We know millions of healthcare workers across the U.S. are doing courageous work during the pandemic. Here we profiles the stories of seven HCPs and volunteers who are making a difference, including those on the frontlines as well as others who are working to find ways to continue to help non-COVID patients whose care has been impacted by the pandemic.
In spring 2020, Queens, NY become the epicenter of COVID. While hospital staff initially felt prepared, Dr. Teresa Amato says they eventually started to question how much more they could take.
Then during a late-night call with her ER doctors, Dr. Amato had her “Braveheart moment.” Recalling William Wallace’s iconic speech when he convinces a small army of Scots to battle the mighty English army, Dr. Amato felt she needed to inspire her troops.
When she hung up the phone, she headed back to the ER despite only being home for a few hours. Her team took that action to heart, and they left it all on the field those last few weeks of spring during the height of the pandemic.
“We are ER doctors. Saving lives, caring for the most vulnerable, working shifts when most people are asleep—all of this is who we are,” Dr. Amato says. “COVID gave us an opportunity to be at our best. At times it meant practicing your critical care skills at the highest level or helping patients FaceTime with loved ones during their last moments of life. I learned prayer can be powerful. I learned extraordinary people working together can do truly exceptional things. We were made for this.”
Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion
New York Medical College
Dr. Mill Etienne has long been a champion in equal distribution of healthcare and was called upon to spearhead efforts to deliver lifesaving COVID vaccines and info to those who need it most. During the pandemic, he was named the Chief Ethics Officer at Good Samaritan Hospital in Rockland County, NY where he saw first-hand the nationwide concern of Black and Latinx communities presenting more COVID morbidities leading to more infections and deaths.
It was no shock to this equity veteran that the very communities suffering most from COVID conditions were least likely to receive the vaccine. It wasn’t long before he became the Director of the NY Hudson Valley Hub’s Regional Task Force assembled to ensure all residents have access to vaccine information, education, and resources. His task force rolled out mobile units to community centers and churches to help those without access to the internet register for the vaccine. And while he was able to inform many of his own concerned patients that the Black and Latinx communities were involved in the vaccine testing process, Dr. Etienne knows many patients in our unequal healthcare system don’t have a trusted doctor to turn to. His solution is to educate pastors and other trusted community members as well as speak directly to people via virtual info sessions hosted at local community centers.
Ultimately, he leads the Health Equity Task Force with the goal of helping all people take control of their health with the right info and reliable vaccines.
National Clinical Manager
After 27 years in nursing, Beth Cummings, continues to serve a special community of patients and nurses who elicit compassion unlike any other specialty she’s worked in. She leads a team of oncology-certified clinical nurse educators around the nation who provide education to HCPs and hematology/oncology nurses on a CAR T-cell therapy for a patient’s treatment journey. Using this revolutionary treatment option, a patient’s T cells are removed, re-engineered to recognize and fight cancers, and reinfused into the patient’s body.
Aggressive cancers do not stop for a pandemic, emphasizing the urgency of every conversation they have. The team had to find ways to continue delivering education about this new therapy, and while adapting to virtual conferences cannot replace face-to-face contact—it was absolutely necessary. Today’s HCPs are busy, staff-challenged, and yet deeply connected to patients as oncology nurses spend long hours helping patients through their treatment. But Beth’s team shares a purpose to empower these nurses, inform them, and ultimately give them an opportunity to enhance patient lives.
Veterans Administration Medical Center, Dayton, OH
Terri Long is the senior PA serving in the Urology Clinic of the VA Medical Center in Dayton, OH. She worked tirelessly to ensure every patient received seamless healthcare despite the challenges of COVID-19. Many patients in the Urology Clinic have various types of cancer including prostate and bladder cancer, and each requires long-term follow-up care. She spearheaded changes so patients and staff are safe during cystoscopies, worked with facility staffers to implement timely appointment scheduling, and coordinated with supply chain management to maintain needed daily supplies.
Long continued to take calls even while she was off in order to relieve the full-time urologist as a way to prevent burn-out. Additionally, she was selected as an Ethics Consultant for the Dayton Veterans Health Administration facility, which required vigorous training and mastery of skills and specific proficiencies, including knowledge of healthcare practices and communication skills. She also serves on the national Board of Directors in the Veterans Affairs Physician Assistant Association. Trustworthy, knowledgeable, and diligent, she was named one of America’s Top PAs by POCN, the nation’s leading network for NPs and PAs.
Physician Assistant in Emergency Medicine and Urgent Care
Jackie Huff has been a champion HCP throughout the pandemic, caring for and testing potential positive patients all while raising awareness of the need for PAs during the crisis.
Huff helped patients in emergency situations every day for nine years as a PA in Emergency Medicine in Hazard, KY. In June 2020, when the pandemic was striking fear through rural areas of the U.S., Huff was let go due to lack of patients coming to ERs. While state laws kept many much-needed PAs from taking new jobs in hotspot areas, Huff found a way to help potential COVID patients everyday by moving her family to North Carolina and joining a CVS MinuteClinic.
While Huff was on the frontlines, she was also forced to take up a new purpose when her 23-month-old son Johnathan passed away suddenly from button battery ingestion (BBI). Huff’s crusade to protect children from swallowing these fatal, yet commonly used batteries started as a Facebook post meant to assuage her grief. She soon recognized the need to spread awareness and connect with other parents affected by BBI, creating a public Facebook Group called “Button Battery Awareness – Protecting our Children.” She and her comrades also push state reps to pass button battery safety legislation with a petition anyone can sign.
Nursing Supervisor, Oncology Rehabilitation
Prisma Health’s Center for Integrative Oncology & Survivorship (CIOS)
Jason Morrow has been a nurse for 24 years with the past 17 in the field of oncology. Currently, at CIOS he navigates patients through a three-month oncology rehabilitation program called “Moving On.” By working with Oncology Certified Nurses and Oncology Certified Exercise Trainers, survivors adapt a personalized exercise program to decrease fatigue, increase strength, and improve quality of life. Furthermore, Exercise Navigation offers an office visit with an Oncology Rehab Nurse Practitioner to discuss vital signs, recommendations for exercise, and a personalized exercise prescription.
But due to COVID, the gym portion of the program has been closed since March. However, they already had virtual exercise programs such as yoga, Pilates, and “Healthy Moves” and they expanded their virtual offerings to include “Bucket Drumming for Wellness,” “Hula for Health,” Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. Additionally, they expanded their virtual offerings to support patients socially, mentally, and spiritually. The institute’s Community Outreach Coordinator has worked endlessly to assist participants with these virtual programs.
“Nursing, especially oncology nursing, is a tough field to work in at times,” Morrow says. “But I am inspired by the resiliency of my patients, by my fellow nurses and colleagues, and the hope and healing that advances in medicine have given us today.”
Co-Founder, Managing Director
After being one of the first 100 people in the UK to test positive for COVID-19, Cogan Wade started Students Against Corona with a friend at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The organization delivers groceries and essential medication to elderly and vulnerable populations.
But when purchasing masks to protect volunteers, they noticed some companies were inflating costs, including Boots/Walgreens with a 500% markup. After publishing their findings, Boots slashed their prices by 25% the following day. To further prevent these practices, they started Mask Bros, an anti-price gouging direct-to-consumer mask retailer and provider of PPE supply chain solutions.
By working directly with suppliers, they have provided over 150 million items of PPE to 40,000 worldwide customers. And most recently, they developed EcoBreathe, the world’s first fully recyclable disposable face mask.
“A mask’s efficacy is directly tied to its disposability, which is why reusable PPE is non-existent in healthcare,” Wade explains. “We partnered with manufacturers to develop proprietary materials and binding processes to make a single-use mask that was cost-effective to recycle, while maintaining medical-grade compliance standards.”
So far, they have sold around 23 million masks globally, which amounts to 69 tons of PPE waste that would’ve ended up in landfills or oceans.