Ms. Jennie Chieco ’13 on the COVID-19 frontlines

While+thousands+of+employees+work+remotely+during+the+coronavirus+%28COVID-19%29+outbreak%2C+nurses+and+healthcare+workers+continue+to+care+for+an+increasing+number+of+ill+and+hospitalized+patients.++

Sydney Kim ’20

While thousands of employees work remotely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, nurses and healthcare workers continue to care for an increasing number of ill and hospitalized patients.

Sacred Heart Greenwich alumna Ms. Jennie Chieco ‘13, a Registered Nurse at the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center, works on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.  During this public health crisis, Ms. Chieco, alongside her fellow healthcare workers, dedicates her time to helping hospitalized patients in New York City recover from the virus.

In New York City, health officials have confirmed 106,764 cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to date, and the deaths from the virus in New York State alone represent over 42% of those in the entire country, according to The New York Times.  In response, Mr. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Governor, encouraged all New York residents to exercise social distancing and directed schools and nonessential businesses to remain closed until April 29, according to coronavirus.health.ny.gov

Ms. Jennie Chieco ’13, a Registered Nurse at NYU Langone Medical Center, wears personal protective equipment (PPE) when interacting with COVID-19 patients.  Courtesy of Ms. Jennie Chieco ’13

Although most of the country is out of work, Ms. Chieco and other healthcare workers are busy helping those who are suffering from COVID-19.  Ms. Chieco discussed her experience treating patients who are not able to interact with their family members or friends due to the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus.

“When I see these patients, I realize that they are so lonely and so sad, and they don’t really know what to do,” Ms. Chieco said.  “Every day when I go into those patients’ rooms, it’s just about trying to talk to them and make them feel a little bit more comfortable in all of this.”

While she was a student at Sacred Heart, Ms. Chieco founded the Red Cross Club, a continuation of her eighth grade “Making History” project, and organized the school’s first blood drive.  Ms. Chieco’s inspiration behind these initiatives was her older sister, Ms. Michelle Chieco ‘06, who has thalassemia, a blood disorder that requires her to have biweekly blood transfusions.  

After graduating from Sacred Heart in 2013, Ms. Chieco attended Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.  There, she majored in nursing and graduated with the class of 2017, after which she moved to New York City to begin her career as a Registered Nurse.  

Before the coronavirus outbreak spread to the United States, Ms. Chieco worked in an outpatient clinic attached to the NYU Langone Medical Center, where she cared for patients before, during, and after various gastrointestinal procedures.  At the end of March, the hospital reassigned her, along with most of her peers, to work in the main facility.  Ms. Chieco explained the gradual process of reassignment for the nurses and doctors within her outpatient clinic.

“About a month ago, [the main hospital] started talking to all the nurses I work with, telling us that we were going to be reassigned,” Ms. Chieco said.  “Then, slowly, they started to pull staff members, a day at a time.  [. . .] Now, all of us have been reassigned to the main hospital.”

The NYU Langone Medical Center is currently a COVID-19 unit, as the majority of its facilities are dedicated to treating both acute and intensive care patients who tested positive for the virus.  Ms. Chieco described the measures that the medical center has taken in addition to reassigning its staff to accommodate the rise in hospitalized patients.

Hospitals throughout New York City including the NYU Langone Medical Center, the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and the Mount Sinai Hospital are testing and treating coronavirus patients in outdoor tents. Courtesy of abcnews.go.com

“Four weeks ago, they started to increase the capacity of the hospital by getting beds for [COVID-19] patients and putting patients in unconventional areas.  We have patients that are being held in the main operating rooms [and] in certain areas of the hospital that are no longer open,” Ms. Chieco said.  “On top of that, they just put tents outside of the emergency rooms, so those tents are able to triage patients who are suspected or confirmed COVID patients.”

By mid-March, New York City hospitals began to experience a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, rubber gloves, eye protection, and gowns for healthcare workers, according to The New York Times.  At the NYU Langone Medical Center, the healthcare workers receive one N95 mask and a face shield at the beginning of each week, which they store in a sealed paper bag between shifts.  They also have one gown for each day.  Typically, a nurse only uses such PPE once before disposing of it.

“Every day when I go into those patients’ rooms, it’s just about trying to talk to them and make them feel a little bit more comfortable in all of this.”

— Ms. Jennie Chieco '13

 

The sudden increase in patients needing emergency medical treatment caught hospitals unprepared.  Doctors and nurses are not only encountering a lack of PPE, but also a lack of medical supplies such as ventilators to treat patients, according to time.com.  Ms. Chieco’s hospital has addressed this ventilator shortage by utilizing older ventilator models and reconfiguring anesthesia machines to function as ventilators.  Still, the facility does not have enough equipment, and Ms. Chieco shared how doctors are using new New York State guidelines to determine which patients receive ventilators.

“Unfortunately, there have had to be some really tough decisions that doctors have had to make in order to, basically, decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t,” Ms. Chieco said.  “If someone is too sick to receive a ventilator, [. . .] they may be brought into a comfort care situation where we’re just keeping them comfortable until they die.”

Although the number of new cases of COVID-19 in New York State is beginning to decrease, the number of deaths continues to increase each day. Courtesy of The New York Times

With the mental stress that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on both patients and healthcare workers, Ms. Chieco finds that each day, she and her fellow nurses work to maintain a positive mindset.  In addition to providing physical care, Ms. Chieco discussed the value of building relationships with her patients in this time of crisis.

“Every day when I go to the hospital, I find myself, right now, in this pandemic and in this craziness, relying more on the things that I have learned outside of nursing school to get me through the day,” Ms. Chieco said.  “By that, I mean the things I have learned in high school and in college about being a good person, being nice to people, and going in with a smile and just being a warm and welcoming presence to these patients.  That’s what they need more than any medical care I could possibly give them.”

Listen to Ms. Jennie Chieco ’13 speak about her experience working as a Registered Nurse in New York City during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Audio edited by Christine Guido ’20, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Featured Image by Sydney Kim ‘20