If you had wandered through the pool area of Hotel Trio in Healdsburg late Tuesday afternoon, you might have thought they were tourists. Two relaxed ladies sharing a bottle of Josh Cellars prosecco, chatting about food, travel and family.
The truth is that the women, Audrey Daniels and Mallie Edwards, have been living at the hotel for several months now. In fact, many of the rooms at the Trio are currently occupied by visiting workers from Wisconsin and Arkansas, Michigan and Florida; from Niagara Falls, New York, and Sparta, Georgia.
“We come from all over and join together to complete a mission,” said La’Paris Price, a registered nurse from Cleveland who, like Daniels and Edwards, is contracted by the staffing agency SnapNurse.
Their mission: to immunize Sonoma County against the lethal SARS-CoV-2 virus, a massive campaign that would have been severely hampered, if not impossible, without the help of a small army of traveling nurses and support workers.
“We would not be able to run our site if not for the SnapNurses,” Petaluma Health Center director of nursing Amy Anderson said, referring to the center’s vaccination clinic at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College. “It takes a special person to leave their family and travel across the country for three months to support this effort. Most have children at home, or siblings, or parents. They have lives and families they’ve left to do this.”
Critical source of help
Sonoma County has become their home away from home.
Some of the visiting health workers have been here practically from the start of the county’s vaccination campaign. When the state of California announced in January it would use federal COVID funding to staff medical personnel at local clinics, the county immediately requested 138 people. It was an ambitious number that Ken Tasseff, who coordinates local vaccination sites, never expected the state to fulfill.
To Tasseff’s surprise, the California Department of Public Health approved all 138. The roster is now up to 219, spread among a dozen sites in the county. The visitors have registered, inoculated and monitored well over 100,000 county residents at county-supported clinics, though most vaccine recipients have no idea their helpers are only passing through.
And the county pays for none of it. The federal funding covers everything from wages to payroll services.
“The nursing would likely have been covered by FEMA,” Tasseff said, “but the initial cash flow would have been a challenging thing for the county. And finding that level of quality on our own, in those quantities, would be really challenging.”
Of the 219 current participants, 170 are employed through SnapNurse, the other 49 by a similar staffing agency called ProLink. The state pays the agencies, which then pay the vaccinators (who may be licensed RNs, LVNs, LPNs or EMTs) and administrators (typically, certified nursing assistants).
Mobilized for emergency
As coronavirus outbreaks have erupted in various parts of the country like a nightmarish game of Whac-A-Mole, health officials have hustled to bulk up defenses in hard-hit areas. In January, California was a hot spot — including Sonoma County, which experienced its highest spike in new cases from Jan. 4-13.
The traveling nurses who mobilized to come here did it for a variety of reasons. Many say they love to travel and see new places. And though uprooting for a finite period of time is never easy, some said the work is laid back compared to the hectic floor of an understaffed hospital.
Vickie Tran, a 31-year-old Texas native, was working in the transplant ICU at Houston Medical Center — a facility, she said, that receives “the sickest of the sick.” By halfway through the pandemic, half of that ICU had been converted to a COVID ward. It was intense.
“I guess the stress of ICU kind of made me forget why I became a nurse in the first place,” said Tran, who delivers shots at the Providence St. Joseph clinic at Grace Pavilion. “Now, doing vaccinations, I see healthy people, I get to talk to them, they’re excited about the vaccine. It kind of reminded me of why I’m in this profession.”