Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Amanda Simmons, Ulster BOCES Adult Career Education Center provided her with the solid foundation needed to work as a nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Simmons graduated from the school’s Practical Nursing program in 2017 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and working in that industry for a couple of years. “It wasn’t working out,” Simmons says about the competitive field. She thought pursuing a career in healthcare would be the next logical step toward achieving her career goals. “Previously I was an EMT. I like helping people and being in the medical field. You know you will always have a job.”
Simmons says the 10-month nursing program was challenging and demanding. “The workload was intense,” she recalls. “I am not married and I don’t have children, but you have to readjust your life. The instructors were great. They really helped you.”
The Red Hook High School graduate chose the program because of its exceptional reputation. “I did research—I even looked at a school in Hudson, but I kept hearing from friends who highly recommended [Ulster BOCES].” In fact, Simmons secured a job at a local cardiology office before even completing the program, thanks to a recommendation from her teacher, Cheryl Scott. “I got an interview and I had the job as long as I passed my state boards,” Simmons says. “I loved the job and I learned a lot.”
After two years, Simmons decided to shift her specialty area to inpatient and long-term care. “I decided to get a different kind of experience through a nursing home. It is more hands-on,” she says about starting a new job at Ten Broeck Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing in November 2019. There, Simmons’ job responsibilities include taking vital signs, collecting samples, administering medication, and ensuring the comfort of her patients.
After a mere three months of working at the Ten Broeck Center, the pandemic hit and Simmons’ primary role of caring for patients took on a whole new meaning. “So, March hits and one of the first things that happens is they close the nursing home to all visitors” she recalls, explaining the safety measure was difficult for the residents. She describes how the staff’s personal protective equipment (PPE), which first consisted of surgical masks, quickly expanded to include N95 masks, gowns, and face shields. Once COVID cases began showing up in the residents, Simmons says they began testing the residents and staff members.
The Red Hook resident says that when positive cases were on the rise in March and April, some staff members chose to leave their jobs. “People who stayed were scared and losing patients. It was sad because [patients] were dying and you’re the one who’s staying with them,” she recalls.
Like many of the residents under Simmons’ care, she too tested positive for COVID-19. When she became ill at the end of April, the most common symptoms of the disease were a dry cough and fever, but Simmons didn’t have a fever and her cough was productive. It was a lack of taste and smell that alerted her, and she got tested the next day. “I was out for two weeks,” she says, adding that although she was alone in her apartment, someone from the Human Resources Department at the Ten Broeck Center called and checked on her every other day and even sent her flowers. “I was very tired. Some days I slept 20 hours a day, but I made sure I kept the fluids going.”
Simmons isn’t sure how she contracted the virus. “We shut down visitors in the middle of March, so maybe I caught it from a resident or a co-worker. Who knows where I got it from,” says Simmons, who had been following all of the requirements of New York PAUSE and wasn’t going out or socializing.
After two weeks of self-quarantine, Simmons then tested positive for the antibodies and was cleared to return to work. She explains, “I just wanted to get back because they were so short-staffed and there were so many sick people. There were quite a few residents at the facility who died.”
Simmons says the support of her former instructors and the knowledge and skills she gained at Ulster BOCES provided her with a source of stability during this challenging time. “Sometimes you are going to be put in tough situations and you just have to rely on a nurse who has been there for 25 years or call your instructors,” Simmons emphasizes. “They are resources, banks of knowledge really.”
Scott takes solace knowing that Simmons is caring for those afflicted with the disease.
“I am so proud of this graduate's commitment to the art of caring.”