As the novel coronavirus arrived in the Philadelphia area and community spread began last March, Tarik Khan, ’11, instantly felt a pull to be of service to those most vulnerable.
“That tradition of service of the Lasallian Brothers is ingrained in me,” said Khan, who earned a master’s degree in the nurse practitioner program from La Salle University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “We talk about doing things for the common good. That’s been a principle for me throughout my career.”
Khan is a nurse practitioner with the Family Practice and Counseling Network, a federally qualified health care center in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Through the Family Practice and Counseling Network, Khan worked to provide COVID-19 testing in underserved neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. He also volunteered with the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps, helping them administer drive-through coronavirus tests at Citizens Bank Park in March and April.
All told, Khan estimated he has performed more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests, mostly in the city’s healthcare deserts, which include nursing and group homes where infectious diseases like COVID-19 can spread rapidly among residents and staff.
“You go where the need is,” said Khan, who was recently elected president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association. “If there is a need with underserved populations in the city, that’s where you go. We’re going into the least-served communities to make sure they have testing— where the most poverty is, where there is lack of access to healthcare, and where, unfortunately systemic, institutional, and personal acts of racism have led in some circumstances to suspicion of certain care being delivered by health professionals, including vaccines. There is a lot that needs to be done to break those barriers down.”
Like Khan, Shannon Hernandez, ’20, went where there was a need as New Jersey became inundated with COVID-19 cases last spring.
A critical care nurse at Abington Hospital Jefferson Health in Abington, Pa., Hernandez took an eight-week position as a COVID-19 relief staff nurse at JFK Medical Center in Edison, N.J. Through April and May, she worked 36 hours during the week at JFK, in addition to her weekend position at Abington—an experience she described as “surreal.”
“There were patients lining the hallways who were sick with the coronavirus,” said Hernandez, who completed La Salle’s graduate nurse practitioner program. “We would have as many as 10 intubated patients in one section at a time.”
Another graduate of La Salle’s nurse practitioner program, Sara Boyer, ’19, has been helping fight the disease on several fronts as a clinical nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP).
Covering shifts on an as-needed basis in HUP’s floating pool of nurses required nimbleness of Boyer. In the pandemic’s earliest days, she worked at a mobile testing site in West Philadelphia. When the hospital opened a makeshift intensive care unit dedicated to COVID-19 cases, Boyer served as a nurse to patients and a trained observer whose responsibilities included making sure all nurses going in and out of the unit were handling their personal protective equipment safely.
While nothing can adequately prepare nurses to combat a pandemic, Boyer said her training in the La Salle nursing program enabled her to adapt to the rapidly evolving demands of fighting COVID-19 on the frontline.
“La Salle prepares you to treat the patient in front of you with the knowledge and tools you have available and adapt and change where necessary,” said Boyer, who began working as a nurse practitioner with a neurology practice associated with HUP in July. “We spent the early days of the pandemic doing whatever we could to treat our patients while keeping staff safety a priority. As weeks and months went by, we changed our practices to align with new information as it became available.”
With winter looming, Khan stressed the importance of keeping up the fight against the pandemic in Philadelphia’s most vulnerable communities.
“With flu season and respiratory illnesses, and the overburdened healthcare system, this can get a whole lot worse,” said Khan. “It’s not going to be pretty. We’ve been trying to establish connections, establish trust. It sounds like a nebulous thing—community trust—but it’s a real thing when people are seeing you out in their community. We’ve established a lot of the groundwork that I think is going to help us get through this.”