MOUNT LAUREL — November is National Home Care and Hospice Month a time for celebrating the home health care and hospice nurses, therapists, home health aides, and other professionals who keep medically fragile people of all ages safe at home. During Superstorm Sandy, some of these professionals went above and beyond the normal call of duty to ensure the safety of the people in their care.
Kim Torres, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) from Little Ferry, swam through six feet of cold water while holding her two dogs until people on a boat finally rescued her. Convinced she lost everything, including her SUV which she watched float away, Torres immediately headed for a local shelter.
Despite her own dire situation, Torres worried about the 7-year-old boy with a seizure disorder whom she cares for five times a week for eight hours a day.
“He needs medications, daily monitoring, and is on a very, very strict diet,” said Torres. “I was hoping his family had electricity for the scales we need to measure his specific amounts of food, the blender to puree it, and the refrigerator to keep the cream he needs from spoiling. Otherwise, he can have a severe reaction and go into convulsions. It would set him back and increase the number of seizures he gets.”
Without a car or home, Torres still wanted to return to care for the boy. She temporarily moved in with a friend and BAYADA Home Health Care is paying for her cab fare back and forth to her patient’s house.
Mariama Sillah, a home health aide from Philadelphia, Pa. went to the home of her patient who is 100 years old, bedbound, and receives care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During the storm Monday evening, several trees fell in the neighborhood blocking roads and causing the home to lose power.
With no other caregivers able to access the home, Sillah stayed with her patient, keeping her warm and safe, and providing peace of mind for the patient’s daughter, who lives in Boston. On Wednesday, an ambulance finally accessed the home and transported the patient to a facility until the power was restored to her home the following week.
Mary Figueroa, an LPN from Brick, cares for a medically fragile five-year-old girl with what some refer to as a HICU—a home intensive care unit. She uses a mechanical ventilator to breathe, a pulse oximeter to measure the amount of oxygen in her blood, a suction machine to remove secretions, and a feeding pump for nourishment.
On the way to her patient’s home, Figueroa took several alternate routes because of flooding and other road hazards. At one point, a bent telephone pole loomed over her car.
When she finally got to her patient’s neighborhood, downed live electrical wires and downed trees framed the street. She left her car behind and walked to her patient’s home, which had lost electricity and was running on a back-up generator to power the equipment that keeps her alive.
“Everything that happened to me made me more determined to get there—you have to get there,” said Figueroa. “I didn’t want my patient’s parents having to take her to the hospital. Medically fragile children like her are basically on life support, and we don’t want to send them to the hospital where there are more germs. We keep them safe at home and that’s where they want to be.”
“I am humbled and grateful to all of those who went above and beyond to ensure that our clients were cared for and supported through this crisis,” said BAYADA Home Health Care founder and President Mark Baiada. “As new power outages occurred, gasoline supplies depleted, and downed trees and flooding continued, everyone pulled together to ensure that our clients and employees were okay.”
Volunteers from the BAYADA offices in southern New Jersey delivered containers of gas to those in affected areas in northern New Jersey. As they arrived, dedicated nurses, therapists, and aides lined up in their cars, grateful that they could get to the homes of their patients.
Torres, now back in her own home and salvaging what she can, is working on getting another car. She realizes that things could have been worse.
“Things can get replaced,” she said. “I have patience. I’m going to be fine. I’m back on my feet, and I’m just happy to be able to help.”
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