Pulling at your heartstrings: Newton nurse helps out in Big Apple with COVID-19 care

LaShay Rhodes, back row at right, is in New York City to help with the COVID-19 crisis. Here, she's pictured with other nurses doing the same thing. Courtesy photo

By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now

LaShay Rhodes cares for people so much as a nurse, she wanted to throw herself and her nursing skills into the United States’s epicenter of the pandemic, New York City, asking to work on the front lines of a different kind of war, a war against an invisible foe—COVID-19.

As of Monday night, the city had about 1.13 million positive cases of coronavirus, which is much more than the four in Harvey County.

“I set out on this journey to help others,” she said about going to NYC. “I want to make a dent in this painful time of life for New York. I hope that in some fashion I’m able to touch others and show them they are capable of helping each other.”

She became aware of something on Monday.

“One thing I realized today is that everyone is so focused on if someone else has the COVID and if they are wearing a mask, diversities are being overlooked,” she said. “I mean if you step out into public without a mask, you are looked down upon. People wonder, why do you not care about others? They aren’t thinking as much about why is this person or that person a certain ethnicity or wearing the wrong clothes or engaging in a relationship that is out of the ordinary. People are more concerned with staying healthy and ensuring others are doing their part. It’s so enlightening to see people caring about each other.”

Since Rhodes had only been in NYC three days when she did this interview, she didn’t have any stories to tell yet about patients.

“I don’t have a particular story just yet, but I can tell you that the facility we are assigned to is a pretty rough location,” she said. “I’m sure it would be a scary place to go for some, but when we have been there, despite Proprietary our differences, people all over walk up to us and thank us for our service. Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough to be praised like that, but they want to thank us. They want to see us. They want us to feel the love they feel for other humans alike. And that is a great feeling. That is how I want to make others feel.”

Rhodes decided to go on the firing lines for several reasons. She said as CPVID-19 increased in the United States, it became clear nursing staff would need to increase, as well. Her mother was in the hospital in Washington state, where the first cases started to show up in the U.S.

“I was in absolute fear that my mother was going to contract the virus as she has a decreased immune system and has spent multiple months in the hospital within the last few years,” Rhodes said. “As my anxiety increased, so did my determination to find a way to assist with this pandemic.”

Then one day, Rhodes’s wife told Rhodes about opportunities to travel to higher-concentrated areas to assist.

“I immediately contacted the agency, and within three hours of the call, they called me asking me to fly to NYC, the newest epicenter of the COVID-19,” Rhodes aid. “They had already deployed enough nurses to satisfy the shortage in Washington. Although that is where my heart was set, I knew there was a reason I was being called to New York and was ready for the opportunity to make a difference. Caring comes naturally to me and there is nothing more that I want to do than to care for the needs of this community and provide motivation/encouragement so that hope and unity can be spread.”

Rhodes didn’t always want to be a nurse. In fact, at first, she wanted to be a cashier, but realized that couldn’t support a family.

“It became clear throughout my difficult childhood that I was the caretaker of the family,” she said. “As I became absorbed in the role, nursing became an option eventually growing into the role I’m in now. Being able to support other people and provide them with care during their times of dire need is the best feeling in the world. I don’t want others to remember what I did to help get them better, I want them to remember how I made them feel. Each person has their own qualities and strengths. I feel it personally Proprietary my role to help others achieve health and encourage them to seek out their ability to be the best version of themselves.”

This NYC experience is helping Rhodes work through some things.

“I’ve struggled over the last several years since my father’s death from a motor vehicle accident-related injuries,” she said. “It felt like I lost a piece of myself when I lost him. For the last three years, I’ve never completely given up, but I have felt like giving up.”

She was looking for a way to find herself again, a way to become who she wanted to be, she said.

“When this blessing came my way, I knew this was something I had to do,” she said. “After talking with my family and saying goodbye to my five children who are the lights of my life, I decided to set out on this journey to see if I can not only make a difference for others, but also make a difference for myself, and I think I’m starting to find the true me again. My heart is starting to become whole.”

Rhodes, who’s been a Newton resident since 2009, works PRN at a local psychiatric facility in the inpatient adult unit and psychiatric residential treatment facility for adolescents.

“This facility has had my heart for almost 10 years,” she said. “I am employed full time as a supervisor at a managed-care organization in the Wichita region and mange a team of 12 staff members to provide community based services to the Medicaid population.”

Rhoades’s management team at work quickly approved her request to assist in the Big Apple.

“My managers, Mika Hollingsworth and Laura Jacobs, have been a phenomenal role model in leading us to become better people and reach out and help others,” she said.

While in NYC, medical staff are provided a location to work during their 21-day stay. They work 12 hours a day or 84 hours a week. After this, they’ll be quarantined for 14 days to make sure the incubation period is passed.

“The tasks completed by the medical staff here include everything from providing life saving measures such as titration of IV drips, basic life support and ensuring accurate oxygenation of the patient,” Rhodes said. “Medication administration, laboratory blood sample collection, nutritional supplementation, and blood glucose monitoring are examples of other care provided.”

Rhodes is placed in a long-term care facility that has fewer than 50 residents, and they’ve lost several to COVID-19.

“Everyone at the facility is presumptively positive for COVID-19 or on their COVID unit for those with positive tests,” Rhodes said. “I have not been supplied with the proper personal Proprietary protective equipment to serve the patients. This has lead to a lot of advocating for myself and my peers who are also assigned to this facility. We want to help. We came here to assist.”

Without having the proper equipment, Rhodes said she was sad to report they were transferred back to their hotel three days in a row.

“We will be compensated for our time, but that is not my focus,” she said. “I’m focused on my goal–to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and provide relief to my peer nurses by providing the best care to the population of NYC.”

There are things people from Newton can do to help out while Rhodes is in NYC, hoping to slow the spread to protect other areas, like Newton.

“The need is great for homemade masks and/or surgical masks to cover the N95s when we have them,” she said. “We are encouraged to reuse the N95 at least five days. The covers on the outside are an additional protection.”

She said if there are N95 masks available, that would help, and her biggest concern is sourcing materials from her hometown to alternate locations is going to create a strain on them.

“That is not what I want,” she said. “However I do believe if we can slow or stop the spread here, we may end up with fewer cases than the saturated locations such as NYC or Seattle.”

She also said other things that will help are hand-written cards that can be passed out to medical staff who are wearing themselves out to support the community.

“Every evening, the NYC population and emergency response crews, such as the firefighters, line up out front and clap, dance and sing to provide support for all the staff here,” she said. “It’s the things like that which pull at your heartstrings.”