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COVID-19 Leaves Future Uncertain for Mental Health Advocates

October 13, 2020

By Naeisha Rose

Mental health nurse Ketsia Glemaud.

New York, NY – Ketsia Glemaud has been a nurse for nearly 25 years, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left her uncertain about her future. 

“I liked caring for others,” Glemaud says, reflecting on why she became a nurse. “My first job was at a medical clinic prior to nursing; it was an internal medicine facility and my interest in nursing blossomed from there.”

Glemaud went to the Veeb Nassau County School of Practical Nursing in Uniondale, L.I., became an LPN, and later went to the Helene Fuld College of Nursing in Manhattan where she became a registered nurse. 

“I started in medical-surgical,” Glemaud says. “Then went on to become an OB-GYN. Then went on to geriatrics, home care and school health. Then I went on to mental health.”

Glemaud ultimately found her passion working as a mental health nurse for 12 years. She was working in the mental health field at a hospital in Brooklyn when the COVID-19 virus initially struck. 

“It was fascinating to see the changes in people once they got the assistance they needed in terms of substance abuse and mental health,” Glemaud says. “It was amazing to me how someone would walk in — and then seven months later, walk out after taking their meds consistently or no longer abusing substances. The transformation was amazing to watch.”

As a mental health nurse, Glemaud was not only caring for her patients, she was also providing them with security and a support system. She ultimately became their de-facto therapist and educator. 

“On any given day you might find someone who is not housing secure,” Glemaud says. “We are offering people a place to stay until they can find their own housing. I medicate patients who have mental health issues and not taking their medications. I do a lot of patient teaching — how to take their medications and the mental health issues they might have.”

Glemaud’s career also requires a lot of listening.

“You have to be empathetic to patients,” Glemaud says. “It is a mosaic of different things — but in the end, it is just trying to care for the person holistically for the day.”

In the last week of March, Glemaud world changed when she was abruptly reassigned to medical-surgery again — a specialty she had not worked in since 1996.

“The transition was beyond scary because this virus is novel; we didn’t know what we were going to be walking into,” Glemaud says. “Our unit was closed and the mental health program was shut down. We were told that we were going to be going to the COVID-Unit. I was scared. But I’m a nurse — and my job is to help people in their time of need.”

The mental health unit was closed because the hospital needed all hands on deck and the unit was residential.

“The virus was so novel, and no one knew the mechanics of it — I guess they didn’t want too many people in close quarters,” Glemaud says. “They really didn’t give us a reason [for the mental health unit closure].”

Glemaud had reason to be fearful of the new hospital environment. Less than two weeks after arriving at the COVID-19 Unit, she came down with the virus. 

“I don’t believe I was prepped enough,” Glemaud says. “I did ask a lot of questions of my colleagues, but I was not prepped. This is what I signed up for as nurse. This is my career choice and that includes caring for people in whatever capacity that I can within my scope of practice — but I did not willingly decide to be reassigned.”

Glemaud’s body aches started in mid-April and soon landed her in urgent care. Three days later, she tested positive for the COVID-19. 

“Then I felt my body temperature spiking — like, why is it so hot,” Glemaud says. “I couldn’t get out of bed.”

The nurse later became fatigued and developed bloodshot eyes. Her skin grew pale and she lost her appetite and suffered chills. Glemaud is thankful Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo opened up hotel rooms to healthcare workers on COVID-19 units. She’s convinced this protected her octogenarian parents and college-aged daughter who was still living at home. 

“I did not want to be responsible for giving them the virus,” Glemaud says. “I stayed there [in the hotel room] for a month.”

Her daughter, who was struggling to finish her last semester of school online, was also responsible for also sending her mom food to the hotel.

Before Glemaud went resumed work at the hospital, she had herself tested a few more times for COVID-19.

“For some people, they developed issues with their lungs — but for me, it was a cardiac issue,” Glemaud says.

At one point in her illness  Glemaud was forced to wear a heart monitor for nearly two weeks. “

“I had chest pains,” Glemaud says. “I had palpitations sporadically and edema — swelling of my lower extremities, my arms and my legs. I had to go to the emergency room in terms of that.”

When Glemaud returned, the National Nurses United [NNU] union she joined in 2018, was fighting for more Personal Protection Equipment [PPE], transparency in the ways reassignments were handled, and information on duty stations like the nurse’s mental health program.

“I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into,” says Glemaud. “There were no more patients with COVID on the unit. So there was some peace.”

Glemaud is happy that she has NNU to advocate for nurses — but she’s still awaiting details on the mental health program. 

“We still have no clue what is going on with that yet,” Glemaud says. “I love my job and I loved what I did there. I love that unit. I want it to reopen. This has pushed me to think outside the box. If they don’t reopen, what will I do? What is my next plan?”

October 13, 2020

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