Covid NJ: Rutgers Nursing Students Brought In To Help as Omicron Variant Surges

Source: New Jersey

In late December, COVID-19 was wreaking havoc again and state health officials were worried. The omicron variant was causing some of the highest case levels since the start of the pandemic, hospital beds were filling up, and nurses and other health care workers were getting sick or quarantining because of exposure. New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, worried about another COVID surge, asked Rutgers and other New Jersey colleges and universities with health sciences programs if they could help tackle the crisis.

“I had an idea, but didn’t know if it would work,” said Susan Salmond, executive vice dean at Rutgers School of Nursing Student Nurse Reserve Corps. She contacted colleagues at RWJBarnabas Health and University Hospital to see if they could use Rutgers volunteer undergraduate nursing students — some with no clinical experience — to perform tasks that require little training, which would then free up professional nursing staff to focus on more complicated patient care.

The hospital leaders were “absolutely thrilled and very appreciative of our outreach,” Salmond said. “And since our students live all over the state, we invited more health systems and hospitals to participate.” These included Atlantic Health and Cooper University Health. Student Nurse Reservists could answer phones, transport patients in wheelchairs and spend time with patients who needed observation.

Within an hour of her email, Salmond received 38 responses and the number of applicants quickly rose to over 200; ithin a week, Salmond and her team were able to place over 90 students in hospitals throughout New Jersey. Anne Vrubliauskas, a sophomore, answered Salmond’s call and is now working at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. She has been answering call bells and assisting with basic patient care since for more than a month, said she is grateful for what health care workers have done throughout the pandemic and wanted to support them.

“I had a wonderful experience at the hospital because I received a lot of great hands-on learning, and I loved being able to help out. Caring for patients when they are sick and without their families can be tough, especially during a pandemic, but it is also extremely rewarding to provide comfort for these patients and be their advocate,” Vrubliauskas said.

“Hospitals have been dealing for months with the dual crises of a high-volume of high-risk patients along with staff shortages, with nurses oftentimes feeling unsupported,” said Salmond. “In the ongoing pandemic, many nurses have been feeling like they are drowning. Rutgers School of Nursing has helped provide them with lifejackets in this storm.”

Staff nurses and hospital administrators alike have expressed gratitude not just for the work of the students and the respite they’ve provided, but also for seeing that others cared enough to take action.

“They are so appreciative of the efforts,” said Salmond. “As one hospital CEO stated in a meeting with School of Nursing deans, ‘This program has been a gift.’”

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