Lee County nurses join coronavirus fight in NYC

Posted at 7:28 PM, Apr 13, 2020

LEE COUNTY, FL. — Three Lee County Nurses are now in the frontlines against the Coronavirus pandemic in New York City.

"My family knows me when I said I was going, they pretty much knew it was a done deal," said Gina Willaford.

Willaford is a certified registered nurse anesthetist; she says the idea of going to New York City sparked after learning of hospitals being short-staffed.

Nurse colleagues Jackie Lemm and Jennifer Concepcion also jumped in to help.

All three work at Cape Health Surgery Center in Cape Coral, FL.

“I mentioned it to a lot of people, but those two girls, you could see it in their eyes that they were ready to go,” said Willaford.

Lemm is also a certified registered nurse anesthetist and Concepcion is a registered nurse.

Within 48-hours of contacting a staffing agency, all three Lee County nurses were on their way to the United States' epicenter to help and learn.

“It puts me in a great spot; I’m working with wonderful physicians, residents, and fellows who have been here since the first day. I wanted to learn from them what we would do differently, what’s working, what’s not working,” said Willaford.

Willaford says she has been sharing what she has learned with her colleagues back in Lee County.

Willaford and Concepcion are at the Bellevue Hospital Intensive Care Unit, while Lemm is working at the King County Emergency Room.

"Here today, I’ve stepped back into my role as a medical ICU nurse because that’s where they need me," said Willaford.

All three nurses arrived on April 5th and committed to stay for three weeks, but now on day 8th, Willaford plans to stay longer if she is needed.

“I don’t want to think about leaving my colleagues here because we are critically short-staffed,” said Willaford.

Willaford says working in NYC is like something she has never seen before.

“Every floor here is an intensive care unit — you see ventilators in the endoscopy suite, we have tents outside with resistive measures going,” said Willaford.

"There are things that we’re seeing here that I can’t describe, and I will probably never describe, and probably never tell my family about how sick the patients actually are."

With shifts starting at 5:45 in the morning and ending just before nine at night, Willaford says everyone is doing what they can.

"It’s amazing here how the lines have blurred between professions and jobs. You have no idea who the doctors, nurses, fellows, residents are. It’s just elbow to elbow. Everybody is just pitching in for the good of the patient and just to get through this,” said Willaford.

Once the nurses return back home, they will have to quarantine.

Willaford says she's thankful to her employer for allowing them to go to NYC to help and still have a job when they return.

"I'm so fortunate that I work for amazing doctors, Dr. Trope, Keith, and Harris. They said girls, we got you covered, your job is here, and they’ve been actually calling and texting us every single day to make sure that we’re ok," said Willaford.