‘Beds don’t take care of people, people do’: NYC nurses come to Utah to return the favor

SALT LAKE CITY — Natalie Torrance can easily recall the night about seven months ago.

SALT LAKE CITY — Natalie Torrance can easily recall the night about seven months ago. She was exhausted, along with every other nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. They were battling a COVID-19 outbreak and were low on supplies, beds, personnel, morale and everything else, it seemed. At times, it all felt hopeless as more and more people were admitted into their care. A bit of hope was restored, though, when nurses from Intermountain hospitals in Utah walked through the doors.

“It was such a sense of relief for myself to know that we had just a few extra sets of hands to help care for our patients in that moment,” Torrance said. “It’s our turn to come and help return the favor.”

Last week, 31 nurses from the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital system arrived in Utah to help Intermountain hospitals as COVID-19 cases continue to spike. On Thursday, Utah smashed its record by reporting 3,919 new cases of the virus in a single day. There are currently 468 people are hospitalized with COVID (up by over 100 since the beginning of the month) and ICUs across the state are inching toward capacity. But it’s not just beds that are needed — it’s workers. And that’s why some reserves from New York have been a godsend.

“We are incredibly grateful for those nurses,” Dr. Katie Thomas, associate medical director at Intermountain Medical Center, said. “They have graciously and enthusiastically enabled us to continue providing that high-level care to patients; equally importantly, these nurses have provided support to our current staff so that they can continue doing what they’re doing and better take care of themselves and their families.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Intermountain began work on a plan in case hospitals reached capacity. It was a plan Thomas said the hospitals “hoped to never have to use.” That hope is now gone. Intermountain Medical Center has turned some non-ICU beds into ICU ones, Intermountain’s Orthopedic Specialty Hospital is now treating medical patients, the Riverton hospital has opened its pediatric floor to adult patients, Altaview is opening up additional beds in a couple of weeks and Primary Children’s Hospital is treating adult patients.

The hospital network is working around limitations to find spots for the growing number of patients who need treatment.

“There are limits, as we know, to what our current staff can handle,” Thomas said. “Beds don’t take care of people, people do. Staffing has been a struggle.”

Nurses from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital prepare to leave for Utah. (Photo: Courtesy of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital)

And that’s why the 31 volunteer nurses from New York are so important. And for those nurses, it was important for them to give back to the community that helped them when they needed it the most. Intermountain has also hired 190 traveling nurses to assist its staff as numbers continue to increase.

“I decided to come to Utah because I wanted to pay it forward to the frontline workers who left their homes to aid us at our time of need,” said Wen Hui Xiao, an ER nurse at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “It was really vital and essential to us and we are so thankful. … A battle is easier won together, and it is the circle of trust and support that has kept us going.”

Hui Xiao’s thoughts are a common theme among the group of New Yorkers. Torrance shared messages from some of the other nurses explaining why they chose to make the trip out west.

One note said, “I wanted to help return the favor, ease the stress and give the nurses here a sense of support as they came and did the exact same for us.” Another nurse hopes that “sharing our knowledge and our skills and our experiences of caring for these COVID patients would help give them a huge sense of relief, seeing that we had their backs and that they will make it through this.” And an ICU nurse said, “There were so many patients, and not enough of us to take care of all of them, the Intermountain nurses jumped in immediately to help us. And I recall thinking they’re fearless and so selfless, not really knowing what was ahead, or what to expect.”

Torrance said the collaborations between the two hospital systems have been a “silver lining” of the pandemic. But even with the shared knowledge between the groups, she said the support of the community is still “absolutely vital” to get through the case surge.

“Please wear your mask please continue to wash your hands frequently, and please social distance,” she said. “This is how we will be successful at preventing the spread.”

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