Chandler nurse helping Detroit virus victims SanTan Sun News

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Chandler nurse helping Detroit virus victims

Chandler nurse helping Detroit virus victims
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

A Chandler nurse has traveled to the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Detroit, where more than 7,000 cases of the virus have been burdening the city’s understaffed health care centers.

Austin Fifield, a nurse who works for Abrazo Central, is among a group of local nurses who recently volunteered to complete a short-term nursing assignment in Detroit’s hospitals.

Fifield will spend three weeks assessing patients, passing out medications, and triaging symptoms in a city that’s experienced some of the worst rates of the coronavirus.

As of April 13, the Detroit Health Department logged at least 424 fatalities related to the COVID-19 virus – while at the same time Maricopa County, which has a population seven times larger than Detroit’s, had only recorded 131 deaths.

Michigan’s public health officials have said that Detroit’s high prevalence of concentrated poverty has made the city more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus compared to other metropolitan areas.

Fifield said he felt compelled to travel out to Michigan and apply his nursing skills to a region in dire need of more health care workers.

“I know this is an unprecedented time we will all remember forever,” he said, “and I knew I would want to look back knowing I stepped up to help those in need.”

The day-to-day experience has almost felt surreal, Fifield added, with every nurse working nonstop from the moment their 12-hour shift starts.

“There is stress and there is sadness,” he stated, “but there’s also a sense of teamwork and appreciation that we have all come together to help save lives.”

The team of traveling nurses must take extra precautions working in an environment that’s been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

Fifield said everyone is vigilant about sanitizing surfaces and keeping track of everything they touch. Their daily uniform encompasses masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, hair caps, and booties.

Fifield is trying to boost his immunity by taking vitamin supplements, eating healthy foods and trying to get as much sleep as possible amidst his hectic schedule.

But the days can still feel arduous, he said, especially when Fifield has to comfort the patients who are not expected to overcome their ailments.

The resources are extremely limited, Fifield added, yet there’s an abundance of patients needing treatment.

Fifield is one of several health care workers who’s been flying across the country to provide emergency services to cities plagued by the contagious virus.

Abrazo Central, part of a national network of 65 hospitals, dispatched five of its nurses from across the Valley who traditionally work in surgical units.

Because hospitals have been performing fewer elective operations during the pandemic, Abrazo suddenly had staff available to help where it was needed most.

“Our colleagues in Detroit are fighting the COVID battle in a way that most of us are not experiencing,” said Tami Biggs, Abrazo’s chief nursing officer. “They have fought hard and with such grace and determination. However, they were in desperate need of staff.”

Abrazo Interim CEO Ed Staren said its facilities already had enough resources to maintain current operations, so it made sense to share some of its staff with cities overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“There has been tremendous teamwork and compassion from hospital staff, physicians and board members, who are offering all of their support during this pandemic,” Staren said. “This is like running a marathon at the pace of a sprint, but we are all in this together to protect the health of our community.” 

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