Nurses, VITAS Values

VITAS Nurse Helps on COVID-19 Front Lines in NYC

May 14, 2020

Alisa Greene, a VITAS RN, had been following COVID-19 developments for weeks when she got a call from a nurse (and friend) who had just traveled to New York City to lend a hand.

“We need you here,” her friend implored.

Alisa cries as she hugs her children at the airport en route to NYC

It was an emotional goodbye at the airport, as Alisa left her family in Ohio to help on the front lines in New York.

Within a matter of hours, Alisa called her boss to schedule time off and said goodbye to her husband and two children in their Columbus, Ohio, home.

The next day, she found herself walking into the ED of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn, New York, facing a grim reality that news reports had failed to fully capture.

While such dire circumstances might seem overwhelming to most, they can be motivating for healthcare workers like Alisa.

She “felt she had a responsibility to help other nurses in need,” says Mark Knepper, VITAS general manager in Columbus and Alisa’s boss. “It was her calling to be there, helping them get through this surge of patients.”

‘I Knew It Was Going to Be Bad’

“When I accepted the assignment, I knew it was going to be bad based on what I’d seen on the news,” Alisa said, who had worked in a Columbus ICU prior to her career at VITAS. “But what I actually saw in person was considerably worse than what was portrayed on TV.”

Every single-patient bay in the ED was filled to double capacity, while more patients lay head to toe on gurneys in the hallways, nearly all diagnosed with COVID-19. Personal protective equipment was scarce, and anxiety plagued patients and staff alike.

For the next 10 days, this would be Alisa’s combat zone in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Support, Compassion From Her Hospice Training

For just under three weeks, Alisa worked long, chaotic shifts, first in the ED and then in the ICU. Many of her patients were homeless individuals who spoke only Spanish, and no interpreters were available to assist. Others were rendered unable to communicate by the severity of their symptoms alone.

“It was her calling to be there, helping them get through this surge of patients.”Mark Knepper, VITAS Columbus general manager

On her hardest shift, Alisa lost six patients. But in others, every patient pulled through. The staff learned to celebrate these small victories when they could.

When they couldn’t, Alisa put her hospice training to use.

“Once we had exhausted all of our options with a patient, we had to have the conversation with the family over the phone,” Alisa said. “My hospice background helped me choose the right words and give families the compassion and support they needed at a distance.”

Alisa tested negative for COVID-19 after her time in New York. Back in Ohio, she spent two weeks in self-quarantine and came out healthy–and with a new perspective on life.

‘Life Is So Precious’

“The one thing that my experience reinforced over and over again is that life is so precious, and tomorrow is absolutely not guaranteed,” Alisa said. “I’m trying to treat everyone I come across, whether family, patient, or acquaintance, as if it might be the last time I see them, because it might.”

While Alisa is glad to be back with her patients, she’s made her stance clear: If necessary, she would head back to NYC to do the job again.

Back at home in Ohio, her care continues to make a big impression.

“Alisa has been a wonderful addition to our team,” Mark says. “Our patients and families cannot say enough about the care she provides them.”