemic. I’ve been working full-time in the med-surg and oncology unit, but when I saw what was happening downstate, I felt compelled to help.

“That’s part of the reason I became a nurse — to help. I’m so thankful for the nurses in NYC. What they’ve done is nothing short of heroic, and I’m looking forward to working alongside them,” she said.

Richmond University nurses welcomed the support.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we converted two of our units into the COVID unit, and I’ve been working there ever since,” said Maria Zaharescu. “We are really excited to get the help, because we are often working short-staffed and have not been able to take any holidays or vacation days, so it’s very tiring.

“I understand that it can be scary when you first come into a new department, but we have a good team here to orient and support our upstate nurses,” she added.

As part of the Upstate COVID Nurse Corps, upstate hospitals guarantee employment and continued health insurance coverage for nurses who volunteer downstate.

New York City hospitals — including Brooklyn Hospital, Interfaith Medical Center, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and Richmond University Medical Center — have agreed to pay per-diem salaries for upstate nurses working in their facilities.

The NYSNA said the state will cover the costs of food, travel and lodging for the upstate nurses.

City hospitals continue to struggle with staffing enough nurses to meet the demand in patient care, the union said.

Many nurses are also treating a greater number of intensive care patients than under normal circumstances because of the COVID pandemic and need a break, the union said.

More than 120 upstate nurses have volunteered to travel to the city to assist with the COVID coverage after the union sent out an email pitch last month.

Hundreds of volunteer medics from other parts of the country also landed in the Big Apple over the past two months to help hospitals treat a wave of COVID patients. Many have returned home as the pandemic waned here.

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