NYSNA members came together with COVID-19 survivors and family members to honor those who lost their lives to and those who continue to struggle. The first Covid March to Remember took place on Saturday, Aug. 7, and was organized by COVID Survivors for Change, a nonpartisan nationwide community of people who have been directly impacted by COVID-19.
Local organizer Pastor Brenda Mitchell kicked off the program for the day by saying, “Don’t forget those on the frontlines who gave everything they had so that we could be here today.”
Coming together to heal
NYSNA First Vice President Judith Cutchin, RN, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll, taking too many of our loved ones too soon. The pandemic has had an outsized impact in New York City, in the lives of our frontline and essential workers and in our communities of color — and it continues to do so today. It’s so important that we come together to remember, to heal and to continue doing all we can to end this pandemic.”
Marching in remembrance
NYSNA members marched alongside hundreds of other participants, many wearing yellow, the color of remembrance. Marchers walked from Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge and placed yellow hearts with the names of loved ones who died of COVID-19 on a remembrance wall at City Hall Park.
Deborah McMillan, RN, who works in long-term care at New Jewish Home, said, “I’m marching for all the nurses, colleagues, coworkers’ families and patients we lost. Seeing so much death during this pandemic was incredibly difficult, and that’s why it’s so important to come out and support one another.”
Flandersia Jones, RN, of Bronxcare, remembered her good friend Freda Ocran, RN, of Jacobi, who was one of the first nurses to die of COVID-19. Jones said: “We are the frontliners. We sacrificed ourselves, our families, just to take care of people … People say we signed up for this, but we didn’t sign up to die. This is the least we can do to honor them today.”
Susan Rowley, the sister of longtime ICU nurse, activist, and proud NYSNA member and representative Joan Rowley, RN, marched with NYSNA in honor of Joan, who passed away on May 28, 2021, after a long battle with COVID-19.
“Joan did this kind of thing her whole life, but unfortunately she was taken by COVID,” said Rowley, who worked for decades for LGBTQ+ rights. “We need to recognize that there’s a major health crisis in this country that’s affecting millions of people in all kinds of ways. COVID is not over, and we need to make sure we have health care for people. We have to have nurses. I saw what it was like in the hospital when my sister was there — what nurses do, how they brought their whole selves to the work and how that helped not only that patient but the families.”
It was an emotional and healing day, as people told stories and as NYSNA nurses and health care professionals marched over the Brooklyn Bridge. They remembered their colleagues who lost their lives on the frontlines, as well as those with long COVID-19, post-traumatic stress disorder and accumulated trauma from the last year and a half.
The struggle continues
Winsome Dixon, RN, of Montefiore Medical Center, had a harrowing experience when she fell ill from COVID-19 in March 2020 and was marching to show her support for the many nurses who contracted the virus and survived.
“I wish more was said about the mental health of those nurses who have experienced COVID not just themselves but also their family members. It can be devastating, and I encourage nurses to seek mental health counseling. PTSD is real.”
Nurses reminded the community that the pandemic is not over and that everyone needs to work together to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Mary McDonagh, RN, of Mt. Sinai Hospital, said, “Things need to change. They need to appreciate all the people who were on the frontlines and enact the NY Heroes Act. There are so many people still suffering from exposure and the fact that they got COVID on the frontline — they must be looked after. They did what they were supposed to do, and now the government needs to do what it is supposed to do.”
Debra Lee Brown, RN, from NYC H+H/Kings County Hospital, which is seeing a steep increase in COVID-19 cases, emphasized how people need to be vaccinated and follow CDC guidelines on masking and social distancing to help end the pandemic.
“I understand the reluctance to take a new vaccine, just like the reluctance to take any new medication, when you hear all the potential side effects and feel worried,” explained Lee. “It’s important to talk to your doctor and nurse with your concerns, listen to the facts and get vaccinated, because the upsides are worth it. I felt so much relief after I got vaccinated. We’re all in this together, so let’s all do our part!”
Honoring their legacy
NYSNA is continuing to advocate for the resources that nurses and healthcare professionals need to deal with the pandemic, including increased mental health support for our NYSNA members and patients, and the need for proper infection control and enhanced health and safety protocols in all workplaces.
“We marched to remember our brave members who lost their battle with COVID-19 and those who continue to struggle with its long-term effects,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans, RN. “We honor their legacy whenever we fight for quality care for our patients and safe working conditions for our nurses and health care professionals.”