Roswell nurses assist New Jersey hospital during pandemic

Heeding the call of their occupation, three nurses from Roswell are now in one of the areas of the nation most affected by the coronavirus.

Lovelace Medical Center intensive care unit nurses Brittany Dickman, Cara Alsafi and Jesse Gomez arrived in New Jersey Thursday night and reported Friday afternoon to Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, New Jersey, to assist the staff there.

Montclair is in Essex County, which according to the New Jersey Department of Health has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases at 3,067 and also the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths at 118, as of Friday afternoon.

All three volunteered for the work and will be there for two weeks. The call for volunteers went out Monday.

Dickman said she saw it as an opportunity to help New Mexicans.

“I know it’s going to hit our state soon enough, and I just thought it would be an interesting opportunity both to bring things back to small-town New Mexico and just to see what this is all about,” she said.

Before going into nursing, Dickman earned a master’s degree in public health, so she’s had a special interest in the pandemic.

“It’s made this a lot more interesting as far as the epidemiology. The pandemic isn’t something I wanted to see, but something I learned about a lot even before nursing, so it’s an interesting take on it all,” she said.

As a nurse, Dickman worked in hospice care in Las Cruces and Albuquerque before moving back to her hometown a couple years ago, where she started in the ICU at Lovelace.

Gomez and Alsafi said volunteering for the work in New Jersey is also about the calling that led them into the nursing profession. For both, it is a second career.

“I’ve been in my heart feeling that I need to do more than what I’m doing. I feel like I need to get there and help these poor people,” Gomez said of medical staffs that have been overwhelmed with patients.

“I’ve always known this was my calling, and disaster relief is something that I’ve always wanted to experience and always wanted to help out. I feel like these are reasons that we became nurses,” Alsafi said.

Alsafi is a travel nurse who works PRN — meaning she works when and where she’s needed — and has worked in ICU, emergency departments, supervision and cath labs for the last three years. She volunteered through the agency she works for. She was a legal assistant before going to nursing school to help provide for her two children.

Gomez worked in the grocery industry before switching to nursing about 15 years ago. He has worked in the ICU and ER and has been a flight nurse. He has also volunteered with international medical relief organizations and just recently returned from Brazil, where he worked along the Amazon River. He has also been to Guatemala and Costa Rica.

He and Dickman volunteered for this stint through Lovelace Hospital, which is owned by Ardent Medical Services. Ardent is paying for the expenses of all three, including travel, lodging, meals and rental vehicles.

“They are the ones that have made this happen. They’re providing us a great opportunity to help,” Gomez said.

“Anything we’ve asked for, they’ve given us,” Alsafi said. “The only thing we have to worry about is helping our patients at work.”

Lovelace Hospital provided the three with gloves and masks, although other equipment such as gowns and face shields will be provided by the New Jersey hospital.

The trio did not know exactly where they would be helping at the hospital when they spoke Friday to the Roswell Daily Record, but said they were eager to assist in whatever way they can.

“You have your coronavirus patients, but you still have everything else that’s normally in the hospital, appendicitis, the heart problems,” Gomez said. “As ICU nurses, we can help out.”

“Anything that we do is going to be helpful to them, and that’s what we’re there for,” he said.

“I think we all know what it’s like to have more patients than beds and more patients than staff. If we can help them out with that and just support fellow nurses — it’s what I feel like we’re going to make the biggest impact doing,” Dickman said.

Alsafi said helping to manage patients will be a large part of the Roswell nurses’ contributions.

“I know how hard it is to have more patients than nurses and feeling like you’re just overwhelmed and fighting a never-ending battle. Relieving some of that stress off them, as well as the administration, can help tremendously in morale for nurses,” Alsafi said.

All three said they believe their work in Roswell will help them should they treat COVID-19 patients, although it will be a different experience.

“We’ve all managed ventilated patients, so I would assume it’s close to what we do, as well,” Alsafi said.

“I certainly have worked with contagious patients in the past in Roswell, but not anything like this. We have patients that might have TB or other respiratory issues that are very contagious and don’t get the headlines this is getting, but, yeah, of course, it’s very concerning,” Gomez said.

“We all have to take the highest precautions because there are stories of nurses getting sick and dying even, as well as doctors. We all need to take care of ourselves and make sure we do the best we can to keep ourselves infection-free,” Gomez said.

All three said they believed Ardent and Mountainside were working to keep them safe from exposure to the coronavirus.

“It seems like they’ve done a pretty good job so far,” Dickman said. “It seems like they’re pretty serious about everything. I feel like they’re prepared here.”

They were to go through an orientation Friday before beginning work on the night shift and will work 12-hour shifts with a day or two off each week, Gomez said.

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