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Albany Medical Center ICU Nurse Jennifer Bejo On The Frontline Battling COVID-19

Jennifer Bejo satnds with other nurses outside Albany Med on April 11,
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Jennifer Bejo stands with other nurses outside Albany Med on April 11,

During the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers have been on the front lines — pulling long shifts in often dangerous conditions. Here is one nurse's story.

Jennifer Bejo has been an Intensive Care Unit nurse at Albany Medical Center for 13 years.
"As nurse, I cannot stay home.  We're still going to work to care for patients that, as frontlines, trying to prevent deaths from the spread of COVID-19 however, no matter how strong we are, we are not invincible. Right now, you know, I'm one of those nurses who are very concerned that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic from federal, state and local authorities and many health care facilities is not adequate. And we already saw or have seen evidence from all over the state that many hospitals are failing to adequately protect frontline health care workers. Right now I work, they open up like, you know, our COVID, you know, ICU units, and I'm one of those nurses taking care of these very critical patients from all over the region and even from New York City."
When it comes to PPE, personal protective equipment, Bejo says there's not enough.
"You know, we only saw that we were sent to a war without enough ammunition. So, you know, the lack of PPE, you know, created more panic in in this stressful situation. There's a shortage of masks. You know, the provision of this essential equipment is so inadequate that we have to sterilize and reuse N95. And, you know, we all know that reusing it is not safe at all. It's a breach of infection control protocols, and even the manufacturers instructions say that it should not be reused. And it's also concerning to note that even the nurses on the floor that are not directly involved in caring for COVID patients are being reprimanded for wearing the regular mask. So you know, like all of those nurses feel they are not protected at all.”
Bejo says frontline caregivers should be given a voice when it comes to protecting themselves and their patients.
"I think we should be calling on our representatives in Congress to make sure any COVID legislation includes health and safety protections for healthcare workers. We also want OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard to ensure healthcare facilities implement comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plans. I believe that President Trump invoked the defense production act in order to produce equipment that frontline health workers need to battle the pandemic, but he hasn't unleashed its full power to jumpstart production on PPE that we so desperately need. We don't need and 95 respirators even months or or several months from now. We already needed them yesterday."
Bejo says COVID-19 patients, many of them critical, often die alone since visitors are probibited.
"You know, it poses the risk of contamination. People coming from outside and coming in. We don't know whether they're, even though they're don't exhibit like any symptoms, they can be carriers. That's the scary part of it. I believe that the community and everybody should understand the school because is 30 times deadlier than H1N1 than flu. And as we've seen, you know, like that's like you know, everywhere. Social distancing is only one way of flattening the curve and containing the infection."
Bejo belives all nurses should be tested.
"We don't get to be tested until we became symptomatic or we show like symptoms of respiratory, like you know problems. So healthcare workers who are exposed must be tested so they don't put their colleagues, patients and families and even community at risk."
Dave Lucas: "What would you say to people who say you're a nurse? Isn't this what you signed up for?:
"I agree that this is what I signed up for as a professional nurse. However, I did not sign up to being pushed in a battle without any protective gear. I did not sign up for taking my life at risk, as well as you know, risking my family's health, risking the patients that I care for, risking the life or of the patients that I care for. I believe that I did sign up for this with the expectations that administrators in the hospital are also there to support and protect me, as much as I protect the patients that I care for and the communities that I care for."
When her ICU shift is over and Bejo goes home, there is no "off-duy" when dealing with COVID-19.
"I'm always scared that maybe carrying the virus like you know, to my house and infecting my son, infecting my husband, putting their lives more at risk than mine. I do not have that privilege to send my family away or to like find myself like, you know, somewhere to stay until the COVID like, you know, crisis is done. You know, like social distancing is still continuous in inside my house... it is hard for me to not be able to like hug or get too close to my son without being fearful that I may get him sick. I wear a mask at home."
Bejo was among other nurses who gathered oustide Albany Med on Saturday. In these days when she and her colleagues are being praised for their work, she says they appreciate public support.
"One thing is for sure, that the human spirit and the will to survive can withstand any crisis or disaster or misfortune. We have gotten, like, you know, the community support, and it's so astounding and very heartwarming."

Albany Med has issued a statement:

The safety and protection of our workforce and our patients remain Albany Med’s top priorities. We continue to follow guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health regarding proper use of personal protective equipment. Albany Med has adequate supplies of masks and other PPE to allow our staff to safely provide care to patients.
In addition, an interdisciplinary team has been established solely for the purpose of educating our staff on PPE usage and is rounding to hospital units answering any questions our colleagues may have. The selfless, outstanding collaboration of our colleagues has made our response to COVID-19 a true team effort.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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