Nurses, Faith and Community Leaders Hold Vigil to Honors Colleagues and Patients Who Lost Their Lives to COVID-19

On Dec. 13, nurses, faith, and community leaders held a vigil outside NewYork-Presbyterian to honor colleagues and patients lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses shared stories to commemorate their colleagues who died on the frontlines. These nurses and healthcare professionals died even as they worked to save lives during the pandemic. The vigil was designed to draw attention to the continued and urgent need to protect the health and safety of caregivers and community members.

“My friend and coworker Peter Chin died of COVID after getting sick at work. I will never forget Peter,” said NY Presbyterian nurse Anna Czarny, RN. “Before the pandemic, he and I were the early birds of the unit, coming into work early to sip our coffee, debrief on how our backs still hurt and our body ached from yesterday, listening to classic rock jams. Peter was right there with us all the time. He could sense when my workload was overwhelming and would swoop in to help me clean patients, never saying no, rather ‘who’s next.’ Then the pandemic hit, and it was a scary and traumatic time for all of us. Having a team of nurses that we could depend on is the only way we survived the worst of the pandemic — for those of us who did survive. And Peter was essential to that team.”

100 Million Confirmed Cases

Weeks after the event, health officials reported that there have been more than 100 million confirmed and formally diagnosed cases of COVID-19 by the last week in Dec. Officials warned that the number of Americans who actually had the virus since the beginning of the pandemic is likely twice as high. CNBC reported that “Covid-19 has easily infected more than 200 million in the U.S. alone since the beginning of the pandemic — some people more than once.”

“I have long COVID now and my life will never be the same,” said NY-Presbyterian Pediatric ER nurse Deidrea Bryan, RN. “I am not the same. I don’t breathe the same. I don’t have the same exercise tolerance and I experience brain fog. Since the pandemic began, I have been in the ICU twice because of COVID-19. My most severe experience was last year when I had severe COVID pneumonia that required BiPap to help me breathe. I’ve experienced trauma and so have my loved ones. If I’m asleep, they check if I’m breathing. If I catch a cold, they’re scared that I’ll end up in the ICU again. It has been a trying experience. I am speaking out at our vigil because the trauma is still with me and with all the healthcare workers who had severe COVID.”

‘My Son Asks If I’ll Come Home’

“We lost patients, we lost loved ones, we lost colleagues,” said NY-Presbyterian ICU nurse Lori Wagner, RN. “We also lost time that we’ll never get back again. I have a child who is immuno-compromised and has asthma. I couldn’t go home for two months because I couldn’t risk bringing COVID home to my child. I was sleeping in a dorm room alone every night during that time, working 16-hour shifts, 7 days a week, knowing no matter how much we did, it would never be enough and patients would still die. To this day, my son will ask me when I leave for work if I’m going to come back home.”

Worst Public Health Crisis of Our Lifetime

“We are experiencing the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, and with that comes selfless sacrifices from our City’s frontline workers, especially our nurses,” said New York City Council Member and Health Chair Lynn Schulman (29th Council District, Queens). “As we commemorate those we lost and honor their memory, we need to do everything possible to support and protect our current frontline workers and make sure they have the resources needed to work in a safe and healthy environment.”

“After almost three years of Covid, we are facing a hospital staffing crisis that if left unresolved will lead to worse care and patient outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “It is imperative that NewYork-Presbyterian come to the bargaining table with an offer for nurses that honors their worth and keeps them safe. The only way to survive this pandemic and prepare for the next one is by fully staffing our hospitals — that means NYP must provide wages and conditions that make nursing positions sustainable for the heroes who accept them.”


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