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Nurses describe what it's like inside at the state's only all-COVID-19 hospital

Nurses at Catholic Health's COVID-19 Treatment Facility at St. Joseph Campus say they feel safer going to work right now than they do anywhere else.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Going to work at the state's only hospital exclusively dedicated to serving patients with COVID-19 may sound scary, but the nurses there say thanks to the procedures in place, they feel safer going to work right now than pretty much anywhere else.

Registered nurse Rae Venkatesan cares directly for patients in the hospital's red zone.  That's the area where patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 are free to be in their rooms without protective gear. The hospital staff wears it instead, to protect the spread of infection. 

The way Rae gets ready for work these days has drastically changed. She wears one pair of shoes to walk to her car, changes into a different pair once in the car to get inside the hospital, and then changes into a third pair to enter the red zone. That's on top of the full PPE, which assistants help her put on each day. Ray says during shift changes in the red zone, the nurses arriving often get greeted with cheers.

Once the actual work begins, she said it's pretty much business as usual.

"The interaction is still the same," she said. "I sound a little muffled under the mask but I think they can still see our smiles through our eyes. A lot of our patients on our floor, some of them are scared and some are looking forward to beating this, same as any patient here. Get them up, ambulating, making sure they can breathe on their own and they can go back home."

Rae says she does not usually feel scared or get emotional while at a patient's bedside, but if she ever did, she would probably try to laugh and joke with the patients to help convey a sense of calm.

Rae became interested in nursing growing up watching her mom run a medical clinic in India. She would often provide care, even if people couldn't pay. Ray says nurses see their jobs as a service first, and a job second, and that's what's helping them get through this pandemic. 

Like so many, nurses are doing things at work right now that they've never had to do before. Clinical Nurse Advisor Matthew Bailen was one of the "army of educators" who helped get the frontline ready at the St. Joseph's Campus. 

He's normally a nurse educator that works with cardio surgeons at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. Seven weeks ago, they asked him to come to St. Joe's to help develop a training model for the nurses that are helping the ICU nurses in direct care of care of COVID-19 patients.

So far, 567 nurses have completed their boot camp. 

"We had eight different stations in the lobby and we rotated it as a drill station, through how to do direct hands-on care, how to do hands on-care for patients in ICU's," Matthew told 2 On Your Side. "These are nurses coming OB, ER, med surge, telemetry. Any walk of life. We needed all hands on deck here. We didn't know what was going to happen going forward, so we needed as much hands on experience as we could muster within a short amount of time." 

As the crisis goes on, the education continues. Matthew and his fellow educators spend time in full PPE in the hospital's red zone so they're with the nurses and giving them the support they need to get through their day.

As we salute our nurses, share your photos with us using the hashtag #BeOn2 throughout National Nurse's Week. 

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