City Medical Workers Grapple with the Toll of Pandemic’s First Year

March 31, 2021

After a year of caring for COVID-19 patients, Melissa Balogh says she’s tried to adapt to the stress.

“It’s kind of like a weird burn out feeling though. I can only take so much now, like I’m not 100% the person I was before,” said Balogh. 

The long, demanding days of the pandemic have left their mark on city healthcare workers. As a registered nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Balogh says she and her coworkers have been stretched to the limit.

“Some of the hardest things we had to deal with was families members calling in because nobody was allowed into the hospital, so we’ve had to call people and tell them their loved ones passed away,” recalled Balogh.

Just four years into her career, Balogh had to face what was happening in hospitals all across the city.

“That was overwhelming for us,” said Balogh. “We would cry, we would do CPR on some people and there were just too many people to do CPR on.”  

It was an emotional strain also felt outside of the hospitals by EMS workers like Shakeria Tate, who has spent a year and counting responding to emergency calls for COVID-19 patients.

“You’re seeing people in their homes at their very worst because it was bad,” said Tate.

EMTs like her are still processing having to deal with death on a daily basis.

“We would probably have probably about ten to twelve cardiac arrests in one tour,” said Tate. “Pre-COVID, you would get them one, twice a month.” 

While Balogh was able to avoid getting the virus, Tate wasn’t so lucky. FDNY officials say more than 2,000 EMS members have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

“It was early in the pandemic and I was out for 17 days,” remembered Tate, who was forced to recover in isolation, away from her family, before getting right back to work.

Both women say the support from the public has helped.  Neither Balogh or Tate have gotten the vaccine yet, but believe workers need real resources as they continue to serve on the frontlines of the battle against the virus.

“It just hardens you. New Yorkers are already hard to begin with and then you go through something like this, it just roughs you up even more,” said Balogh.