New York, NY — The New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA] is a 42,000-strong union of frontline workers and the largest union and professional association for registered nurses in the state. The coronavirus pandemic had a profound impact on NYSNA’s members. LaborPress spoke to one such member, Maria Arizmendi, an RN in the Intensive Care Unit at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where she’s worked for 36 years. Arizmendi shared her reflections on the start of the outbreak, where we are now, and what the future might hold in the era of COVID-19.
LP: What happened at the hospital when COVID first hit?
MA: When it first hit, the whole hospital became COVID-19 focused. We stopped all elective surgery, etc. The psychiatry unit was converted to a COVID ICU. As per the governor’s orders, we had to increase the COVID capacity over 100%. The numbers of patients were extremely high, so the patient ratios were up. But at that time, the epicenter was in NYC, so we had volunteers from all over the country to help.
LP: What is going on presently?
MA: The surge after November was not as great as the first surge. But after December, we had nurses that left the hospital for various reasons. Staffing levels came down. We found ourselves short of nurses. The volunteers were not there anymore. It was extremely taxing and exhausting. The patients were very sick. So, the assignments were heavy. It was mentally exhausting. And emotionally – you just left it all in the unit. No staff got COVID, but we were just run down. Any cold symptoms, you had to get tested and wait two days. So, there were even less staff there.
LP: What do you see for the future?
MA: COVID is extremely scary. It’s something I have not seen in my 36 years. Most sicknesses you can treat. COVID, you contract [it], and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You still have people that believe it’s a hoax. Unless you’ve seen it affect a family member. Now, [variants] keep showing up. It’s warfare. I don’t know where they come from. This is going to be our future. I don’t think we will ever be immune to anything anymore. We won’t be able to take our masks off with any confidence for some time to come.