March 27, 2020

Nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York Dies of COVID-19

Nurse Kious Kelly in New York City hospital

On March 17, a photo of three nurses wearing literal garbage bags for their PPE while caring for patients infected with coronavirus at Mt. Sinai Hospital West in New York City went viral. A week later, Kious Jordan Kelly, RN, at the same hospital, was dead from COVID-19 disease. 

As first reported by the NY Post, Kelly, 48, a Lansing, MI native and an assistant nurse manager at the Manhattan hospital, there are claims that the nurse died as a direct result of working without adequate PPE. And according to media outlets, the Mt. Sinai hospital system has confirmed Kelly’s death but has not confirmed the exact cause, citing privacy rules.

Their statement reads: “This growing crisis is not abating and has already devastated hundreds of families in New York and turned our frontline professionals into true American heroes. Today, we lost another hero — a compassionate colleague, friend and selfless caregiver.”

Kelly’s life is being hailed as a testament to the heroic efforts of nurses working in impossible conditions, while his death is a warning to the rest of the country just how high of a price nurses are paying. 

A Death that Could Have Been Prevented?

Following Kelly’s death, his sister, Marya Patrice Sherron, has launched a #PPENOW-JusticeforKious campaign to raise awareness and fight for more PPE for nurses after saying that her brother’s death was entirely preventable. “He’s a number in a growing figure on a screen,” she wrote only a day after his passing. “That number is an uncle, son, brother, and friend to so many. His death could have been prevented.” 

Reports of those who knew Kious paint the portrait of a warm, friendly manager who never failed to jump in and help the nurses on the floor with direct hands-on care. 

“Today is the saddest day for 10B nurses,” wrote an apparent coworker. “You always fought for us and the patients.  You are there at every rapid response/ code to support the team.  You always advocate for nurses...You would run down to the closest convenience store to buy hearing aid batteries for a distressed patient who is hard of hearing. You listened to us and are sensitive to our needs.  You bought a splint for a pregnant nurse because her wrist was hurting her.  You spread compassion, happiness and kindness everywhere you go…

“This did not need to happen, you did not have to die. Kious is a life-force multiplier.  He is full of life days ago and today he is gone. This is a life lost in vain.  Many lives are sacrificed by the poor management of this COVID-19 crisis.  This has to stop...”

Ever considerate of others, without the adequate protection that some say the hospital failed to provide Kious--who also had severe asthma--it seems paid the ultimate sacrifice for his team. According to The New York Times, Kious had been seen as recently as March 10 working with staff and patients, even helping nurses take off their own PPE after caring for infected patients, all without wearing any PPE of his own. 

The NYT detailed reports of staff members from Mt. Sinai, speaking anonymously out of fear of losing their jobs, claiming that the hospital’s administration had instructed them not to speak to the media. Others told the NY Post that they believe that the hospital should be held responsible for his death and that they have been working without adequate supplies long before the pandemic even hit. 

A Push for PPE

Mt. Sinai West, the hospital that Kelly worked at, told the NYT that their facility is no different than any NY-area hospital that has felt the strain of resources in the wake of this pandemic. A hospital representative also made it clear that although the image of the nurses from the hospital wearing garbage bags is real, the nurses were still wearing hospital-provided PPE underneath the garbage bags. 

The nurses, meanwhile, have said that they put garbage bags atop their PPE because the PPE was disposable and permeable. One fact is for certain, however, and that is that nurses everywhere, and especially in hard-hit areas such as New York, Michigan, and California, will continue to need PPE. 

Driven by stories such as Kelly’s, the push for PPE is coming from both a private and public level. For instance, in a press release, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) highlighted how the Senate passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act needs to be used to help in the fight to get workers the PPE they need. 

“Public service workers continue to lead us through this national crisis, confronting the most difficult possible conditions imaginable, doing life-and-death work. But they do not have the critical tools they need, nor the economic support required in the short and long term,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said. “It’s appalling and gut-wrenching to see front line workers of all kinds – health care professionals, park attendants, corrections officers and more – going without the gear that allows them to safely do their jobs. Skilled, courageous nurses are resorting to wearing garbage bags!” 

How Nurses Can Find The Help They need

It’s troubling to see how quickly the U.S. has accepted that it’s normal in any way, shape, or form that a healthcare worker should have to provide their own basic protection from a potentially deadly virus just in order to do their job. I mean, are we forgetting that we are a country that spends the most on healthcare of any developed country in the entire world--yet somehow, when we really need it, we are throwing our hands up and expecting nurses to craft their own PPE and people at home to sew masks for them?  

It doesn’t make sense, and yet today, that is our reality. It’s become a necessity that nurses fight and advocate for the resources that can help them not only do their jobs but protect themselves and their families as well. If you’re a healthcare worker or someone who knows a healthcare worker looking for resources, here are a few that may help: 

And obviously, while free donuts and coffee are great, it’s not enough. As nurses, as humans, and as people going through pandemic together, we have to continue to fight to ensure that all healthcare workers are getting the protection they need to care for others--and that no one should pay the same price that Klouse did. 

Sheron, who was not even able to be near her brother as he fought for his life, and whose last interaction with him was via text since he was on a ventilator, will continue her mission to ensure that her brother’s death was not in vain. 

“I am fighting for those who do not have a voice or fear the consequences of speaking,” she wrote on her Facebook page March 27. “Every nurse that is not properly protected and wears a contaminated mask day after day--and the rashes on your hands from washing over and over again, every meal provider with NO PPE, every Doctor working tirelessly and waiting for effective guidance from your administration, every EMS with NO PPE...I fight for you today fueled by the heart and compassion of my brother, Kious Kelly.”

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