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Retired nurses answer call for help during COVID-19 outbreak

Governing bodies cut through red tape to make it happen

FRONTLINE STORIES
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The COVID-19 pandemic created an urgent need for medical professionals in the U.S. and around the globe. Some governors have made public pleas for retired nurses to jump back into the fray and help.

By Carole Jakucs, MSN, RN, PHN

One nurse who came out of retirement to assist her former employer is Carolyn Grant, BSN, RN, health services manager at the University of Washington Medical Center at their Northwest campus in Seattle. Grant worked for 22 years at the hospital and retired on Dec. 31, 2019. On Jan. 1, 2020, Northwest Hospital officially became part of the University of Washington Medical Center’s system. “When I retired, I was the director of nursing operations at Northwest before the changeover,” she said.
Once the coronavirus hit, Grant said she felt compelled to text her former CNO and associate CNO. “I wanted to send them my good thoughts and support during the crisis,” Grant said. “I was a nurse leader for a long time and know how taxing it is when dealing with disasters.”

In addition to you the nurse, your whole family comes with you to the hospital — your spouse, children and grandchildren. Every family member is a hero.

— Ariel Alvarez, RN, CCM

A nurse in Seattle

Ariel Alvarez, RN, CCM, an advisory board member for the New York City Department of Health’s emergency planning and response committee, formally retired in 2013 from his 25-year tenure at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He’s been a member of New York’s MRC since 2007. After the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, Alvarez said he inoculated thousands of New Yorkers in neighborhood centers designated as locations for point of dispensing (POD).
A resident of the Bronx, Alvarez said he is checking daily for an MRC position to open in his borough, so he can volunteer. He has nearly 35 years of experience in NICU, ICU, burn unit, inpatient pediatric psychiatry, surgery, case management and a directorship position under his belt. He currently works per diem three days a week.

“I have time on my off days to volunteer and have a lot of experience,” he said. “I want to help.” When asked why he joined the MRC, the 68-year-old Alvarez said, “I was working in the surgical suite on 9/11. I was home when the planes hit the World Trade Center. I said to my wife, ‘I need to get to work. They’ll need me.’ All of us stood around that day waiting for patients to come to the OR. They never came. That sense of feeling helpless — that’s what prompted me to join the MRC in New York.” One thought Alvarez, a father of five and grandfather of three, wants to convey to the public is the risk nurses and other medical professionals take when caring for patients during a pandemic. “In addition to you the nurse, your whole family comes with you to the hospital — your spouse, children and grandchildren,” he said. “Every family member is a hero.” To review the concepts of disaster nursing, hand hygiene and skin antisepsis, aging immune systems or more, visit our course listings at Nurse.com.

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Governors from California, Colorado, New Hampshire and New York, to name a few, have asked retired nurses to consider contacting their former employers to rejoin the workforce, or urged them to join their respective state’s Medical Reserve Corps. The MRC is one of a few volunteer groups under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Emergency System of Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals. The system was created to fill staffing gaps during national emergencies. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, some states are looking to their MRCs, other volunteer organizations and retirees to help with the unprecedented need for nurses to provide testing and care to coronavirus and other patients. Anytime new medical volunteers are sought by an organization, it involves the process of accurate, timely verification of past or current licensure. Regarding state licensure, Dawn Kappel, director of marketing and communications with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, said, “Some governors have asked for retired nurses to come back and they have waived some restrictions. However, this is done on a state-by-state basis.” We spoke with two retired nurses who stepped forward to hear their thoughts about what motivated them to help in this public health emergency.

A Bronx nurse awaits his return to service

About the Author

Carole Jakucs, MSN, RN, PHN, is a freelance writer and a diabetes educator. Her background in nursing includes tenures in healthcare management and as a care provider. She has worked in med/surg/telemetry, pediatric emergency department and ambulatory/college health.  

Carolyn Grant
BSN, RN

On March 11, her former associate CNO reached out and asked Grant if she’d consider coming out of retirement to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Initially I thought, ‘I’m 63 and at a higher risk regarding COVID-19.’ I wondered if I’d be placing myself and my family in harm’s way,” she said. The hospital asked Grant to manage their two new drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, one for the UW Medical Center’s employees and the other for outpatients in their system. “It was a big decision, however I decided to do it and was back to work on March 13,” she said. “I have a history with this campus, know how to get things done and thought of my former peers and team. I wanted to help.”

Ariel Alvarez
RN, CCM
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