A nurse in New York: Diane Juehring tells her story

Diane Juehring at Roosevelt Island Medical Center in New York.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Following Governor Reynold’s suspension of non-emergency surgeries in March, work at UnityPoint Trinity Rock Island Campus slowed dramatically for Diane Juehring, a Muscatine native with 27 years of nursing experience. With little to do, her thoughts turned to New York. “I was just sitting and listing to the news and hearing how bad it was, and I wanted to help,” she remembers.

Through Krucial Staffing and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Juehring began working at Roosevelt Island Medical Center in New York April 7. A decommissioned smallpox hospital, the center reopened to take in COVID-19 patients too sick too go home but stable enough to need less intensive care. Its staff consisted entirely of volunteers like Juehring.

“It was not what I expected,” recalls Juehring. The hospital had a bare bones staff and supplies. With no on site pharmacy or lab and no technicians, Juehring said the facility, “had the capacity to take care of patients in an antiquated fashion.” Four patients shared each room, and though the hospital had communal bathrooms in the halls, quarantined patients could not use them. With a shortage of bedpans, Juehring saw many patients relieve themselves in garbage bags.

Though Juehring had enough personal protective equipment to keep herself safe, she had to go to great lengths to preserve it: “One day, I was in a room caring for the patients for hours at a time. To conserve PPE, other nurses would hand me meds and supplies through the door.”

With temperatures outside getting above 70 degrees, the un-air conditioned hospital became sweltering, especially for those wearing plastic gowns, “I could not complain because the patients were in the room and couldn’t leave, I could,” said Juehring.

Many of the patients at Roosevelt Island spoke only Spanish, presenting additional difficulties. “We didn’t have an interpreter–we had to care for our Spanish speaking patients all day without being able to speak to them.”

Despite the poor conditions, Juehring found her patients grateful for her care. “They were so appreciative,” she emphasized. They asked me where I came from and were very interested.”

Juehring also had the small pleasure of seeing several patients discharged.”I did see two people go home, and they were so relieved to walk out of their room and into the hall and outside.”

Each day, Juehring worked 12 hour shifts before getting bused back to a cheap hotel secured for the nurses to stay at. After eating little all day (the hospital’s cafeteria made no food for staff) the nurses would order food from the few diners still open.

Originally, Juehring planned to stay three weeks. However, after one week, she had done all she could. “I was spent, mentally and physically.” In such trying conditions, some nurses lasted less than a day.

Juehring feels she learned from the event and would travel to help those who needed care again. “I wish I could have stayed longer and helped more, but I did what I could and I’m glad I did.”