An Akron University student among those working there.
A local nursing student and a mother-daughter duo are among those fighting the coronoavirus at its epicenter.
Mike Hronec of Plain Township is one of three nursing students from the University of Akron working with COVID-19 patients in New York City.
Hronec, a registered nurse and graduate student in the university’s nurse anesthesia program, said when classes on campus were canceled, he wanted to do more than study.
“I thought it was a better opportunity to use my skills and go to New York City where they need the help,” he said. “I just felt like I was in my comfort zone. It was an opportunity to get out .... and help.“
Hronec contacted a recruiter and landed in New York on the second week of April. He’s working 12-hour shifts as an ICU nurse at New York University’s Langone Health Center in Manhattan.
“When I stated there were 250 ICU patients all COVID-positive,” he said. “Now there are less than 100. The numbers are definitely going down. Things are stating to calm down a little; that said, they’re preparing for another wave with things opening up.”
In March, Micaela Gutlove, formerly of Jackson Township, received a text from an organization seeking nurses to work in New York City.
“I was interested the moment I got the message,“ said Gutlove who previously worked at Mercy Medical Center and Aultman Hospital. She was contracted to Harlem Hospital, part of New York Health and Hospitals.
Shortly after she arrived, Gutlove’s mom, Susan, a nurse practitioner and lieutenant colonel with the 910th Medical Squadron of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, was deployed to a military facility set up in the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.
“It’s nice we were able to be here together as first responders,” Susan Gutlove said.
The three are among the estimated 90,000 medical professionals across the U.S. who have descended upon New York City.
`You just picture your loved ones’
After the Javits Center closed, Susan Gutlove was sent to the Queens Hospital Center.
“The admissions of positive cases are way down; admissions for ICU is down, the death rate, positive cases, everything is down,” she said.
However, visiting nurses are needed because so many hospital staff members have been depleted by the illness.
Hronec, for example, works from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Every one of my patients is on the ventilator,” he said. “You don’t know who you’re going to be assigned to when you go in.”
Hronec said his patients are all ages. Most haven’t seen their families for weeks.
“Some are smokers, some are non-smokers. Some patients have no past medical history and they’re the sickest ones in the hospital,” he said.
“You imagine your parents, you imagine your loved ones. I’m 25. There are 20-year-olds who have been very sick. You just picture your loved ones. I just try to work through it. There’s no rhyme, no reason.”
Hronec said burnout is a part of the job.
“You really just push through it,” he said. “You hope for the best for these patients.”
Susan Gutlove said seeing people recover is worth the stress.
“When a patient says `thank you,’ and the staff thanks you, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
Self-care is important, Micaela Gutlove said.
“Just continue to keep your health and your mental health,” she advised. “Continue to do what the professionals recommend, and follow your state and county guidelines.”
Hronec said working in New York City has given him a different view.
“Just like everybody else, I originally thought it was overblown. But it’s different from the flu. We’re trying to treat people, but there’s not much you can do; there’s no definitive treatment.”
“This is serious business,” Susan Gutlove said, adding that when she returns to Ohio, she will quarantine at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
She and her husband, Dave, live in Jackson Township.
“Because we’re coming from a hot spot, I don’t want to pass on COVID to anybody in Ohio,” she said. ”You could be COVID-positive and not know it. I’m probably COVID-positive, but I’m asymptomatic.”
Micaela Gutlove said she recently underwent an antibody test with a negative result.
Hronec said staffers at Langone Health can get tested on demand.
“I have not gotten tested,” he said. “I will get tested before I get home.”
The new normal
Hronec said he supports social-distancing policies and emphasizes hand hygiene.
“This is the harsh reality,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with it for months and years. I think it will change health care.”
New York City is not scheduled to begin reopening until the summer.
Hronec, who described the city as “grim and quiet,” said most medical professionals are in no hurry.
“Everybody is anxious to continue daily life but they realize the risks,“ he said.
Susan Gutlove noted that the city closes down the the subway nightly to sanitize.
"It’s pretty quiet. My mom and I are both staying in Manhattan,” Micaela Gutlove said. “I was talking to some nurses who were here in March, and they said it was complete chaos. They had ratios of 14 to 15 patients each, which is a very unsafe ratio for a nurse to have. There were four to five deaths per shift. Even when I got here it was pretty hectic.”
Hronec is set to return to Ohio on June 6. Susan Gutlove said the Air Force Reserves also plans to pull out on June 6. Micaela Gutlove has accepted a nursing job in New York.
Susan Gutlove urges people to focus on healthy practices.
“We have get ready for the new normal.”
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