As members of VNSNY’s Staten Island Hospice team signed on to a group conference call in mid-March, the mood was upbeat and chatty. If you listened closely, however, you could hear that the clinicians’ voices were a little frayed around the edges. These hospice nurses, social workers, spiritual care counselors, nurse practitioners, and doctors have been working long, exhausting hours through the COVID-19 pandemic. But tired as each participant on the call might have been, one thing was clear: We’re all in this together.
Take Dr. Zoya K., physician for the team. “No matter what we need, she’s always there for us, and we know it,” says Kathleen S., a nurse on the Staten Island. Dr. K. has a long history of going the extra mile for New Yorkers. When Far Rockaway, Queens was hit after Superstorm Sandy, she started an urgent care practice in that community so that residents would still have medical care.
Today, Dr. K. has once again dedicated herself to serving the community’s needs. Each day, she provides on-call service to VNSNY’s Staten Island Hospice Team, writing prescriptions and consulting by phone with nurses in the field. “Dr. K. and the other doctors are critical members of the team,” says Kathleen. “She is amazing, and always picks up right away when we reach out to her in the morning.”
This got-your-back hospice team is also supported by Tina L., a nurse practitioner who writes prescriptions, consults with the team’s nurses, and sees patients in their homes. On March 29th, Tina proudly celebrated 20 years as a nurse. She’s worked in a variety of settings, including hospital ICU units. “This pandemic is really a battle,” she says. “We need to use all of our skills to help the people we are caring for, and to keep ourselves safe. We can’t do it alone—we are all fighting together.”
Anne W., a nurse practitioner and wound ostomy continence nurse, is another key member of the team. “I’ll send her a smartphone photo of a wound, maybe with my recommendation for care, and right away she’ll respond,” says Kathleen. “It’s teamwork like this every day, but especially now, as we are all coping with the stresses and concerns related to this COVID-19 crisis.”
Rabbi Yair F., a spiritual care counselor, and social worker Jennifer G. both know the healing power of giving to others. Through small tokens of kindness—listening to memories of a life well lived, or presenting bialys that evoke a favorite neighborhood gathering place—Rabbi Fine and Jennifer give comfort with grace to patients coping with the loneliness of COVID-19 social isolation.
“All of us on the VNSNY Staten Island Hospice team really understand one another, and we know our team is there no matter what,” Tina says. “We understand that the job we are doing in this pandemic is difficult, but in hospice, we’re used to that. Our job is difficult every day—that’s just the way hospice is. It’s what brings us together. No one works alone.”
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