Nurse returns from Detroit to face rapid increase of COVID-19 cases

Submitted photo/Neiva Ashley
Nurse Jessica Flores has returned to her home, in Immokalee, after being deployed to fight COVID-19 in Detroit.

Jessica Flores has been a nurse for 9 years. She started her nursing journey at ITech in 2010, when she enrolled in the LPN program.

“I completed that program in 2011, went back to college for Associate Degree in Nursing in 2013, took my state exam and officially became a Registered Nurse.” Flores added, “I took a year off and went back to college in 2014 where I completed my Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) in 2016.”

She has lived in Immokalee for 28 years, “I grew up here. Our family and friends are here. We go to church here, my kids go to school here, we volunteer at community events and at our church,” she explained. “I used to work in the school system, so I have not only watched my children grow up here but many others as well. It is a tight knit community so everyone knows everyone.”

She loves her community, especially the way they all come together for each other. “It is no secret that we have a lack of resources in this community, so whether the band needs new uniforms or tragedy strikes, someone always steps up and the community comes through with donations or volunteer work.”

She did express that she wished improvements could be made, “The living conditions, we need more affordable and sanitary housing. More outreach programs especially for our Spanish/Creole speaking community. Accessible healthcare, in an emergent situation we travel at least 45 minutes to a hospital.” She went on, “Renovate government housing that already exist in Immokalee. Expand our schools, up to date technology, accessible resources, school supplies, retention strategies and incentives for our teachers. Smaller classroom sizes, school restoration, another middle school would be nice. I would like to see more focus on our children from the gym to the classrooms.”

At the hospital she is the Charge Nurse, whose job duties include, “Assessing patients, monitoring them knowing when to intervene in an emergency, educating them and their families. Collaborating with physicians and ancillary staff to ensure the patients’ needs are met. Keeping track of patients that are being admitted and discharged from unit. Creating patient assignments for nurses before their shift. Daily staff meetings. Serving as a resource nurse to my designated unit,” but she also gets deployed as an RN, teaches as a Professor, and is mom at home. “During season I work at one of our local community hospitals, I also do travel nursing, and I’m a part time clinical instructor at a community college.”

She recently returned from a deployment in Detroit, where she battled against COVID-19. It was a challenge, and one of the hardest parts for Flores was, “Sacrificing my family to save someone else’s. Working on the COVID units, taking a COVID assignment in Detroit knowing that I would be sealed off from my family until my quarantine was complete. It was a long 65 days. I thank god that I am finally home safe with my family.”

She is proud of her many accomplishments, and hopes the future allows her to, “Watch my kids grow. Catch up on lost time. Even though this experience has been overwhelming I would have to say it has taught me to slow down, enjoy life, and not take anything for granted. Maybe focus on our business a little more. Eventually I would like to go back and complete my master’s degree.”

Pushing through the hard times, she gathers inspiration from God and her family, “I am a strong woman thanks be to God. I also have a strong support system made up of family and friends. But my daughters are my ultimate motivation and they get me through the hardest times.”

“Before COVID-19 I carried out my daily routine. Reported to my scheduled shifts. Lived a normal life. That is all changed now,” she explained, “My life has been completely changed. My days consist of continuous updates, things are constantly changing, making sure we have enough PPE for the unit, reassuring my team because we are all scared and nervous. We feel pressured, we’re tired, and we’re always on edge, always being as cautious as possible because one error can lead to infection. The same day I opened the COVID units was the same day I became isolated from my family. We sealed off the bottom half of my house and that’s where I lived, I would see my family from a distance, no physical contact with my children or family. Some people might say it was drastic but honestly after seeing what happened in Detroit, we did the right thing. As parents our focus was and always will be to protect our children.”

“I have had some rough days in my career, days I’ve cried in my car on the way home, days where we have call offs and we have to pull together as a team and make it through. But NONE of these things have affected my career like this virus has,” she said. “Be kind to the healthcare workers. The stress and anxiety that come with this job have heightened. It takes a heavy emotional toll on us. We feel for you more than you know. It is hard seeing patients’ in the hospital who are alone, there are no visitors allowed, we FaceTime families from our personal phones sometimes, push them close to windows so their family can hold up signs, put the phone to their ear so their families can say goodbye, and we hold the hands of the dying so they’re not alone.”

While she is grateful to be back home, Flores is gravely concerned, “Virus numbers are going up in Immokalee. We need more testing. More outreach programs especially for our Spanish/Creole speaking communities, Language barriers create Education barriers. People are coming down with covid-19 and being told to isolate but, how can they? Who’s going to bring them groceries, medicine, or go to a hospital if need be? Housing conditions need to improve. Work conditions need to improve. Immokalee is a large farming community, we have limited resources, limited healthcare, high poverty levels, and this is the perfect combination for an outbreak. Will restriction criteria be reviewed if these numbers continue to rise? Will anyone really pay attention to the healthcare disparities that are going on in this community?”

When asked what advice she would want to pass on, she said, “First, I want everyone to know especially in my community that this virus is real. We must take care of each other, respect each other, love each other especially with all the chaos going on in this world. We do not have to agree with each other, but we should still respect one another.” She added, “In my opinion I think SWFL has not seen the damage this virus can do to our communities, our healthcare systems, our own families. We do not see it, so we think it does not exist, but we are wrong. COVID-19 is very real and if we are not careful, we can most definitely exhaust the healthcare system. Also, I feel that there is a misconception that if you contract the virus you die. Not everyone dies, not everyone gets the same symptoms, if I’ve learned anything from this virus its that no two people are the same. This virus does not discriminate and that is evident with the death toll surpassing 100,000 in America.”

“This virus is confusing, literature and recommendations are always changing. Clearly, we do not have a handle on this pandemic. Viruses evolve they change, and it seems that no one really knows what to expect from this one. So take care of yourself take care of your family we can not live in fear of the virus and yes normal life must resume but we should still be cautious,” Flores warned.

Submitted photo: Flores has her husband seal off the house, to keep her family safe.

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