DALLAS — It was just a normal Friday night in April when Erin Higginbotham, B.S.N., RNC-LRN, got the call.
A member of the Air Force Reserve and mother-baby nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Higginbotham was being sent to New York.
Erin Higginbotham, center, with the care team at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.
"They called around 8:30 Friday night, and said we had to be at the base Saturday morning," she said. "We only had 12 hours to get ready. They said they didn't know how long we'd be gone, but to pack enough for 30 days."
So, on April 4, Higginbotham left her husband, her 4-year-old daughter and her 15-month-old son, who was still breastfeeding, to join 16 other nurses headed for New York. She wouldn't return home for two months.
The unit was sent to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, where "the entire hospital was pretty much COVID-19 positive," Higginbotham said.
The mother-baby unit was short-staffed, so Higginbotham was assigned there.
"It wasn't as bad as some other units, but it was still very stressful," Higginbotham said. "It was obvious they were very busy and stressed out. People don't stop having babies because of COVID-19."
Some nurses were out because they had tested positive, and others stayed home because they were afraid of getting it. Patients were tested when they arrived at the hospital to give birth.
"A lot tested positive but didn't even know they had it," she said. "We still had to gown up. We had N95 face masks, but we were supposed to wear them for several days if we could. We had to wear them all the time, except on breaks."
Things were rough at first.
"Then we started getting more nurses in," said Higginbotham, who was the only Air Force nurse on the unit, working with employees, traveling nurses and nurses sent by an employment agency. "It was pretty intense the first couple of weeks. But once we got some more help, it got a little easier."
When not at work, the Reserve nurses stayed at a hotel in Times Square with just a mini fridge.
"Another unit that came later stayed at a boutique hotel, and they didn't even have that," Higginbotham said. "Eventually, someone bought us a microwave that we could put in a little lobby area where we could hang out together and eat."
Back in Dallas, Higginbotham was sorely missed, said her manager, Kelly Fossee, M.S.N., RNC-OB, manager of Family Centered Care & Lactation.
"Erin is very involved in our unit, so it was a big loss for us to have her gone," Fossee said. "We're so proud of her, but we've really missed her."
The entire hospital felt her absence, said Elizabeth Asturi, M.S.N., R.N., NE-BC, chief nursing officer.
"It was a loss to have Erin gone for so long," she said. "But we're so proud that she was able to serve where she was most needed. I can't think of a better example of living Our Texas Health PromiseSM."
To show their support, the unit's Outreach Committee sent care packages to Higginbotham and the other nurses in her Reserve unit.
"We sent Uber Eats gift cards, T-shirts, protein bars and other snacks," Fossee said.
They also added a personal touch.
"I knew they wanted to send something, but then one night they asked me for all the names of the nurses in our unit — all 17," Higginbotham said. "I didn't think much about it, and then they sent these really nice cups with lids that said '#crushcovid" and had each person's name. It was awesome. All the other nurses were so excited. It was really nice of them."
Higginbotham returned home May 31. She tested negative, so she has been able to quarantine at home with her family.
"They're all very happy that Mommy's home," she said. "My husband's parents were able to help a few days a week, but it's not the same as having another full-time parent."
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.