US Medical Workers Volunteer to Fight Coronavirus

04 April 2020

More than 82,000 people have volunteered for New York's reserve force of medical workers to help people infected with the new coronavirus.

Health officials say the force includes recent retirees, health care workers who can take a break from their normal jobs and people between jobs.

Many of these volunteers have yet to be assigned to work in New York's hospitals, and state officials must vet the volunteers and decide how to deploy them.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week he wants that situation to change. Hospitals expect to employ about 1,500 volunteers to assist a medical workforce that needs help, especially in the New York City area.

Volunteers assemble sinks at the Samaritan's Purse field hospital in New York's Central Park, Wednesday, April 1, 2020.
Volunteers assemble sinks at the Samaritan's Purse field hospital in New York's Central Park, Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Health care workers from across the United States have started working in New York. Many found their new jobs through employment agencies. These workers discovered a hospital system in danger of being overwhelmed. There are simply too many patients.

Liz Schaffer is a nurse from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Tuesday was her first day working in the emergency room (ER) at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

"I have never seen so many human beings in an ER at one time in my entire life," she said.

Other states also are busy looking for and recruiting medical workers. At least 10 other states and the District of Columbia are preparing for waves of patients. The Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs also are in need of medical workers.

The work is dangerous

Several health care workers have died from COVID-19, the disease resulting from the virus. One of them was Kious Kelly, who worked in the emergency room at Mount Sinai West Hospital. He died on March 24 after becoming infected with the virus.

Many other medical workers have become very sick. Some hospitals are limiting the protective gloves and facial masks they give to workers because of the possibility of shortages.

Even with those risks, many people have volunteered.

"Whatever it is that they need, I'm willing to do," said Jerry Kops, a licensed nurse from Long Island. He was working as a musician in the Blue Man Group before its North American performances were suspended.

"I keep thinking about my old co-workers and friends that are still in nursing. And to me, it's like if they have to be there, I should be there too," he said.

Hospital volunteers in New York will be paid. But that is not always the case in other areas. In Washington state, volunteer retirees who work in free medical clinics are not always paid for their work. But those who volunteer at hospitals will be paid.

Adding to the group of state recruits are workers suggested by employment agencies.

Nurses are being offered wages of up to $100 an hour. The pay includes food and a place to live. The agencies are seeking to fill over 5,000 jobs in hospital intensive care units and emergency rooms, said Michael Fazio. He works for a company called Prime Staffing, which has recruited over 250 workers to New York hospitals in recent weeks.

"It shocks me more and more the calls I'm getting. West Coast nurses are calling me, wanting to help," Fazio said. "They're leaving their families, wanting to help. They don't have the fear of COVID-19. Their driving force is saying: ‘I'm coming to help fight this, help New York City.'"

One of those nurses is Katherine Ramos of Cape Coral, Florida. She said her work at New York Presbyterian Hospital made her feel very tired.

Ramos has been staying in an apartment building with her husband and two children — and takes measures to prevent the virus from spreading to her family. But she plans on moving soon to a hotel so if she catches the virus, they will not be infected.

"I want to be able to protect my family more," she said.

New York officials say the state will need tens of thousands of additional medical workers to deploy quickly before of an expected wave of patients in the next three weeks.

‘Got to play our part'

Temporary hospitals are being built in convention centers, sports centers and at colleges, but without trained workers they cannot help anyone.

John Gallagher is a doctor from Pennsylvania. He volunteered to work at hospitals near his home at the Ohio border a few months after retiring at age 65. He said the danger of becoming infected with the virus himself and spreading it to loved ones left him very fearful.

"But," he added, "it's one of those things. If it's needed, then we've got to play our part."

I'm Mario Ritter Jr.

Larry Neumeister and Marina Villeneuve reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

reserve –n. a group or force that is additional to the regular force especially in the military

assigned –adj. to give a person a particular job or duty

vet –v. to investigate someone to see if they are right for a job

recruiting –v. the process of find the right people to do a job

licensed –adj. having gone through the official process to be able to do a job or offer a service

clinic –n. a place where people can get medical help for problems that are not too serious