Without safe COVID-19 protections, nurses are spending Mother’s Day separated from their families

This Mother’s Day falls during both Nurses’ Week, and the International Year of the Nurse, but for some nurses, what should have been a day of honor is instead a day of separation. Without safe protections from their employers, some nurses are spending Mother’s Day 2020 everywhere from hotel rooms to RVs to protect their families from exposure to COVID-19. Here are just a few stories that embody what nurses are going through across the country.

Ketsia Glemaud, RN, Brooklyn, NY

Each Mother’s Day, the moms in registered nurse Ketsia Glemaud’s extended family pile into the Brooklyn home she shares with her parents, both in their 80s. Gathering around a table in the dining room, they celebrate over a big spread of carryout food that none of them has to cook. This year, Glemaud will spend Mother’s Day alone in a hotel room, recovering from COVID-19.

“I don’t think we have ever spent a Mother’s Day apart,” Glemaud says of her 22-year-old daughter Bijoux, who is now living back at home after her university closed. “I miss my daughter. I miss my family.”

A registered nurse since 1996 — and a mental health nurse at a Brooklyn hospital for more than seven years — Glemaud’s world changed when COVID-19 struck, her unit was closed down, and she and several colleagues were ordered to “cross train” to work with COVID-19 patients on unfamiliar units.

“Two of my main concerns were being thrown on a unit that’s not my area of expertise, and, ‘How am I going to manage not bringing this home to my family?’” said Glemaud, who noted the nurses were given less than two days of training for their new assignments. At work in the ICU, she was told to reuse the same N95 respirator all day, and after a few days, she felt chills, muscle aches — enough to get tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive.

To protect her parents and daughter, Glemaud is riding out her illness in a hotel. Her mother sends clothes and food to her through family members, and her daughter encourages her to stay positive and build her strength to come home. But it’s been hard to sleep, she says, nagged at by loneliness and fears for her health. Her heart palpitations were so bad one day that she had to leave the hotel to go to the emergency room.

Although she is worried about her daughter having to grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, and pay the bills in Glemaud’s absence, she says protecting her family by living apart was “the right thing” to do. Still, things didn’t have to happen this way. Ideally, her employer would have had a pandemic planning committee with input from every type of worker in the hospital, she says, so that they were ready for a surge and not trying to put together units at the last minute.

“A lot of nurses including myself, we were under duress,” said Glemaud. “Not only because of the virus, but because you are being thrown into this unfamiliar territory and told, ‘Sink or swim.’”

Rachel Spray, RN, Fresno, California

To escape solitude and 100-degree heat in the RV she now calls home, registered nurse Rachel Spray will often pick up extra shifts on her COVID-19 unit at Kaiser Permanente in Fresno, Calif. After 10 nurses at her hospital tested positive for the virus, with three of them hospitalized, she made a tough decision to live separately from her husband, 13- and 17-year-old daughters, and 14-year-old son.

“My two girls have bad asthma, and they have had pneumonia several times when they were younger, so their lungs aren’t the greatest,” said Spray. “I’m really worried about exposing them, because my younger daughter is also immunocompromised. It would kill me if I gave it to them.”

Spray says her fear was compounded by a lack of safe PPE at work, where in the beginning, nurses were told to care for COVID-19 patients with just a loose-fitting surgical mask and goggles, not the N95 respirator, face shield, gloves, shoe and hair covers, and other equipment nurses need. Now she has an N95, says Spray, but Kaiser tells the nurses their masks will be “disinfected” for reuse, through a process nurses know has not been scientifically proven to be safe and effective.

“I think it’s ridiculous that they can’t give us the proper PPE so that we feel safe enough to go home to our families,” said Spray, who waves to her teenage kids through their windows and sometimes spends time 10 feet away from them in the yard. The kids miss her hanging out and helping them with their homework, says Spray, and her husband is struggling to work full time while shouldering all household duties.

“The way to get through it for me is to just keep working and taking care of patients because just sitting home is hard,” said Spray. “I’ve never been one to work extra because I usually spend that time off with my family. But we will get through it; this is what we do, we take care of people.”

Falguni Dave, RN, Chicago, Illinois

Until COVID-19 hit Stroger Hospital in Chicago, registered nurse Falguni Dave and her husband had never been apart for more than 15 days in their entire marriage of nearly 25 years. Now, things are different; Dave’s medical-surgical unit has been converted to a unit for positive COVID-19 patients from the local Cook County jail. After an exposure scare and a brief hotel stay, Dave is now trying to protect her family by living alone in her 20-year-old daughter’s apartment, while her daughter lives back home.

“Living away is very lonely. I already went through my breaking point when I just cried,” said Dave. “I felt as if I was alone and I had nobody to connect with because I was by myself. The phone conversations are not the same as the conversations you would have with your loved ones, face to face, holding them.”

Along with her husband and two kids, Dave says she is trying to protect her 73-year-old mother-in-law. And that’s harder to do, according to Dave, when Stroger was initially telling nurses to reuse N95s for weeks at a time — something the nurses fought back against and won, through the power of their union. And they are still fighting to maintain an adequate supply of gowns.

“If I had the appropriate protections, I would probably not live alone,” said Dave. Although she loves caring for some of the most vulnerable people in Cook County, and her patients regularly tell her how much they appreciate her, Dave says she doesn’t feel appreciated or respected by her employer.

“Nurses are not scared to take care of patients; this is what we signed up for,” said Dave. “But we feel like we are in the middle of a war, but no one is giving us the protections we need.”

Candice Cordero, RN, Bradenton, Florida

“My son is eight, and he has asthma. I’m afraid to bring [COVID-19] home to him,” says Candico Cordero, RN, who recently spent two weeks living in a converted bus to protect her son, her 12-year-old daughter, and her husband. Cordero works in the progressive care unit at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, Fla., but one day, she showed up to find out they were floating her to the COVID-19 floor.

Cordero, a nurse of 17 years, said she “didn’t get any training” before being sent to the front lines. She said her hospital educator tells nurses to read their emails and check their phones for resources, but nurses know a phone can’t tell you whether you’re putting protective equipment on and taking it off correctly. And Cordero says the hospital keeps PPE locked up.

What will she be doing on Mother’s Day? Taking care of her patients, says Cordero, who is scheduled to work. But she recently completed her 14-day self quarantine in the bus, so she says at least she will be reunited with her family inside the house—“unless I get floated to the COVID-19 unit again.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the nurses who are separated from their families, and the nurses who are changing their clothes in the garage, bleach wiping everything they touch, and taking every conceivable step to try to protect their patients at work and their families at home. We see you, and we will never stop fighting until all nurses have the COVID-19 protections they need. Visit protectnurses.org to take action.

Union Nurse Leader & Medicare For All Activist. Executive Director of @NationalNurses, the Largest U.S. Organization of Registered Nurses. #TIME100

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