How an Unstoppable Spirit Keeps This Nurse in the COVID-19 Trenches
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Following her own recovery from COVID-19, Horizon BCBSNJ nurse Priscilla Maranon continues to work seven days a week to care for her patients. Here’s why.
To Priscilla Maranon, a registered nurse from Elizabeth now on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the word “stop” doesn’t seem to be in her dictionary.
After working a full four-day week as an RN for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ), Priscilla travels to the Meadowlands Exposition Center Field Hospital – a “step-down” facility created to add hospital bed capacity during the pandemic – where she nurses recovering COVID-19 patients in 12-hour shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sundays.
Priscilla with husband Antonio and son Jeovany
Her unyielding energy comes from her love and responsibility for her profession, Priscilla says, and the duty she feels to support her colleagues on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight. “It’s the oath that we take as nurses – to care for others,” she said.
She hasn’t allowed COVID-19 to stop her, either. Priscilla contracted and recovered from a mild case of COVID-19 herself, as did her husband, Antonio, who also works in the medical field as an ultra-sound technician in New York City.
And a day before she was to begin her weekend nursing duty, she found out that her mother, too, had tested positive for COVID-19. So, on the eve of her scheduled start at the Meadowlands, Priscilla was rushing her mom, Margarita, to another hospital, where she stayed for 13 days before coming home to recover. “It was unbelievable. Everything was just happening together.”
Inspired by her mother to pursue nursing
“Together” is actually the perfect word to describe Priscilla’s relationship with her mom, who spent her career as a medical assistant for a group practice in Hudson County. At the age of 18, Priscilla was so inspired by her mother that she volunteered to work there, too. She started by greeting and checking patients in at the front desk, and within a year, she accepted a full-time position as a medical assistant – just like her mom.
“I fell in love with the job. It’s something that is just in me – to care for others. I’m happy when I give,” says Priscilla.
(L-R) Margarita (mom), Christian (brother), Priscilla, Hernan (dad) and Hernan, Jr. (brother)
She stayed with the group for about seven years, rising to manage the business office. “I enjoyed the work, but I felt that I could do more, so I decided to go into nursing,” she says. While still working, she earned her nursing degree attending school part-time.
After getting her degree, Priscilla became a field nurse, delivering care to patients in home settings. This experience led Priscilla to Horizon BCBSNJ three years ago when she was hired as a Personal Care Assistance/Medical Day Care field nurse as part of the Managed Long-Term Services & Supports (MLTSS) program.
Through this program, NJ FamilyCare members receive personal care, medical and non-medical transportation, behavioral health, addiction and other services in a home or community-based environment.
A return to her roots to care for COVID-19 patients
At the Meadowlands Field Hospital, which is not equipped with many of the digital medical tools commonly found in today’s sophisticated hospital rooms, Priscilla has had to rely on her field experience and nursing fundamentals.
Many of the bedside functions she now performs are manual. “A lot of the skills nurses learned in school have kicked in and we’re applying them manually, such as taking blood pressure, administering medications, and monitoring patient vital signs. We are doing the best we can with what we have,” says Priscilla.
In addition to using her clinical skills, Priscilla also helps out by translating. “As a bilingual, I am able to communicate with many patients in Spanish and assist medical teams with translation. For the patients, I feel they take comfort when someone on the medical team can speak to them in their native language, especially during a time when everything is so uncertain,” she says.
Tireless dedication to stopping COVID-19
After hearing Governor Murphy’s call for volunteers to assist hospitals experiencing a surge of COVID-19 patients, Priscilla joined more than 70 members of Horizon BCBSNJ’s clinical staff to offer their services.
To encourage employees with medical training to answer this call to service, Horizon BCBSNJ expanded paid-time-off to provide them with 40 hours of compensated volunteer time. Priscilla was recently contacted by the State for an additional assignment, so she is preparing to add volunteer workweek shifts to her already loaded schedule.
So, what keeps her working for days on end? It’s partly the excitement of helping patients, which leaves her little time for life outside of the hospital. “I make sure I get my sleep and eat right, and I am good to go,” she says.
But it’s also the motivation she felt after seeing her mother in the throes of COVID-19. “This disease sneaks up on you. My mom and many people who have it start off with minimal symptoms, then, all of a sudden, their oxygen levels start dropping and their condition worsens dramatically. It’s crazy how it attacks your lungs.”
With every shift, every patient and every minute, she’s attacking right back.