Jackson Hospital ER Nurse Tests Positive For COVID-19, Video Blogs Her Experience
First, Herine Baron panicked, cried and hoped her COVID-19 test would come back negative. Soon, though, the ER nurse at Jackson North Medical Center in Miami-Dade County was lying in a hospital bed with a positive diagnosis and an ice pack on her forehead to try and break her fever. Baron is chronicling her illness with COVID-19 in a series of YouTube videos that have gotten more than 130,000 views.
WLRN depends on donors to remain South Florida’s leading nonprofit, most trusted source of news and information. Support our mission by giving monthly as a sustaining member of Friends of WLRN or make a one-time donation of your choice. Thank you. Click here to give.
Her story underscores concerns raised by hospital employees about protection for workers on the frontline of the pandemic, and what happens when they become patients at the institutions where they believe they got sick.
Baron posted her first video to her YouTube channel on March 20. Usually her videos are light and bright— a love story about meeting her husband, a DIY video on planning her wedding on a budget and how to make baby food for her now 7-month-old son.
In this video, her smile is gone and it’s noticeable that she’d been crying.
“Hopefully the COVID-19 test swab is negative," said Baron. "I'm not even going to lie. I was panicking. I was boo-hoo crying because I can't see my son."
Baron had been in isolation for two days when she posted her first video. She described experiencing a high fever and doctors at that point confirmed she had pneumonia, but she didn’t have her COVID-19 test results back yet.
“I feel like, you know, at my job I wasn't protected the way I was supposed to,” she said.
Baron has been an ER nurse with Jackson Health System, which includes Jackson North Medical Center and the main public hospital Jackson Memorial, for nearly four years. WLRN could not reach her for comment.
Jackson would not confirm Baron tested positive for COVID-19 citing patient privacy, and said the hospital will not release numbers to the public on how many of their health care workers have tested positive.
According to the union that represents nurses, Baron’s is the first positive test they know of so far.
“If one of our members become patients and are exposed, I would ask management to give us full details and find out where the flaws were, and to take care of and compensate that nurse," said Martha Baker, SEIU Local 1991 president.
Baker said the possibility of catching the virus is a risk for everyone in the hospital.
“We don’t know everyone who she was working with, but obviously they can’t take every health care worker she was working with and send them home,” said Baker. "We wouldn’t have a staff.”
According to Jackson, health care workers who test positive for COVID-19, or have symptoms after exposure to a positive patient, need to self-quarantine until they're cleared to return.
As more nurses, doctors and frontline health care workers get sick, the system could get even more strained while it struggles to respond to the pandemic in South Florida.
On March 21, Baron posted a new video. She got her results.
“I am positive for the corona,” she said from her hospital bed with a cold pack on her forehead.
Through tears, Baron said nurses on the floor where she’s been admitted, her colleagues, are now afraid to come into her room.
“I don't feel like I'm getting the help that I need. And it's sad because I'm not, you know, that type of nurse,” she said. “And the fact that I know I wouldn't treat a patient like that and I'm being treated like that. You know, it's sad.”
In the video she said nurses working on her floor tried to explain that they have their own families to worry about.
“Like you don’t think I f***ing have any of those too?” she asks.
Baron said she had to complain to hospital higher-ups to receive better care.
“And he had to chew them out for them to actually give a damn,” she said in the video.
Baron also went into some details about how she felt her hospital failed her. She noted nurses at Jackson are not getting enough masks for their shifts, and she feared that she somehow would be blamed for getting sick on the job.
“I'm the first employee that's here in this hospital that got this, and I know right now they're flipping out in the ER because everyone's been around me,” she said.
All around the country, medical facilities are facing a severe shortage of face masks. Some health care workers describe a limited number of masks being rationed out — if there are any at all.
Baker, the union president, told WLRN she has not seen any issues with access to personal protective equipment so far, but she expects that could change if the hospital starts to run out.
Baron believes she contracted the virus from a patient she tended to who later tested positive and was quarantined. She said it’s only after that patient was quarantined that she received an N95 respirator mask.
She said she fears she may have exposed her family before going into isolation.
According to her video, Baron's family was turned away from the hospital on their first try to get a test because they didn’t have any symptoms. She said she reached out to her director at the hospital and her family was told to return to get tested. It’s unclear whether those tests have happened.
In her latest video, posted early on March 23, Baron said she had her first real scare during her hospital stay— shortness of breath.
“I’m not even gonna lie to you, it was scary. Especially since, you know, I've felt like I've been improving,” she said.
This is the first video where she’s wearing oxygen tubing.
She said one of the things that helped her through the night was having a kind night nurse this time.
“This nurse, she was awesome. She was caring and compassionate. And, you know, she treated me like a human being,” said Baron. “And I really appreciate her for that.”
Baron told her YouTube viewers she’ll be posting regular updates as long as she can.
“I'm trying to look for the bright side of things and I'm trying to stay positive,” she said. “And, you know, keep me in your prayers.”
Full statement from Jackson Health System:
This has been a fast-moving pandemic creating unprecedented anxiety among patients and the healthcare workers treating them. While we are confident our policies and supplies have met or exceeded CDC standards, we also know this has been changing at an incredible pace. From the beginning, we have been educating our employees on how to avoid exposure and becoming ill for their protection and so that they can be ready and available to care for our patients. We have extensive training – both in person and virtually – for our clinical staff on the proper use of personal protective equipment and how to safely provide the best care to these patients. The safety of our healthcare workers, patients, and visitors is the top priority for Jackson Health System.