It has been an extraordinarily difficult for healthcare professionals in New York City, but they have stepped up to the plate to take care of millions of New Yorkers in their time of need. A lot as changed since the city became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, but there hasn’t been much opportunity to take a breath for the doctors and nurses tasked with shepherding the city to safety.
“It’s been an interesting, tough time for nursing,” said Rivka Mintz, interim chief nursing officer at Maimonides Medical Center. “We definitely have some resilient, strong, dedicated nurses at our hospital, who I’m so proud to work with.”
Mintz was born at Maimonides, and has worked at the Borough Park hospital for more than 18 years in different roles — as a student intern, an ICU nurse, a nurse practitioner, and now in her current role. Nursing — and the hospital — run deep in her family. Two of her sisters and her niece are also Maimonides nurses.
“Everybody teamed up and worked together as a team for their patients,” Mintz said. “We had so much COVID, more than other hospitals, we were like the epicenter of what was going on right here in Borough Park. It was an incredible time where everyone worked together as One Maimonides to take care of these patients with the unknown. People put themselves at risk, people themselves got COVID. People were here and not just running away. They did the best — the very best — that they could.”
The exhaustion isn’t just physical, she said, though of course, running around the hospital tending to patients all day every day is physically taxing even in the best circumstances. Two years of nursing in the pandemic has been mentally challenging for the hospital’s nurses as they faced waves of the brand-new virus. All over the country, hospitals are struggling with a shortage of nurses, but Maimonides has hired about 200 new nurses in the last six months, Mintz said, and they’re still looking to expand their team.
Doctors may take the stage in the hospital dramas that play out on television screens every night, but in real life, nurses are the ones spending hours by their patients’ sides. They’re usually the first to notice a change in someone’s symptoms or condition, Mintz said, and who comfort and care for a patient through the scariest moments of their time in the hospital.
“[A nurse is] the one providing the care throughout the day, and doing the tasks that really make a difference when someone is sick,” she said. “They’re going to remember the bedpan, when they had to pee so badly, the nurse came and gently gave the bedpan. That’s what the memories are, day-to-day. They’re the constant in the patient’s life in the hospital. Physicians are in and out, the nurses are there the whole day, throughout the day.”
“Who’s the one there for the happiest and saddest day of their lives? It’s the nurse, at the end of a life, holding their hands and comforting the family,” Mintz added.
Making sure nurses feel cared for and supported, especially in unprecedented times like the pandemic, is a challenge, even for seasoned professionals like Mintz. Of course, she said, nurses should be uplifted all the time, not just during National Nurses Week — but just because you may not tell the people you love that you love them every day, it doesn’t change the way you feel about them, she said. The same goes for nurses — they are, and should be, looked after 365 days a year, but National Nurses Week is an opportunity to make them feel especially loved.
To start, Maimonides has hired additional educators and restructured their patient experience team so there are more people out on the floor, supporting nurses and patients, she said. During the month of May — National Nurses Month — she and other leaders within the hospital will make the rounds with treats and words of thanks for nurses, and they’ll host a special appreciation lunch and dinner.
The team is also planning “excellence awards,” where nurses can nominate each other for recognition for being a great leader, a great team, or a rising star. Those awards will be presented in early June.
One of her favorite activities is “Nurse for a Day.” Local councilmembers, New York City Police Department officers, and other community members will scrub up and spend an hour shadowing a nurse as they go about their daily lives. It opens up the community’s eyes to the real, day-to-day responsibilities of a nurse, Mintz said, bringing a whole new meaning to Nurses Appreciation Month.
“This is a time where we need to put it out there and thank them and appreciate them for everything they’ve done,” Mintz said. “Because these are difficult times, and they’ve been resilient, they’ve been dedicated, they’ve been going above and beyond, and making it work. We couldn’t have done anything without our nursing staff, who are there day in and day out.”