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Essential Health Workers Talk Working Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Essential Health Workers
Hazelin Ngan (left), Angela Nierop (center), and Sonya Grypma, have been serving with their varied skills, in hospitals and on a university campus, throughout the pandemic.

Hazelin Ngan remembers it well: the looming possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in January that by early March hit home in a way her city and her hospital were not prepared for. Ngan works as a patient services coordinator at New York Presbyterian Medical Center, a large hospital in the heart of New York City.

In April and May, she wrote about some of what she was doing and feeling and shared it with her church family at City Grace Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in NYC. As a patient-care advocate, she spends her time going from bed to bed, providing avenues for emotional and social support and helping patients and their families to navigate health pathways. As a Cantonese and Mandarin speaker, she also provides medical interpretation. In March, everything that was typical in her work no longer was.

As a care worker, Ngan’s first necessary and difficult decision was to move out of her home into a hotel with fellow caregivers to provide a safe barrier between herself and her husband, 4-year old son, and in-laws, their child’s caregivers. Ngan saw the emotional burden and trauma experienced by caregivers and patients separated from family supports weigh heavier than the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and extra work in daily increased safety protocols and routines.

As the hospital’s hallways and lobbies filled with patients and the semi-trailer morgues lined up on the street, Ngan turned to what she knew would make a difference. She created a GoFundMe campaign to fund a snack and meal program for health care workers. When donations exceeded her expectations, she extended that kindness and care to patients and their families.

“Over the past month, I have been joking that I have two full-time jobs. One is my regular Patient Services Coordinator job. The other is a full-time Encourager role God compelled me to take on,” Ngan wrote to her church family in May.

Across the continent, Angela Nierop is an intensive care and emergency nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre in British Columbia. As the reality of a pandemic loomed, Nierop turned to her experience of the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. But that did not prepare her for the reality within which she has been working since early March.

“People are so frightened and isolated from their families at a time when they are very sick,” Nierop said. “Working as a nurse during the pandemic has pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing, but I also feel honored to have the skillset to help those in a time of need.”

Nierop is a member of Willoughby CRC in Langley, B.C. “I draw strength in the assurance of God’s protection, as I work in a high-risk setting and know my own health is at risk,” Nierop said. She added that it's our collective responsibility to follow protocols for halting the pandemic for the sake of the most vulnerable: the immune compromised, our elders, the poor, and Indigenous communities. 

Jan. 23 is a day that Sonya Grypma, Ph.D., will remember. As the vice provost of leadership and graduate studies at Trinity Western University, that was the day she received a call that would change the focus of her work for the months to come.

As the former dean of TWU’s School of Nursing, Grypma had the skills needed for such a time. Like Nierop, she turned to her former public health nursing experience as she helped mobilize, and later lead, TWU’s COVID-19 Response Team and Health & Safety Taskforce, overseeing a comprehensive plan to safely offer university education to more than 5,000 students. But Grypma didn’t feel alone in the work..

“BC Health and Education Ministries together are making and shaping best practice and care as we go,” Grypma said. 

Grypma, also a Willoughby CRC member, spoke to the decisions that she has been required to make daily. "A deep joy in my work keeps me going as well as the urgency of this present situation,” she said. “I know that the decisions we make will protect others”

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