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LaShay Rhodes was a nurse working from home and feeling restless until she picked up the phone to call an agency and inquire about where she could be of more help as the nation faces COVID-19.
The Newtonian is now living in a hotel in New York City, working in the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.
“My full-time job has me working from home. I felt spoiled as a nurse, with people really busting their butts on the front lines,” Rhodes said.
She called an agency in Overland Park that put her on a VIP list. She expected to wait for a while before hearing back, but the call came in just two hours. She was headed to New York. In about 48 hours she packed, flew across the country, checked into a hotel and got her first assignment.
She joined between 900 and 1,000 nurses from across the nation in that hotel, all of whom were there as volunteers to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak. She started work at a nursing home facility, where there was little to no protective equipment and in some cases no commitment to use it.
“One nurse did not wear a mask because she thought it would scare her patients,” Rhodes said. “They are restricting PPE.”
She put out a public plea on her Facebook page, Rhodes NYC COVID 19 Crisis Response Follow Ups. There, she said volunteer nurses from across the nation are coming to New York, most without masks and protective gear. They ride public transportation to their assignments — and unless they brought masks with them, they make the ride unprotected.
She made the public plea, but supplies were slow to come. And, after talking with the agency representatives at the hotel where nurses are staying, she will be taking a new assignment this week.
She said that facility was not provided protective equipment, and she asked for a new assignment.
She headed to a metro hospital filled with COVID-19 patients. Her first night she worked in a makeshift ICU — a converted post acute care unit. Her shift started with seven patients, each of whom was confirmed as positive for the coronavirus.
She spoke about her experience on Facebook live the next morning.
“They were pretty critical,” Rhodes said. “I was very lucky. We were able to maintain everyone in my area. We did not lose a patient in my area on my shift. There were codes started in the hospital in different area. I felt lucky to have that opportunity. It is hard to sit back and watch those patients struggle like that, but we did everything that we could.”
She will be back in that hospital for 16 more consecutive nights.
“They are calling this week in New York ’Pearl Harbor week,’ ” Rhodes said. “This is supposed be a bad week.”
Earlier this week, the COVID-19 death toll in New York surpassed the death toll of 9/11.
“I cant stand seeing these nurses walking off their shift and coming back so defeated,” Rhodes said. “The nurses here in New York are excellent and they deal with critical cases. The staff has dealt with the coronavirus for a long time. Some of them are getting sick, or they are so burned out with the high acuity.”
Normally the nurse-to-patient ratio is around 1:1, or 2:1. However, right now in New York, that ratio is more like 1:11, which Rhodes calls “extremely dangerous.”
They are burned out dealing with death. Rhodes said a shift with only two patient deaths is considered good — and that is taking its toll.
“It is constant running. ... The priority is to keep (people) alive,” Rhodes said. “They are tired. They are mentally and physically exhausted. Death starts to wear on you after a while. They do have behavioral health specialists out here for this.”
Behavior health is part of her background. She has served as a nurse with Prairie View, a mental health facility in Newton. And she sees the struggle nurses are going through as COVID-19 claims life after life.
“There is nothing you can say to make it better for them,” Rhodes said.
She signed up for 21 days of 12-hour shifts. Despite pleas, and demands, from her family to come home, she has no intention of cutting the trip short.
“I know that I am supposed to be here, though I do not know why,” Rhodes said. “I want to help the nursing staff here and the people here.”
And she wants to bring home information that can help in the fight against COVID-19 as it moves across the country.
She strongly believes the virus will ravage places that are unprepared.
This week she delivered a message to her brother about his two kids.
“You need to get them masks and get them comfortable wearing them,” Rhodes said. “I am so used to it now I almost miss mine when I am not wearing it.”
And she has a message for everyone else — listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Handwashing is something I encourage people to do,” Rhodes said.