Salutes CRNAs Serving on the Frontlines to save Lives
Today marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, a national recognition of healthcare workers between May 6 and May 12. The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists (FANA) proudly salutes all of the nurses who are serving on the front lines every day, and especially during the COVID-19 response. In fact, because of the unprecedented COVID health care crisis the nation is now facing, and the selfless service by so many nurses, this year’s Nurses Week will be celebrated throughout the month of May.
Florida has more than 34,000 licensed Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, or APRNs (including more than 5,400 Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, or CRNAs) who work in all practice settings including hospitals, other health care facilities, and in the offices of other health care providers.
“The hardworking CRNAs of the state of Florida are on the ground every day working to put an end to this pandemic,” said FANA President Jose D. Castillo III, PhD, MS, CRNA, APRN. “During this month we especially, we take time to thank those CRNAs, many of whom are volunteering their time to make a difference while putting their health and safety on the line to help those in need in Florida and across the country. We are proud of the dedication of these heroes and we applaud their unyielding resolve to care for the people of Florida.”
CRNAs, are specialty trained and educated professionals who have been providing surgical anesthesia and pain management services in a variety of clinical settings for more than 150 years.
“However, during this pandemic we are APRNs first,” added Dr. Castillo. “There are so many of our members out serving and volunteering to help those who have been affected by this virus, putting others’ needs before their own to make a difference and flatten the curve.”
CRNAs provide comprehensive anesthesia care to patients before, during, and after surgical and obstetrical procedures and are the primary anesthesia professionals in rural and medically underserved areas.
During this week, and throughout out the month of May, we are proud to highlight three of our many FANA member CRNAs who are working or volunteering on the front lines tirelessly working to put an end to this pandemic while saving lives.
Every Breath, Every Beat, Every Second, We Are There
Gina Taylor Willaford, CRNA
Gina Taylor Willaford is a CRNA from Cape Coral, Florida. She has been serving in the COVID Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, New York since April 6. Every day she arrives at the hospital at 6:45 a.m. to begin caring for patients, many of whom are on six to nine infusions, so her day begins by making a plan to organize their care. From there she works tirelessly looking after each patient with a team of specialists until late into the night. She goes to sleep, then gets up and does it all over again the next day.
When Gina heard there were opportunities to serve, she jumped at the chance without hesitation, willing to serve in any capacity where she was needed. Bellevue Hospital has their own anesthesia team in place with many deployed members of the Navy also at hand to help. Because their own team was on site, she was most needed to work in the COVID Intensive Care Unit. According to Gina, it is an honor to be accepted back into the ICU as a member of the team. Her training and experience as a CRNA has greatly served her in many aspects as she fulfills this tremendous need.
“Being in NYC during this time has been an honor. I feel privileged to work side by side with all of the exemplary team members who show up day after day to treat the critically ill patients. The reward is an unexplainable personal satisfaction from being part of a unified team that works SO HARD for the good of every patient. There is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing a patient being discharged from the ICU to a step-down after spending weeks on a ventilator and fighting for their life. However, the emotional challenges are plentiful and the pendulum swings often and wide.
This experience is humbling yet confidence building, exhausting yet exhilarating, tragic yet joyful, confusing yet enlightening and the scene can change in the blink of an eye. The exhaustion is more than physical; the mental fatigue is a level in which I never knew was possible. Holding the hand of an actively dying patient, while the family is on FaceTime, will cause such heartache that it almost has a physical manifestation. I have learned that self-care is not a luxury…it is a necessity. However, given the opportunity, I would do this again…and again.” – Gina Taylor Willaford, CRNA
Jonathan E., CRNA
Jonathan is a proud Floridian from Fort Myers, FL who served on the front lines at Mt. Sinai hospital in Queens, New York. Jonathan took the assignment in New York because there was the greatest need and that is where he felt he could make the biggest difference. Jonathan worked in intensive care units (ICUs) with 100% COVID patients at Mt. Sinai hospital. Most of his shifts were spent managing ventilators and BiPAP devices, patients’ airways, IV medications, updating families, and helping patients under quarantine connect with their families or loved ones via FaceTime and Skype.
Jonathan says the most rewarding part of his work was feeling like he was part of a team of people all over the world doing whatever they could to help people in the center of the worldwide COVID crisis. The hardest part was seeing so many heartbreaking outcomes in the center of the outbreak and having patients that he couldn’t save. According to Jonathan, it’s difficult knowing that many of the people he was treating would not survive or have a very long hospital stay ahead of them. We thank Jonathan for his bravery, tireless service and dedication.
Jackie Lemm, CRNA
Jackie Lemm is a dedicated CRNA from Cape Coral, Florida. A graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University and Wolford College, Jackie took a leave of absence from her regular duties to serve on the frontlines at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York on a 21-day assignment.
Jackie’s unit is an extension of the hospital’s emergency department. The unit accepted critically ill COVID-positive patients from surrounding hospitals to help alleviate the burden of hospital overflow. She worked with a team of doctors, advanced practice providers, emergency room physicians, and nurses from all different sub-specialties and hospitals from all over the country. Jackie worked 12 hour-straight night shifts every evening.
Jackie and her fellow health care workers would have to board their charter bus at 6:45 pm each evening, arrive to the hospital by 7:40, and report to the emergency department where they would receive their protective equipment and their assignments for the night. In Jackie’s unit, critically ill patients were continuously coming in from surrounding hospitals via EMS. It was Jackie’s duty to provide health assessments, administer medications, titrate vasoactive drips and sedation, assist the team in airway/ventilator management, and to help care and advocate for her patients. She said that her advance training as a CRNA was extremely helpful during her service.
“It is difficult for me to put into words the emotional rollercoaster of being on the frontlines in NYC during this pandemic. This virus can be very deadly, and it was emotionally taxing to witness so many deaths after doing everything we possibly could to save lives. We were working 80+ hours a week, every week, doing everything we could to help keep very critically ill patients alive. It was both physically and mentally exhausting and so incredibly sad to see patients dying without their family members present. All we could do is hold their hands and comfort them while using FaceTime and Zoom to allow their families to be with them during their final moments.”
“It was an honor to help serve in New York City alongside healthcare providers from all over the country. I witnessed so much unity, hard work, dedication, determination, and compassion from everyone I worked with. Some nights, we cried and felt defeated, but we also had positive moments of victory where we were able to laugh, hug, lift each other up, and make sure to support each other 100 percent. The staff doctors and nurses we worked with at the hospital were so supportive and thankful for our assistance. Without agency staff, they would not have been able to take care of the volume of critically ill patients or to staff the ICU overflow units.” – Jackie Lemm, CRNA
For more information about the role and value of CRNAs in Florida visit www.fana.org or for national information please visit the AANA’s website at www.aana.com and the “CRNAs: The Future of Anesthesia Care Today” campaign website at www.future-of-anesthesia-care-today.com.