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“…doing something great.” Coler Hospital Nurses’ Stories From The COVID Criss


Coler Hospital nurses’ stories, gathered from front line tales of the struggle to saves lives threatened by COVID-19, offer multi-hued versions of courage.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

“The passion to care for others has always been a part of me. When the COVID-19 numbers began to overwhelm the health care system, the fire in my gut ignited. I knew then I needed to respond no matter the fear or risk. I answered the call because I uphold that oath every day of my life.”

Nicole Nichols, Roosevelt Island Medical Center Nurse
Perry (Iowa) News

Nichols, a nurse now back home in Iowa, recalled 12 hour shifts at Roosevelt Island Medical Center, one of the first to hit the ground running as the city built makeshift COVID-19 facilities.

Coler Hospital Nurses
Coler Hospital medical workers came out to accept a passionate salute from New York’s first responders. Executive Director Robert Hughes is on the right.

“The 31-bed unit came together in 16 hours, and we haven’t looked back,” she told the Perry News.

This nurse’s story is one of commitment and courage but eventual victories. Her entire floor lined up, she recalls, cheering when a patient she met her on first day rolled out of the hospital in good health.

But other Coler Hospital nurses’ stories are darker.

Politics Fire News Reports

While volunteers from around the country raced to meet the coronavirus emergency hitting New York hospitals like a tidal wave, some media seized the chance to score political points.

The New York Post, closely aligned with Fox News, slammed the City’s emergency response, flaming a favorite target, Mayor Bill de Blasio.

No credit given for scrambling forces against an invisible enemy sweeping in overwhelming numbers. The Post, joined by Mother Jones, ProPublica and a small but aggressive band of local residents, looked for any flaws.

They found a few in uncorroborated anecdotes, but failed at locating anything positive. They pounced.

No balance. No insight. Just a big chance to sully the progressive mayor. One Post articled referred to officials as “Covidiots.”

Imagine working, tired to the bone from long shifts, emotionally hammered, and being accused in a national rag of “criminal misconduct,” as some nurses were

Imagine being a healthcare worker or administrator used as a tool to fit the Post/Fox News political agenda.

Now, imagine the fears stirred among family members and friends with this onslaught.

That’s not to say all was perfect.

But a nurse from the Midwest took to Facebook to rail against the Perry News article:

I worked with Nicole and she is absolutely fabulous, just like this article says. However, the articles that the NY Post published about Coler are 100% accurate. Actually, I take that back. They are only 75% accurate. Coler is FAR WORSE than the article states. 

Volunteer Nurse

But that view is the exception.

Judith Berdy, local resident and president of the Coler Auxiliary Board (CAB), circulated a different view.

“I was at Coler on Wednesday,” she said, “for an American Red Cross distribution for staff.

“I was about to leave and two ‘visiting’ nurses came over to an administrator and myself.  This was completely out of the blue.

“One nurse with 31 years experience from North Carolina told us how much she enjoyed working at Coler. She is in a unit with residents that have the most medical needs. She never saw patients so well taken care of, and she was so impressed by the staff. 

“The other nurse was from Tennessee, and she works on a unit where the persons are severely disabled and many have lived at Coler for over 20 years. She also was so impressed by the caring staff and how well the patients were taken care of.

“One nurse has already signed on to stay another month and the other nurse hopes to be able to stay and work at Coler.

“We were so happy to hear this and both nurses told us that the comments that were publicized did not represent what they and their associates had seen.”

Robert Hughes and Judy Berdy
Berdy confers with Coler’s lead administrator, Robert Hughes.

(See a statement from the Coler Auxiliary Board below.)

More Coler Hospital Nurses’ Stories From Inside Out

Tina Adams, a nurse rushing in from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, told the local news, “It was a very old building. The patients were in rough condition. There were about six patients per room and they are divided by curtains so if one person was COVID they presumed everyone would be and slowly a lot of the people in each of those rooms became positive.”

Dealing with obsolescent multi-bed wards, she added, “The residents were very scared. There was one patient that was in a room for quite some time coughing and one of the patients every day was stressing out about it because he was like ‘he is coughing, he is gonna get me sick and get everyone else sick.”

As of the most recent reports, though, the facility’s results seem exemplary. More will be available later, but only 73 out of 540 patients tested positive for coronavirus. Just 12 died.

That’s far better than other nursing homes on average.

A Kansas City Point of View

When she first suited up, she was full of hope, Anseisha Ford told local news outlet KTVZ.

“Your kind of like, it’s okay, we can do this. We can take care of them. We can make a difference,” Ford said.

But as the days wore on, it became an emotional drain.

In a Facebook journal, she wrote, “Please pray for my patients. I have no words for today. Just please pray for them,” on Day 12.

“They’re people like your mom and your dad and they’re not getting the care that they deserve because they’re so short staffed. And it makes me so sad.”

“…you’re doing something really great.”

Dianne King left Alabama, joining other Coler Hospital nurses from around the country. Her story appeared in France24.

Back home, last week, she said, “For the first time, I can say in my whole career, from the patients, from families, from management, from random people on the street… did stop to say thank you,” she said.

“It makes you feel like you’re really doing something great.”

King reflected on how years of nursing drained some of her spark.

“And then when you come here and you get this, it just re-energizes you,” she said.

At the end of May, the nurses who rushed to Roosevelt Island, beating back COVID-19, head home, their stories a mix of pain and pride.

New York owes them more than any paychecks they got, but we will never know what the depths of what that service was like, no matter how many stories emerge from Coler.

Thanks to them, lives were not just saved but made better.


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