Two Queensborough Community College nursing students are helping to care for seniors at a Queens nursing home and rehabilitation center amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past month, Kristen Rodriguez and Adam Kern, both in their 30s, have dedicated their time to serve on the front line of the pandemic at the Parker Jewish Institute in New Hyde Park, where there have been reported cases of COVID-19-related deaths.
Prior to her academic career at Queensborough, Rodriguez, a resident of Whitestone, worked as a medical administrator for eight years at the Northwell Health Division for Surigcal Onocology in New Hyde Park.
Every Saturday, Rodriguez works an eight-hour shift at the center, where her responsibilities include conducting vital signs, feeding and cleaning the patients, and helping the nurses with other tasks.
“I feel good leaving there making a difference to some people,” said Rodriguez, who completed her clinical placement at the nursing home last semester. “I put in a lady’s earring the other day and she was so thankful. It sounds minimal but to that lady it’s everything. I feel like I did something good for her whether it’s tiny.”
For the most part, Rodriguez said, she tries to make the residents laugh.
“It’s just a lot. It does make you appreciate what you have,” Rodriguez said. “It’s sad because they can’t go anywhere, or see anyone and they get lonely. When depression kicks in, that can deteriorate it.”
Although she was quite nervous about stepping into the role of a caretaker at the nursing home, Rodriguez said the experience has been “eye-opening.” As for her family, she said, they were quite reluctant but decided to let her leave home.
“There are a lot of emotions, then and now. My 12-year-old son, my boyfriend and my parents did not want me to go at first. They said, ‘absolutely not,’ but we came to the realization that nurses can’t pick and choose who to help and who to avoid. Everyone is equal and they asked me, ‘If you’re not going to help them, who will?”’ Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, Kern, of Oakland Gardens, an experienced caregiver for people with disabilities in Nassau County prior to his enrollment at Queensborough, works with staff at Parker who cares for residents with dementia.
Kern’s wife, who cares for developmentally disabled people on Long Island and studies at the CUNY School of Law, also had reservations.
“This last month, she has personally known about 25 to 30 people who have died — not all COVID though. Everyone’s scared. But the education at and preparation from Queensborough is good,” Kern said. “We have been trained very well by staff and Parker, too, has been wonderful.”
According to Kern, many COVID-19 cases have swept through his floor. Since family members cannot always be with their loved ones, Kern said he tries to be family to the resident.
“They’re scared and I am able to let families know that someone was with their loved one, that they were not alone, that they were comfortable and that everything was done for them,” said Kern, having held the hand of patients, including a 99-year-old woman, comforting them as they passed on.
Although it’s been sad, Kern said, it has been a remarkable educational opportunity, obtaining access that no first-year nursing student typically experiences to learn and observe.
Michael Rosenblut, president and CEO of Parker Jewish Institute, said he is thankful for the students’ participation.
“[We] appreciate the response from Queensborough students who are supporting the care of our patients and residents,” Rosenblut said.
According to Dr. Colleen Ariola, senior vice president of Patient Care Services at Parker, the student nurses are “capable, committed and undaunted.”
“[They bring their enthusiasm to learn, support and collaborate with our frontline health heroes — we are so grateful for their positive energy,” Ariola said.
Upon completion of their Queensborough studies next year, Kern and Rodriguez will earn RN qualifications and enroll at York College and CUNY’s School of Professional Studies, respectively, to complete their Bachelor of Nursing degrees under CUNY’s Dual Joint Degree programs.