Just five weeks ago — before all of this — I was sent by New Alternatives for Homeless LGBT Youth, where I’m on the board, to look in on a client hospitalized in Mount Sinai who was in terrible pain and not getting proper care. The nurses and doctors were pleasant enough, but they were not giving the young man the relief he needed as he was in constant agony and could not even sip water.
After about five hours of advocacy, Kious Kelly, the assistant nursing manager, showed up with a rainbow pin and a calm, caring manner and made things happen for the young man — getting him pain relief and pulling him back from the brink of wanting to take his own life. He was an angel to this troubled, homeless, African-American kid.
On Wednesday, I read that due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) — something that was a problem at Mount Sinai before all this — Kious was infected with COVID-19 two weeks ago and died the day before, March 24.
“Kious didn’t deserve this,” one nurse told the New York Post. “The hospital should be held responsible. The hospital killed him.”
The story says that “another nurse described ‘issues with supplies for about a year now,’ during which it got ‘to the point where we had to hide our own supplies and go to other units looking for stuff because even the supply room would have nothing most of the time.’”
This crisis has exposed that our profit-driven, under-funded “healthcare system” is wholly inadequate in normal times — and completely unprepared for what we are asking doctors and nurses and other staff to do now. All well and good for our elected officials to be screaming about the need for PPE now, but where were they last month and last year and all the years that the system was limping along?
Many are appreciating Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership now in this crisis, but Sean Petty, RN, a pediatric ER nurse at the Jacobi Medical Center and with the New York State Nurses Association, told “Democracy Now” on Wednesday that “Cuomo is the single most important person in the drive to close down hospital beds in the last 20 years.” Petty assailed the Berger Commission on Health Care Facilities, which started closing hospitals and reducing beds under Governor George Pataki and continued under Governors David Paterson and Cuomo. He also attacked Cuomo’s “two rounds of Medicaid cuts,” including a $2.5 billion cut proposed by the governor “in just the last two weeks.”
We had 73,000 beds in New York State in 2000, now have 53,000, and the governor says we need 140,000 in this crisis.
Joanne Loo, RN, posted this on Facebook about Kious Kelly: “He used to carry around a thick notepad holder that hides a box full of chocolates and candies so he can have it handy to give out to miserable/ grumbly nurses and doctors who are more likely than not ‘hangry.’ He spreads joy and love exactly like how the world needs it. He is a nurse hero to the patients and nurses who he crossed path with. His death hit home… and it hurts. The stories of the profound impact he had made on many of us will take villages of people to tell. Kious, I’m glad I spoke my mind two weekends ago, when we were fighting with you on the weakening guidelines of PPE. What I told you holds true, ‘we respect you so much and we believe you will protect us.’ As I took on the role as unit-based council chairperson, you took time to listen and share your wisdom. You are the hope and the strength of 10B, we cannot thank you enough for all that we had done. You are a respectable man — an honorable nurse leader. We cannot believe you are gone Kious.”
Annie K. Lee, RN posted, “I don’t want your condolences… I want actions. We are dying on the frontlines without any supplies and equipment! Kious Kelly, a NYC Registered Nurse, died from COVID19 wearing garbage bags as isolation gowns so he could still help sick patients. The life we save tomorrow may be your parents, your friends, your child’s, or yours! Contact Kandy Huang [who runs a touch technology company in Guangzhou, China] to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that he will ship at cost and that I will donate to hospitals. In every order, he provides extra masks and PPE for FREE. Healthcare providers NEED surgical masks, N95s, N99s, isolation gowns, gloves, respirators, ventilators, and so many other essentials! Please! If there is no PPE for providers, there will be no one to left to save your life, or the life of your loved ones. Or go to Gofundme.com [this Facebook link takes you to the page], search PPE, and donate money to healthcare communities to buy PPE. Or, if you bought medical supplies during the pandemic, GIVE IT to local hospitals! Stop the hoarding. Give to get. Buy supplies off of any website, AMAZON EVEN, and give it to your nurses and doctors. We can’t fight to save your life, or the ones you love, without your support.”
In a written statement a Mount Sinai spokesperson denied that Kelly’s death was related to lack of protective gear, but acknowledged that the hospital faced an impending shortfall in resources.
“This crisis is straining the resources of all New York area hospitals, and while we do — and have had — enough protective equipment for our staff, we will all need more in the weeks ahead,” said spokesperson Lucia Lee.
Today I’m mourning Kious Jordan Kelly, a 48-year old gay nurse manager who died from caring. I was only with him for 15 minutes, but it was enough to see his unique power of healing. An unforgettable character. Honor his memory by not letting even one more health care worker die.