Lee Health nurse answers NY’s plea for help, joins front lines in hard-hit city

Published: Updated:
Credit: Gina Willaford

The governor of New York said the death toll from the coronavirus topped 10,000 on Monday, and hospitals are still getting about 2,000 new patients a day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an urgent plea two weeks ago for nurses to come to New York and help.

Lee Health nurse Gina Willaford didn’t think twice.

“When you’re a nurse, you have that calling, you need to help,” she said.

So, the certified nurse anesthetist and two Lee Health co-workers got on a plane April 5, ready to work in the world’s largest COVID-19 hotspot.

“We committed to 21 days, 12-hour shifts, so we’re doing 84 hour weeks. Let me tell you something, sister, it’s a long week but it goes by fast.”

Willaford is stationed at Bellevue Hospital.

“Everybody is COVID, the entire floor, all the ICUs, I can’t even say ICU because every bed in this hospital is ICU,” the nurse said. “I do actually have a patient today that we are potentially going to be taking off the ventilator.”

But too many patients never make it home.

“Our goal is not just the best care but also to keep them comfortable, too, because there are a lot of people passing away.”

More than 10,000 people have died in New York.

“I’m not sure we’re going to get hit to the same extent with our population, but what I’ve been doing every day is I’m so fortunate to be on a unit where I’m able to pick the brains of the physicians and the staff that I’ve been here and I’ve been able to learn what they wish they could’ve done differently, the protocols that are working, that are not working.”

Willaford said she won’t even think of leaving New York until the crisis has passed.

She also said she’ll never again take equipment for granted, and that goes beyond masks and gowns. She said in New York, there’s a shortage of IV pumps because so many patients required a handful or more of these machines.

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