Taking care of the caretakers – A Walton County nurse in the Bronx during the COVID-19 Crisis

Ambulances parked at the Bronx Zoo in New York City ready to respond to COVID-19 calls. Contributed photo

On March 29, when a fleet of ambulances from around the country arrived at the parking lot at the Bronx Zoo to set up a base camp to deal with the response to New York City’s COVID-19 crisis, a nurse from Walton County was right there in the mix. So while zoo keepers remained inside the zoo enclosure taking care of the animals, Eric Kidd, of Monroe, was outside helping set up the forwarding base in the parking lot, a feat that was accomplished within 24 hours. Kidd was there “to provide medical support to all of the crew members who are working 16-18 hour days with limited sleep.”

“My job as an RN consists of the health and wellbeing of all those here serving on the front line. I am the Medical Support for everyone at the Bronx Zoo Forward Operating Base, and I will not leave without ensuring there is proper medical personnel taking care of our crews,” Kidd said. “Our operation is housed in the parking lot of The Bronx Zoo – approximately 750 individuals from all around the country (ambulances, EMTs, Paramedics) supporting the emergency efforts as part of FEMA deployment. For several weeks now, I have been in charge of the Medical support for all deployed crews. As a nurse, crew members come to me if not feeling well – we do temperature checks at the start of each shift for all. My work is 24/7 caring for the crews.”

Ambulances parked at the Bronx Zoo in New York City ready to respond to COVID-19 calls. Contributed photo

When not on this special deployment, Kidd is the program director for the Air Evac Lifeteam in Snellville, a subsidiary of Global Medical Response and American Medical Response, which sent ambulances and crews to NYC. Kidd is a Nurse BSN and RN. Over his career, he has been a firefighter, paramedic, ER Director, always  something in service and caring for the public.

“When I began my career with Air Evac, I started as a Flight Nurse on the helicopter – now I take care of/serve the entire crew/base in Snellville and support local hospitals and EMS services to take care of our communities and ensure best patient care and outcomes for those in need,” Kidd said. And it was while in this position that the call came in asking for volunteers and Kidd stepped forward to prepare for a trip to NYC.

Eric Kidd, of Monroe, program director at Air Evac Lifeteam in Snellville, Ga. Contributed photo

“I volunteered to go to NYC as I am certified by FEMA to support deployments like this. I previously was deployed to both Florida and South Carolina after the major hurricanes in those areas. GMR provides all ground, rotor wing, and fixed wing EMS for FEMA. As an employee of GMR we are always ready at a moment’s notice to provide care for those in need during crisis,” Kidd said. “When I was called to go and serve the FDNY and the city of New York – I was humbled.  This is the epicenter of this COVID-19 fight and being able to help is a calling.”

But he did have some concerns. Kidd was leaving behind his family and friends and a fiancé, Cheryl Ann Barfield.

“My main concern was would I return home,” Kidd said. “I knew that with our training in the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) we could fight this COVID-19 virus and help transport those patients suffering. As an ER nurse, we see infectious disease in patients every day and depend on our trainings and experience to help those in need.”

“It is always difficult when Eric has to be away from me and our home, however, I do know that he loves what he does – and being able to help others is truly his passion,” Barfield said. “At first, this felt like any other deployments he had been on – until I keep seeing the news reports coming out of NYC. I literally had to stop watching as it added to and truly compounded my angst and worry.  And, at first it was difficult to communicate with him since they were so overwhelmingly busy – which has not stopped. However, we were able to find a cadence of finding a few moments to chat and just hearing his voice or seeing him via FaceTime did ease some of the worry and fear – but I could always hear the tiredness in this voice and I kept telling him to rest – and he said when this is over he would rest. But it continued … now over 30 days …”

Eric Kidd, BSN, RN of Monroe, at the Base Camp at the Bronx Zoo support for New York City’s response to COVID-19. Contributed photo

Kidd said it was a little strange to leave on this deployment. Right from the beginning, everything was different.

“When I arrived at the Atlanta Airport to leave for NYC, it was a weird feeling as there was no one in the drop off/departure area unloading. Walking through the airport I felt like I was the only one there. On the flight to New York, there were only 20 passengers on board. Each passenger was seated in a social distancing manner. Strange! Arriving in Manhattan – was even more concerning as nothing was open, no one was on the streets.

“Being in this city several times before I remember how crowded the streets were and how frustrated one can be driving here,” Kidd said.

Once he arrived at the Bronx Zoo parking lot and the base camp was established, the real work began. Kidd said they learned that the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) had the highest calls in the Bronx area. That first day, 400 ambulances arrived to support 911.

“We were able to provide Emergency transport along with FDNY 911 setting a record of 8800+ calls per day.  We were told that the record for calls made in a day was 9/11/2001 – when on that day, 7200+ calls were made,” Kidd said. “The hospitals were full, Emergency Rooms had more patients than staff could provide care for. Ambulances were scrambling to transport patients out to outlying facilities to reduce the patient load.  Over 850 deaths were occurring daily. It was an EMS nightmare. Amazingly – The 880 EMT’s and Paramedics were able to handle all of the calls and everyone that needed EMS received care.”

Eric Kidd, BSN, RN of Monroe, at the Base Camp at the Bronx Zoo support for New York City’s response to COVID-19. Contributed photo

As Melissa Page, another Walton County nurse serving on the front lines reported a few days ago, things do appear to be slowing down in NYC. Kidd said he too has seen over the last several days that call volumes have begun to come down.

“Although there are some better days ahead our work here is far from over. The 911 systems are still overrun with calls and we are still busy. The death toll has also begun to decline. These are good signs. Question: Have we reached the apex and will the curve flatten?” Kidd said. There are things, however, that he would like people back in Georgia and Walton County to know. Things that he has learned from his experience in the Bronx. “This is a serious virus. I have witnessed the slow death; the suffering and entire families being affected by this virus. Proper hygiene is the key to surviving this – just like we treat the flu virus. Continue the social distancing.  Stay away from our elderly patients if we are symptomatic – they are the ones who have the toughest time recovering.”

Kidd said during this deployment he has been amazed at how welcoming and receptive everyone has been.

“The FDNY stations have taken in our crews, all complete strangers, into the stations and fed, housed, provided gear etc. in appreciation of our support. Everyone has pulled together as a community/family to help NYC as one,” Kidd said. “Restaurants are very limited here, but we were able to gain the support of Recovery Logistics (a contract company that supports disasters)  who totally set a mini-city up here in the zoo parking lot, providing a full kitchen with food (3 meals a day) and snacks, portable hand washing stations, portable generators with lights and porta-potties.”

Kidd is not yet sure when this deployment will end as it has already stretched to more than double a usual deployment. It depends totally on the latest numbers of EMS calls. These do currently show a decline, but he says if everything reopens too soon the concern is that it could ramp back up.

“I am the Medical Support for the Bronx Zoo Forward Operating Base. I will not leave without proper medical personnel taking care of our crews,” he said.

But he does miss his family and friends and some of the things that he’s used to back home. What does he miss the most? He was clear about that. 

Eric Kidd and his fiancé, Cheryl Ann Barfield. Contributed photo

“Cheryl Ann!!!!!   My family, friends, and a Bathroom, portable toilets are okay, but a real toilet would be great. I miss grilled food, fresh salad, Mexican food and warm dry weather – GEORGIA,” he said.

And as long as he remains on this deployment, his family and friends back home continue to miss him and worry about him too.

“What has worried me the worst was would he come home safely from this deployment. And, knowing the amount of time he was spending each and every day since he has been there – with no breaks, very little sleep – I worried he would get sick. He has put everything into caring for his fellow EMS family up there – he wants everyone to go home safely. I feel he truly is a servant leader within his field,” Barfield said. “Air Evac Lifeteam has a long-running company motto that reinforces safety – ‘Semper Salus’ meaning ‘Always Safe.’ All crew members carry what they call a safety coin. These are to remind them to be safety conscious, not to be complacent, and to always take care of ourselves and our co-workers. They feel that each member of their Emergency response family is important, and the wish is that ‘WE ALL COME HOME’ at the end of our shift. I know that is exactly what is in Eric’s heart and head right now – and I am so proud as his fiancé to know without a doubt that he is truly exemplifying that in his selfless service to others every single day he is in NYC – SO PROUD!!”

Barfield said those concerns will stay with her until she gets to pick him up from the airport and endure the 14-day quarantine he will be required to go through on his return. She is anxious to hear about his experiences and adjust to how all our lives have been forever changed.

“I don’t like the word normal – what truly is that/what did it mean? I believe this was an opportunity for us all to heal, be better, and to cherish/take advantage of every moment we are given moving forward. Believe in what is possible,” Barfield said.

Until then, she is just waiting for that call that he is headed home – and she is proud, so proud!

“He is my HERO and I love him dearly,” she said.

Eric Kidd and his fiancé, Cheryl Ann Barfield. Contributed photo


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