Reserve Citizen Airman Battles Coronavirus on the Front Lines

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen J. Caruso
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

The Air Force Reserve has long been regarded as a force multiplier when it comes to natural disaster relief and humanitarian aid, mobilizing members when needed to deploy for national emergencies or global crises. 

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Citizen Airmen like Lt. Col. Andrea A. Haylock, chief nurse with the 514th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, are actively engaged in critical response efforts on the front lines, right in their own neighborhoods. 

Haylock serves as a clinical assistant nurse manager at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, N.Y., and was recently mobilized with the Air Force Reserve to Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y., for three weeks in support of COVID-19. 

Richmond University Medical Center is one of three hospitals on Staten Island—New York's third most populous borough—and serves as a Level I trauma center. As such, it maintains a busy emergency room, providing trauma care for serious injuries such as near drowning, pedestrian strikes and gunshot and stab wounds. Haylock and the ER nurses there are part of a multifunctional team whose mission is saving lives.

“ER nurses are specifically trained to provide trauma care,” Haylock said. “They’ve been amazing. It’s not just the nurses. It’s the doctors, security, registration, radiology, and emergency transport.”

With Coronavirus shutting down much of New York City, the number of typical trauma injuries has subsided considerably. However, Haylock and her team have been very busy treating patients for the aggressive and often traumatic symptoms of Coronavirus, as large numbers of patients were hospitalized for the disease during the spring months. According to statistics provided by Richmond University Medical Center, Staten Island University Hospital and the New York City Department of Health, there have been more than 900 confirmed or probable deaths due to COVID-19 recorded in the city’s southern-most borough. 

To deal with such a widespread and aggressive disease, the ER team at Richmond University Medical Center adopted a tactic common to military units when faced with a challenge: innovation. 

“Adapt and overcome,” Haylock said. “That’s what our nurses needed to do. Doctors, security, all the different areas that make up the emergency room needed to adapt and overcome because we were bombarded with a massive amount of very sick people.”

Hospitals and medical facilities around the world have been challenged not only by the sheer volume of cases coming in so fast, but by the lack of historical data on treatment of COVID-19. 

“Nurses’ practice is evidence based,” Haylock said. “What did we see in the past? What does research show that we can do for the patient? What do we expect in an hour? What do we expect in two hours?”

Around the world, the rapid transmission, quick onset of severe symptoms, and lack of treatment information all contributed to a perfect storm for medical teams, and large numbers of patients receiving intensive hospital care could not be saved.

“We can’t invite the family in to be with them when they die,” Haylock said. “How do you tell a family member, their husband, wife, their child, their mom, their dad, ‘we’re doing everything we can to save them and it’s not looking good’? So we prepare them.”

Despite the difficult circumstances and stress, Haylock is committed to helping her team get through the crisis.

“I try to take the leadership skills the Air Force has taught me everywhere I go, including work,” Haylock said. “I do whatever I need to do for my fellow nurses and my fellow staff, to be able to help them get through that day, adapt to the situation and press on from there.”

And the different groups she helps coordinate in the ER are adapting to the challenges, according to Haylock. 

“They’ve shown resiliency by just being there,” Haylock said. “Even if they don’t feel well, they come in. By working tons of overtime. By being a super supportive staff and working so hard sometimes without a break.”

During the crisis, Haylock has also continued to serve remotely as the chief nurse with the 514th Aeromedical Staging Squadron. Being fully present virtually with so much on her plate in New York City and splitting time between her civilian and military jobs has been difficult, according to Haylock. 

“I think the biggest challenge for me is being there for my military nurses and my civilian team,” Haylock said. “Being available to both. I want to give 100 percent to everyone. It’s very challenging doing it from home and not being able to be at the squadron.”

But while Haylock is unable to travel to the base for normal drill weekends with the 514th ASTS, virtual unit training assemblies have provided an opportunity to collaborate with her fellow Reserve health care professionals and share key knowledge to take back to her ER team on Staten Island.

“We had a virtual drill weekend recently to share best practices, give each other tips on how to take care of patients, what we see worked and what doesn’t work,” Haylock said. 

“Military nurses have been amazing,” Haylock said, referring to the 514th ASTS members serving in civilian hospitals. “I love the ASTS.”