In the Eye of the Storm, Latinas Facing COVID19

Doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters are responding with professionalism and courage to the needs of not only our community but to the world. Here are the faces of Latinas keeping us safe and saving lives every day.

Paulette Rangel
Registered Nurse, ICU
Phoenix, AZ

A nurse in the intensive care unit at a Phoenix, AZ hospital, Paulette Rangel has been designated to care for COVID-19 patients. A nurse for eight years and in the ICU for five, Rangel is a mom to an almost-two-year-old boy Mateo, and self-isolates in her master bedroom to protect her family. “It would just break my heart if one of them came down with something and it was my fault,” she states. “We have a moral obligation to be there for our patients, to care for them, just like we always have. I want everybody to know that you are not alone and that we are here for you, and we are going to help you get better.”

Susana Gonzalez
Chicago, IL

A nurse educator at ASI Homecare agency in Chicago, Susana Gonzalez knew she would serve in healthcare as a nurse since she was 12 years old. “I was considered the empathetic, kind, go-to person to heal someone or give first aide,” she shares. Today Gonzalez teaches over 300 staff to be safe in a home environment and how to care for patients. An adjunct faculty at DePaul University for nursing students, Gonzalez spends a lot of time on infection control education and teaching proper utilizing of PPE in patient’s homecare environments. “As a nurse, I have worked through, EBOLA, H1N1 times and now COVID-19. I work hard to practice safety infection control skills during my healthcare career in and out of the work environment and now the public.,” she shares. “It is a new time and as a nurse, I am flexible and adaptable to what occurs in healthcare. I will continue to be a nurse. I will work hard to stay informed and updated on medical changes and on all diseases as they occur in our world. I will practice safety and appropriate measures to protect myself and my patients always.”

Serena Perea-Castro
Registered Nurse at a major Chicagoland University Hospital and Adjunct Professor at a University for Nursing Students

A nurse since 2014, 29-year-old Serena Perea-Castro has loved every minute of her career, despite the challenges. The dedicated nurse feels this has been the most stressful time of her life. Within the last two weeks, she has seen her unit, a General Medicine/Telemetry unit, be converted into a COVID-19 unit. “Being a frontline worker during the pandemic has given me a new outlook on our public health system and my value to the community,” she shares. “Oftentimes we are called the frontline workers but in reality, we are the last line for a majority of patients. I have never been so proud to be a nurse at this crucial time.”

Priscilla Hernandez
Police Officer, Dallas Police Department
Patrol Southeast Division

“I love my job,” states Police Officer Priscilla Hernandez. “I strive to make the world a better place for my daughter. I want to leave a positive impact on my Latino community.” Hernandez is not only a first-responder but has also become a part-time teacher to her daughter while continuing to work full-time. “I have to purposely be exposed when dealing with arrestees and people in need,” she says. I have learned through my profession to not panic but instead deal with problems as they come my way. I try to educate myself with the obstacles that I will face from dealing with COVID19 and accept the steps I must take to overcome it.” Hernandez shares small micro-practices that can immediately be applied to harness stress and boost stamina, confidence, and resilience. “Slow down and take extra precautions; Trust in your training; Take deep breaths to reset; Focus on who you live your life for; last but not least, trust your colleagues to have your back.”

Dr. Glenda Rios
Family Doctor, Mile Square Health Center Clinics of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in Cicero. Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine

Mile Square is a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that serves the underserved and some of the most vulnerable populations of Chicago and some nearby communities. Employed at Mile Square since she moved from Puerto Rico in 1999; what at first was meant to fulfill a two-year obligation as a National Health Service Corps Scholar, has led to 21 years of service. As a ‘full scope” family physician she cares for people of all ages – from the newborn to the elderly, provides maternity care, and also delivers babies at UIH. “I am a strong advocate to health reduce health disparities and enjoy teaching women’s health procedures to our residents and medical students from UIC,” she states. The current pandemic has changed the way Rios works. What used to be a 15-minute visit now takes at least 30 minutes, she has been saving every N95 that she uses in a paper bag with her name and date on it in case they end up running short on PPE to be reused at a later time. “Notifying a patient that they tested positive for COVID-19 can be quite daunting and time-consuming,” she shares. “Emphasizing the importance of self-isolation and self-monitoring of their symptoms can also be quite a challenge as well. Reassuring patients that most will have mild symptoms and recover within two weeks without the need for hospitalization requires their trust as it’s quite different from what they mostly see portrayed in the news media.”

Maria Muñoz
Private practice in Obstetrics and Gynecology affiliated with Rush University Medical Center and Resurrection Medical Center

During the past couple of weeks, Maria Muñoz has provided “in-person” as well as “virtual” care to patients. In so doing, she has fielded countless phone calls from concerned expectant Moms wondering about the risks and consequences of COVID-19 not just for themselves but for their unborn babies and their families, which for many Latina households, includes parents and grandparents. “The disheartening truth is that this is a new disease shrouded in unknowns and evolving recommendations,” she shares. “Although the available data suggests that there is no transplacental transmission, the data is quite scarce.” For one of Maria’s patients, the phone call came too late. “At 36 weeks, she woke up with a fever, cough, and body aches. 24 hours later, her biggest fears were confirmed. She tested positive for COVID-19,” she shares. “The normally busy and happy time for expectant moms as they prepare for the “Big Arrival”, is now consumed by thoughts unimaginable just a week prior: Self and family survival. She delivered a preterm baby a week later.” In labor and delivery, doctors and nurses may need to become sole supporters, photographers, and technology experts for many women who may not be able to have their husbands present during the birth of their babies. Maria’s motivation to keep going comes not only from the heart but from the results of hard work. “To see smiling faces and receive so many “bendiciones” from grateful patients makes the sacrifice I make insignificant,” she shares.

Jennifer Peña, MD,
FACP Medical Director (Virtual Primary Care) at Oscar Health

“This pandemic has been like nothing we have ever experienced,” states. “The hardest part is reconciling being a provider, a physician, and also having the same fears everybody else has. It’s tricky to balance that on a day to day basis.” Board-certified, internal medicine physician with over 11 years of clinical experience understands the needs of the underserved and believes experiences like these is when she is making a difference. Transitioned out of active duty service in the U.S. Army on January 2019, she served as the White House Medical Unit as primary Physician to the Vice President of the United States. Being able to be that person that can make a difference when people feel the most vulnerable is what motivates her to keep going. “It may not be a big difference but right now with COVID-19 we don’t’ have a treatment or cure,” she shares. “But just to be that person who can provide care and reassure people during times of crisis and medical vulnerability has been the best part.”

Marta Ambriz
X-Ray Technician
Cedars Sinai Medical Center

Marta Ambriz is an X-Ray Technician from Cedars Sinai Medical Center. She works eight-hour shifts and examines patients’ lungs to help confirm if they have contracted COVID-19. She puts her health and life at risk every day as she helps COVID-19 patients that are ushered in and out of the room without masks. Marta didn’t have a mask until her daughter’s friends offered extra N95 masks for her. “Though my mom is 67 years old and part of the “seniors group” that should be self-quarantining, she nevertheless continues to show up every day for the health and safety of others,” shares her daughter Andrea. “She chooses every day to use her 30+ years of experience to show up, help others and serve. I’m so proud of her, and I think others can see their moms in mine – always caring for others, always loving, and always giving.”

Jacquelyn Brito
Family Medicine Doctor
University Medical Center
El Paso, TX

As a family medicine doctor, Jacquelyn Brito educates patients on how to keep safe, sees patients for acute medical issues, and sees patients via telemedicine as well. “As a whole, we are screening for possible COVID19 patients daily,” she shares. “A few days a week I am in charge of the COVID-19 tents where my team and I screen anyone with a cough or any respiratory symptoms or fevers for COVID-19, and we test if need be.” With the daily changes at the clinic, Brito remains adaptable and ready for anything. “Being a community doctor is very challenging but it’s a good challenge,” she states. “The best part of working in the health care industry for me is the opportunity to build relationships with people at all stages of their life. I love the diversity of the medicine I get to practice. Medicine is always changing and I think it keeps you on your toes which I enjoy as well. I also love the fact that I can relate to my patents. I know they feel comfortable with me because we speak the same language and have the same culture.”

Nallely Garcia-Ramos
Registered Nurse
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas
Dallas, TX

Currently working as both a staff nurse, working bedside with direct patient care, and overseeing the department as a charge nurse, Nallely Garcia-Ramos is a first-generation college graduate and you can find her at the Emergency Room day shift, which runs from 7 am to 7 pm. Like many, she has not been able to see most of her family for fear of exposing them. She has managed to see her parents at a distance to warrant they have what they need during this quarantine time, especially since both of her parents have health issues – diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Here are five steps for keeping fear and anxiety in check. “The first step that is very important to me is prayer,” she shares. “I cannot start my day without prayer. Step two is remembering why I was called to be a nurse. Step three is acknowledging my training and skills of practice. Step four is recalling going through a similar scenario when I took care of Ebola exposed patients. Step five is falling back on my faith and trusting God will direct my path.”

Dianna Cervantes
Registered Radiology and CT Technologist

Working in multiple emergency rooms on 12-hour shifts, Dianna Cervantes’ role is to perform either a Chest X-ray or a CT scan of the chest and/or any studies ordered by the physician. With the Covid-19 virus aggressively attacking the respiratory system, she scans the patient’s chest and sees if there is any abnormality or progress within the lungs. In the healthcare industry for 19 years, Cervantes has witnessed trauma in the emergency room to gunshot wounds and more. However, the current pandemic has been different, especially at home. “The hardest thing is that I have not been kissing or hugging my kids as much because I work six or seven days a week,” she shares. “Therefore, I am highly exposed.” Cervantes keeps her anxiety level down by focusing on the good, for example when the patient is still breathing and has good vital signs as well as breathing, that is always a great sign for her. “Healthcare workers are exposed to many infections and viruses every day but what keeps us healthy is the love for our profession and patients, the standard precautions come naturally with it. My kids are my biggest motivation, I teach them to pursue a career that they end up falling in love.”

Berta Veloz
Registered Nurse
Methodist Dallas Medical Center – ICU

A nurse for almost nine months, Berta Veloz works in the designated COVID-19 ICU at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and is responsible for two critically ill patients per shift. This typically includes patients on a ventilator or patients at risk of being placed on a ventilator due to their deteriorating status. Veloz has witnessed just how deadly this virus can be and the desperation families feel for their loved ones. “In the ICU we get to see the worst-case scenario when it comes to someone’s health, and it is difficult because I go into work every day knowing that we are still trialing different treatments across the country,” Veloz shares. “We don’t have all the answers, and it can be scary but definitely encourages us to do the best we can for those affected.” Today the environment of the entire hospital has shifted, and she feels extremely sympathetic for families unable to see their loved ones while they are ill. “The ICU can be a very high-stress environment so I am always looking for ways to help me keep my own anxiety in check,” she states. “I make sure to stay informed about the latest COVID-19 updates, but I never have the news playing all day.” Here are five ways she keeps her anxiety in check: praying, talking to family, talking with friends and peers, working out, and spending time with her dog. Her biggest motivator in doing this job is the feeling of satisfaction knowing that she did everything she could to keep a patient healthy and alive for 12+ hours. “I do this for the moments where I get to see patients come off ventilators, speak and eat for the first time, and ultimately go home to their loved ones,” she shares. “It’s definitely the most stressful job in the world but also the most rewarding.”

Marisol Luna-Pizano
Family Doctor, MD,
Kaiser Permanente North Hollywood Medical Offices

A family medicine doctor and physician-in-charge of Kaiser Permanente North Hollywood Medical Offices, Marisol Luna-Pizano rotates through the Emergency Department and triage areas to do all that she can to help patients in need. The new technology-telemedicine – has allowed more than 80 percent of the care visits Kaiser Permanente conducts systemwide to be virtual visits via phone or video. A mother of two young children who are two and four years old, it has been challenging for her to isolate from family, however, she protects them by wearing a mask at home as well. “Wearing a mask around my kids is hard but it’s important to keep them safe and for that, I will do whatever I have to do,” she states. “I am realizing on a daily basis everything that is taken for granted – including my every day, normal routine. I miss seeing patients face-to-face, without layers of PPE. I miss hiking and seeing my friends and family. I have also learned how to appreciate the joy and gratitude in simple things.”

Gina Marie Torres
Registered Nurse at North Shore University Hospital
Manhasset (Long Island), N.Y.

A floor nurse on a 44-bed unit, Gina Marie Torres was one of the many nurses to contract COVID19. In isolation for the past three weeks, she tested positive after working with COVID19 patients for two weeks. “I was frightened, frustrated and felt extremely isolated and vulnerable,” she shares. “I felt extremely sad not being able to be on the frontlines helping my coworkers, being there to support them mentally and physically and ultimately not being to care for the patients.” A registered nurse for 13 years dealing with COVID patients has been one of the saddest experiences she has ever encountered. “The patients are alone behind a closed door, no visitors and are extremely frighten,” she shares. “I myself was frightened for them, shed a tear with them. I found it hard to find encouraging words for them without feeling as if I were lying to them. As much as you want to be there for them as I always am, I was concerned that I was in the room for too long and possibly expose myself to the virus. (Which in fact I did) but at the moment you push those thoughts aside and think of them as if they were your family member and stay in there to lessen their fears.” Torres will be returning back to work after being off for three weeks recovering from the virus. She continues to wear a mask at home and along with her husband, they continue physical distancing as much as they can. “I am praying that I developed the antibodies to not be re-infected and possibly bring it home,” she states. “I believe I was made for this job and I am grateful every day!”

Dr. Sylvia Preciado
Huntington Memorial Hospital

Dr. Sylvia Preciado along with Dr. Wafaa Alrashid formed “Operation COVID-19” by testing their patients along with first responders who at the time were unable to get tested due to limited testing in early March. She has also been working closely with skilled nursing facilities in supplying the proper PPE for the staff. With the virus getting out of hand, Dr. Sylvia Preciado decided to take upon herself to begin to test her patients with the assistance of Dr. Alrashid. It came to her attention that the nurses and even some physicians from hospitals were unable to get tested due to the limited testing kits at that time, so she volunteered her time to bring them in to get tested. One of the projects she decided to take on was with the skilled nursing facilities. She has been communicating with the SNF administrators to get testing kits to the elderly patients and she donates the PPE to the nurses.

Dr. Monica Miller
Service Excellence Registered Nurse
Valleywise Health

“We are the patient advocate,” states Monica Miller. “I am a nurse but work on the patient experience.” With all the different constraints with visitors, Miller assists with family communication with the patient via online and also assists with the communication for the end of life coordination with families. “It’s important work and I feel honored to coordinate this for our patients and bring any communication we can to their families,” she shares. “Right now there is a big gap, especially because of the restrictions on visitation.” Miller recommends having a ‘hot zone’ upon arrival at home and social distancing when in public. Her main tips on staying safe are to wipe down your phone everyday, wash your hands as much as possible, less shoe traffic in the house, and increase vitamin c, zinc, and fluids.