09:44 AM

Unfazed by COVID, this nurse goes all out to give back to her community


If the residents of Cumberland County caught a glimpse of their neighbor Joanna Belum administering a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a local clinic this year, it would be understandable if they did a double take and wondered where they might have seen her before.

Is that nurse behind the N95 mask the same person they saw lugging a hose to fight a house fire in the next town over? Is she that EMT who emerged from an ambulance to deliver medical attention to a car accident victim on Route 49?

Their eyes weren’t playing tricks on them, Joanna has served in all of these roles (and more) in her community.

Nursing Not What She Does, But Who She Is

“I’ve been volunteering my entire adult life, Joanna says. “Helping neighbors in need is a calling that my parents instilled in me growing up, and it brings me joy.”

Joanna is a Registered Nurse, and one of more than 500 that Horizon employs to care for and serve the company’s members. She joined Horizon in 2014 and got her nursing degree in 2009. Joanna coordinates home care services to vulnerable Horizon members through the Managed Long-Term Services and Supports (MLTSS) program. When she’s not on the clock, Joanna’s on the move.

Joanna is a volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a national network of volunteers, organized locally to improve the health and safety of their communities. The Cumberland County Health Department used the resources of the MRC – and Joanna’s services – in the early summer of 2020 to staff county-run drive up and walk up COVID-19 testing sites.

When the clinical needs transitioned from COVID testing to COVID vaccinations, Joanna again jumped to the front of the volunteer line early this year to put shots in the arms of local residents for the Cumberland County Health Department.

In the mostly partial-day intervals in which she’s been able to volunteer at the local vaccination clinics, Joanna has administered more than 120 shots, including 80 in one full, marathon day.

That day was an exhausting one, but also brought Joanna her fondest vaccine memory.

“The woman I was about to vaccinate was tearing up. I asked if she was nervous, but she said she had tears of joy. She said the vaccine meant that she could soon see members of her family again – members she had not seen in a year. So I told her, ‘here’s your shot of hope.’ That I could give someone that kind of hope really made my day.”

A history of giving back

Joanna Volunteering with the Fire Dept

With her parents’ encouragement, Joanna wasted little time getting involved with helping others in her community. At the age of 17, she became a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), volunteering for Upper Deerfield EMS and Norma-Alliance Fire and Rescue. There was no easing into her new work. By year one, she was already handling calls involving critical injuries, and had assisted in her first baby delivery. When she turned 18, Joanna became a firefighter, volunteering for Norma-Alliance Fire and Rescue and Bridgeton Fire Dept. She worked as an EMT part time, while also going to school to earn her nursing degree. Joanna volunteered whenever she wasn’t in school or working. Her dual-status allowed her to respond to a variety of calls, such as medical emergencies, house fires, motor vehicle accidents and rescue assignments.

To encourage employees with medical training to answer Governor Murphy’s call to service in the early weeks of the pandemic, Horizon expanded its paid-time-off program to provide clinical staff with 40 hours of compensated volunteer time. Joanna used this time last year at the Cumberland testing sites and exhausted all of her available paid volunteer hours this year while administering vaccines in Cumberland County.

Keep it all in balance

Volunteer activities don’t end there. Joanna is also active as an officer in an organization dedicated to empowering women and girls – Soroptimist International of Cumberland County. The organization raises funds for scholarships, food donations and other causes to help women and families.

Joanna Accepts an Award with Soroptimist International

While juggling her volunteer and work duties, Joanna is busy raising three sons with her firefighter husband. With her sons active in soccer, Joanna’s days fly by quickly with getting back and forth to soccer practices and games

Her goals go well beyond the ones on the soccer field. With a constant eye on her own personal fitness, Joanna is preparing for her first half-ironman this fall in Atlantic City and always looking to squeeze training time into her schedule.

Giving her all to the members under her care and the New Jersey communities she serves, Joanna personifies why we dedicate days and weeks to appreciating nurses. And after the pandemic year that was – we cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices they make and for being there when we need them the most.