We've seen touching videos of people cheering from balconies for doctors, nurses, and essential workers. Across the Twin Cities, we have seen yard signs thanking them for their work. But one health care worker took a different path and the decision was difficult.
Megan Chao Smith said she had two choices: Continue working in a COVID-19 unit or protect her family. She said she chose to protect her family.
“It was devastating because I am wired like all nurses -- be there and to be there 24 hours a day. We never leave. We stay with the patients until the very moment they leave us,” she said. “I quit my job recently. I am starting to hear from my coworkers that they are contracting COVID-19.”
And the choice to protect her family changed her life.
“I was so ashamed and torn that I left,” she said. “I became a nurse because a nurse once saved my life when I was teenager. I ended up without a home and she was the first person who really cared in a way that I could understand. I am realizing five weeks (after quitting) that I am deciding to nurse my nurses.”
Chao Smith left the Minneapolis hospital where she said she worked for three years but she didn't walk away from her role as nurse – caring for others. She started delivering food to her former colleagues. As word spread, people in the community jumped in to help.
Eric Schnell is one volunteer who pitched in after hearing Chao Smith's story - a classic example of the complexities surrounding COVID-19.
“Some of those COVID complexities impact communities of color. When you think about nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and hospital cleaners - these are people who are typically paid less and have less access to personal protective equipment and alternative housing,” Schnell said. “I am just a guy with crazy privilege. It is a helpless feeling. It has devastated communities of color and staff of color. It is not right the lower paid healthcare workers don’t get access to resources to keep them safe."
So, they are trying to fill the gap by turning the helpless feeling into action.
He donated cash and helped Chao Smith create the fundraiser, "On the MN Frontlines" via GoFundMe. The money donated will help purchase food and protective masks. You can learn more here.
"My coworkers have one mask they are to use for two weeks or more. Back in January, we would’ve been disciplined if we were to use one mask for more than one patient," Chao Smith said. "I was there when COVID cases started coming before an announcement of it happening. We were already in a position where we were not sure if we were safe being at work."
They have also delivered sustaining food to emergency rooms, intensive care units and designated COVID units. She said the Girl Scouts of River Valley have donated more than 20 cases of cookies.
“The cookies are important. You need the sustaining food but, in a jam, you need that sugar,” she said. “We can be the change the world needs. And if we get this stronger, we found a source of N-95 masks, face shields and we are providing alternative housing to nurses and becoming a place that delivers the support you feel but don't know how to get to people. This is a bridge that is doing it everyday."
Chow Smith says it only takes $4 to purchase a face shield for a nurse.
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There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.