November 26, 2021

Nurse: I ‘did what I had to do’

Kira Read quit at GCMC to help coronavirus effort in New York City

As COVID-19 infections in New York City began to skyrocket in March, former Guthrie Cortland nurse Kira Read wanted to help. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked upstate hospitals to send medical workers, she was eager to sign up.

On March 24, she asked the human resources department if a volunteer group was going. She was told no. A week later, she asked her supervisor if Guthrie was sending a group. She was again told no.

“I was an open book about it. They knew what I was thinking about it,” Read said. “It wasn’t like I sprung it on them. I didn’t ask if I could go, I asked if Guthrie was sending people, because I wanted to be on that list. I wanted to jump on that. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to go.”

The hospital, she said, was at that point not running at full bore, since elective surgeries had been cancelled.

“It was difficult for us to predict the timing and the extent of a local influx or surge in patients that would require care at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center,” hospital President Jennifer Yartym said in a statement. “First and foremost, we had a commitment to serve the patients in the Cortland community, which required us to be prepared to meet that commitment.”

The hospital had increased activity to prepare for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients, Read said, adding it was doing an excellent job converting unused areas of the hospital for emergency use – with staff putting in seven days of work a week to make it happen.

“I think they have very good plans in place,” she said. “They did everything the governor asked them to do. They increased bed capacity. They used spaces that had not been used. I truly give those ladies so much credit for what they were doing. We were ahead of most places when it comes to preparedness.”

Still, she thinks the Guthrie system could have spared nurses for a volunteer mission, much like Cayuga Medical Center did when it sent two busloads to New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“They weren’t slow or hesitant. The answer was no,” she said. “There was no, ‘I’ll get back to you.’ The answer was ‘No.’ Period.”

“While Guthrie did not encourage travel outside of our 12- county service area during that time, we did not place limitations on those employees who did not have work at one of our Guthrie facilities currently, however, essential employees were expected to fulfill their responsibilities as scheduled,” Yartym said.

Read then “did what I had to do” — she quit her job April 7. She left Cortland on April 12 and started work the next day.

Another nurse, Yartym said, took a voluntary furlough to attend to patients in New York.

Today , Read is working at the Roosevelt Island Medical Center, a small area of which was being used as a 500-bed nursing home. However, the rest of the building was vacant, and that’s where Readnow works — in a COVID-19 convalescent ward, where almost all the patients are positive cases who have been transferred from the intensive care units of other hospitals.

Read now works through a travel nursing company called Fastaff on a six-week contract, which ends May 23.

“I’m definitely rare,” she said. “There were one or two other nurses that had to resign, but out of hundreds of nurses.”

Read treats patients ranging in age from their 30s through their 90s. She works five 12- hour shifts a week. Her contract called for four 12-hour days, but she said she volunteered to work an extra day “because there’s nothing else to do.”

“The city is closed,” she said. “It’s not like I can go to a museum on my day off.”

Many of her patients have pre-existing problems, such as diabetes or hypertension, but not all of them do. She said two men in their 40s were recently sent back to ICU with severe breathing problems, and neither had pre-existing conditions.

“You never know what you’re going to see. They can deteriorate at any time,” Read said. “It’s a nasty virus.”

Most of her patients were people of color, many of them Spanish-speaking, and very few whites, she said.

Read said her decision to quit may have discouraged other nurses who wanted to volunteer.

“I probably had four or five nurses ask me about it,” she said. “But it came to a screeching halt when they heard I had to resign.”

“We commend these nurses for their sense of community and courage,” Yartym said in the statement. “The nurse who resigned has been offered an opportunity to return to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center in her original role.”

Read said she has not decided if she will accept the offer.