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Voces Oral History Center Interview with Betsania Salgado

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0:00 - Preamble -- Introductions 5:05 - Working at an Acute Care Facility

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Segment Synopsis: Salgado, born in Mexico, but raised in Chicago, Illinois is a recent graduate from Northern Illinois University where she obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. However, Salgado would work as a certified nursing assistant at a long-term acute care hospital for a year till the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic. While working at the long-term acute care hospital Salgado would not have direct contact with the few positive patients at the facility. In order to maintain a low number of cases and limit exposure the hospital would implement a one patient to one nurse ratio. However, during this time there was not much information on how the Coronavirus was transmitted and Salgado says this caused much fear in her coworkers.

The rise of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States and with more individuals testing positive in the months to come, at Salgado’s work facility, brought upon issues with personal protective equipment. During her time at the long-term acute care facility she was fitted for only one N-95 mask and would not be allowed to grab another unless her original was visibly soiled. There would also be a low supply of gowns leaving nurses working the night shift without any. Before the restriction of visitors, there would also be family members of those in the hospital taking boxes of masks from the facility. This would result in the lock down of PPE that would usually be found lined up outside patient rooms and the making of bleach wipes. Salgado, who lived with her 72-year-old grandma, would feel uncomfortable with working at the facility and would leave.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Essential Worker; Medical Field; Pandemic

Subjects: Coronavirus infections--Diagnosis; COVID-19 (Disease)

13:28 - Job Search During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Segment Synopsis: Salgado’s journey to becoming a registered nurse was a smooth one. In February of 2020 there would be confirmed cases of COVID in the United States, however restrictions would not be emplaced till later, leaving Salgado to complete the NCLEX exam without the worry of Coronavirus safety precautions. She would then pass the NCLEX and obtain her nursing license from the state of Illinois. However, the job search would prove to be a difficult one. In March, Illinois Governor Pritzker would shut down various businesses such as restaurants, gyms, theaters, etc., and that would be when Salgado saw the severity of the pandemic. After this announcement from Governor Pritzker, Salgado would end up watching the news everyday and witness the cases of Coronavirus rise. Due to the increase of cases, Salgado assumed the need of nurses would as well, however, that proved to be false.

As she applied to various jobs, Salgado would receive multiple emails from the facilities that left her feeling confused. She said, “And it wasn’t like a rejection. It was just asking me to be patient, right, until they figure out this whole COVID thing. And it was frustrating as a new graduate nurse because as a new graduate nurse, you want to go and help and be in the frontlines.” This would also be true for other nurses in the area looking for work. Salgado also mentions how nursing students who graduated in May that were in preparation to take the NCLEX had trouble doing so. There would be limits in the number of individuals allowed in the testing centers that would lead to difficulty in securing a testing date.

Keywords: Chicago, Illinois; Coronavirus; Frontline Worker; Healthcare Worker; Job Recruitment--Pandemic; Pandemic--Nurse Shortage; Registered Nurse

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Minorities in medicine

23:51 - Working at an Oncology/Medical Surgery Unit

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Segment Synopsis: Salgado would end up working at an oncology/medical surgical unit at a facility in Illinois. However, Coronavirus would not only lead to a cancellation in surgeries but would also transform her unit into a COVID floor due to the available private rooms that were designated for oncology patients. Salgado only felt comfortable working with COVID positive patients as long as there was proper PPE. On her first day at the facility there would be 16 COVID positive patients in her unit. However, the patients sent to her floor would be in a stable non-critical condition.

Salgado mentions how in relation to COVID most of the learning was done on the floor but taking into consideration how each patient is different is an important aspect as well. Her facility, located on the south side of Illinois, cares for a large number of low-income, Latinx, and African American patients. While on the job one day, Salgado would have a 67-year-old COVID positive patient who was admitted due to dehydration. When it would be time for discharge Salgado was faced with a different challenge –– transportation. She said, “It was like a situation that I didn’t know existed or could have existed until like I was experiencing it, you know? Simple things of like, transporting patients now. COVID has changed that completely.” She as well mentions that there have been difficulties with the reliability of tests, or patients refusing to be tested. Meaning some who might enter her unit negative end up positive since it is a COVID floor.

Keywords: Black Community; Coronavirus; Healthcare Worker; Latinx Community; Low Socioeconomic Status

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures

38:06 - Role as Latina Healthcare Professional

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Segment Synopsis: Salgado says she has not experienced many challenges as a Latina in healthcare due to the staff at her facility being very diverse. “There’s like this solidarity that exists within us. That has made it easier. And I actually love working with the population that I do because I’ve been able to interact with a lot of Hispanic patients, a lot of Hispanic COVID positive patients. They light up when I come in the morning and I introduce myself to them and I tell them, “I'm going to be your nurse today,” in Spanish, you know,” Salgado said. She says because of her background she is able to help Spanish speaking patients navigate the hospital setting.

Keywords: Coronavirus; Diversity in Healthcare Field; Frontline Worker; Healthcare Worker

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Latinos (United States); Minorities in medicine

40:17 - COVID Treatment Worries and Family Struggles

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Segment Synopsis: Remdesivir, a medicine used for strokes, was in development for COVID treatment at Salgado’s work facility. She mentions some financial setbacks Remdesivir caused for patients, mostly patients without insurance. Although, cheap to make the price for patients would be $2,500 per treatment with the patient needing four to five treatments. Other concerns for patients would not only be centered around paying for hospital treatment but as well as the need to return to work. Salgado says she wishes that healthcare did not fall into the realm of business.

Salgado mentions COVID has also changed the way nurses and doctors go about procedures. Any surgery that requires anesthesia the patient must have two to three swabs come back negative in order to proceed with the procedure. However, Salgado says most of the time it was a waiting game, and in those cases, she had to be the bearer of bad news.

However, outside of work Salgado would be concerned and conflicted with her mother continuing to work as an assembly line worker during the pandemic. “I was so stuck between like letting my mom go to work and working because I also knew that, you know, we don’t have any other source of income, you know, other than us working,” she said. Salgado’s family who have lived in the United States for more than 10 years are ineligible for financial assistance, such as the stimulus check or unemployment. However, her mother’s role at work would change after they closed the factory for two weeks in order to implement new safety measures, such as checking temperatures. Her mom would work in the factory not as an assembly line worker but as the person who sanitizes the workplace.

Keywords: COVID-19 (Disease)--Negative; COVID-19--Safety in Work Environment; Financial Impact; Undocumented

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease)--Treatment; Healthcare Disparities

61:11 - Becoming a Healthcare Professional and College Activism

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Segment Synopsis: Becoming a healthcare professional for Salgado stemmed from her family and her own experiences navigating the healthcare system as undocumented immigrants. She remembers from a very young age accompanying her family members at healthcare facilities in order to translate from English to Spanish and vice versa. Salgado would then want to use her Spanish speaking skills to become an advocate for her community. The direct care she received from Spanish speaking nurses when she would go for her yearly physicals would also be a source of inspiration in pursuing a career in the healthcare field.

Salgado’s activism did not stop at healthcare. While in college Salgado participated in DREAM Action, an organization at Northern Illinois University that advocates for the undocumented community. Salgado as an undocumented student resonated with DREAM Action’s efforts in bridging the gap between the undocumented community and higher education. “…I was active during my freshman and sophomore year and it was great because I got to meet a lot of other undocumented students that I felt like really understood my situation, you know, understood what I was going through. Um, that uncertainty of like, what’s going to happen if, you know, DACA gets removed. Like what’s going to happen if, you know, I can’t pay for the semester because majority of my school was paid out of pocket and through scholarships,” she said.

Salgado would as well take part in hosting “Coming Out of the Shadows” an event hosted by DREAM Action that highlighted undocumented students, their stories, and barriers they faced. Salgado also mentions that DREAM Action would widen her perspective about immigration and the affects it has on various people from different backgrounds. “I also liked that they, um, we really highlighted that, you know, this immigration issue is not just like Latino centered, but it’s, you know, it’s a lot of us from other countries,” Salgado said.

However, as a nurse Salgado is also aware of the discrimination the Black community continues to face in the healthcare system. With the death of George Floyd, Salgado would have more educational conversations with her coworkers on how they can be better advocates for the Black community as nurses.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Black Community; Healthcare Worker; Marginalized communities and healthcare; Undocumented

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Spanish-speaking people (United States)