With their car loaded with protective equipment and the COVID-19 vaccine, Karen Cook and Valentina Valencia, both registered nurses pursuing their BSN degree at Montclair State University, recently spent a day visiting seniors at home and inoculating them against the coronavirus.
Their house calls were part of an ongoing partnership between the West Orange Health Department and the University’s School of Nursing to vaccinate homebound residents. On this day of visits, the RNs provided both the vaccine and the “simple gifts of company and conversation,” Cook says.
“As an inpatient acute care nurse, I have been caring for patients critically sick with COVID-19 in the hospital setting,” Cook says. “Many days I feel great about the work I do, but there are also days where you begin to feel helpless, like no matter what you do, patients continue to become more seriously ill. Being able to deliver vaccines was cathartic in a way I didn’t expect. Each dose put in an arm, represented a face I wouldn’t see on my next shift at work. I was finally on the proactive side of this battle and that felt wonderful.”
Vaccination visits to the homebound are just one part of the partnership between West Orange and Montclair State, says Acting Director of the West Orange Health Department Michael A. Fonzino. “Our partnership has given students the opportunity to participate in senior citizen home vaccination clinics, where they assisted with registration, line control and patient monitoring.” Students have also interacted with residents by making vaccination appointments and answering questions, he says.
“The partnership between Montclair State University and the West Orange Health Department has been extremely beneficial to the township in meeting our nursing needs during this public health pandemic, while at the same time providing hands-on training to the School of Nursing students,” says Theresa M. De Nova ’97, a health officer of the West Orange Health Department.
For School of Nursing faculty and students, the work with West Orange has been beyond rewarding. “The magnitude of what it means to receive the vaccine cannot be expressed in enough words,” says Associate Professor of Nursing Rachel Lyons. “The tears of joy that flow are testament that we are on the right path to bring loved ones back together again.”
Most of the registered nurses in the BSN program work in hospitals, but community nursing is a different experience. “The second we step inside the West Orange residents’ homes we are taking everything in,” Valencia says. “We have to understand this is their most private space and it speaks for who they are.”
A lot of work happens before students and faculty hit the road to make those house calls. Preparations for the home visits include the logistics of scheduling and mapping routes, and vaccine administration requirements must be observed. “It takes hours of work by multiple people in the county, at the school and by the students to coordinate,” says School of Nursing Dean Janice Smolowitz.
Among the team members handling vaccination registration and scheduling is Sandy Monk, an assistant nurse manager at Morristown Medical Center pursuing her BSN degree. “You feel like you are making a difference,” she says. “Working at a hospital, I’ve seen the hospital side, but this program allows me to see the community side of nursing. It’s a lighter note, a happier note. They’re happy to hear from us because they are all itching to get this vaccine.”
Undergraduates in the Nursing program have also assisted with the efforts, volunteering at onsite senior centers by helping with the vaccination registrations and monitoring after the older adults receive their shots.
“It’s an anxious experience for them, especially if they’re receiving their first shot,” says Cassie Armout, a sophomore BSN major.
Aisha Shabbir, a sophomore BSN student, who registered the center’s residents for their inoculations, says, “I was just taking names and they thanked me over and over. We started talking and I told them about my life and they told me about theirs.”
The initiative reflects the mission and commitment of the University’s School of Nursing “to think global and act local” in service to diverse communities, Smolowitz says. “During the pandemic we have stepped up, thought about the skills we have and partners who make a difference.”
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren
You May Also Like: