Long Valley School Nurse's Coronavirus Fight In 'Hot Zone'

LONG VALLEY, NJ – Long Valley Middle School may be closed due to the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak, but school nurse Kim Pinto is still caring for patients.

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The Washington Township School District employee is now working at the Meadowlands Field Hospital, on the front line of the fighting the global pandemic. The Meadowlands Field Hospital is one of four “pop-up” hospitals to open in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

When Pinto originally got the email to sent out by the nurse recruiting company she didn’t hesitate.

She said no.

“My first reaction when I saw the email was, ‘no way, there is no way I am going to go work in a hospital. I haven’t worked in a hospital in over 15 years,'” Pinto told Patch.

But that didn’t last.

“That night I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about how desperate these hospitals were for qualified nursing staff,” she said. “I woke up Monday morning and applied.”

After submitting a letter of intent, resume, nursing license, driver’s license, recent physical, proof of immunizations, including PPD she was contacted immediately and offered the job and proceeded to the first orientation, April 6, the day before the hospital officially started taking patients.

“There was no special training. At orientation were given a tour of the hospital and show how each pod was set up. We were given some instructions concerning procedures but a lot of how things were going to flow was to be determined when patients started arriving. We, by we I mean the National Guard and we civilian nurses, were going to learn together,” Pinto said. “The Meadowlands was the first field hospital to be set up in New Jersey since the Civil War so it had been a long time since any of this had been done before. I just hoped that my training as a staff and Burn ICU nurse would kick in and come back real quick.”

According to Pinto, it did. But that didn’t mean the 12-hour shifts were easy. She said that the shifts were more like 13 and went something like this:

Pinto noted that at the facility, everyone works so well together.

“We are all coming from different specialties but working at the field hospital we have a common goal that is to help and heal. Our patients feel that. Our patients can get pretty sick, and we are trained and equipped to handle emergencies up to a certain point,” she said. “If it becomes apparent the patient can no longer be cared for properly in the field hospital he/she is transported to the nearest hospital for more advanced care.”

More Sacrifice

When Pinto signed on she didn’t know whether she was going to be treating COVID-19 patients or not. So she moved out of her house and away from her husband and sons Matt, 14, Nate, 12, and daughter Natalie, 10.

“Turns out it was a very good decision. All of my patients were COVID-19. The hospital was originally slated as a non-COVID hospital but that did not last long. I knew that was a possibility so when I applied for the job my husband, brother-in-law, and sister started cleaning out the barn so I could live there away from my kids and husband,” Pinto said.

She is currently living alone in the apartment her mom has over her barn.

Despite the hardship of not being able to be with her family, Pinto said she knew she needed to act when she heard there was a shortage of nurses, and she had a skill that was needed.

“I felt like I needed to help even though it would put me at risk and separate me from my family. My husband and kids were very supportive so after I knew I had their blessing the decision was easy and I applied,” she said. “I also felt like it was important to show my kids how helping others can be one of the most important things you do. This experience has proven to be one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life.”

Family Legacy

For those who know Pinto this decision comes as no surprise. The Long Valley native and West Morris Central High School graduate is the daughter of legendary local veterinarian, Dr. Stu Gutman, who worked in the community from 1975 until his death in 2018.

Caring for others is a family trait that pushed Pinto to study nursing at CCM, and then St. Barnabas, eventually taking position as staff nurse in the burn ICU.

“I worked in the Burn ICU for 8 years through the Seton Hall fire and through 9/11,” she said. “I loved the burn unit but after I got married in 2004, I moved back to Long Valley with my husband Joe, and we had our first son, Matt, I decided to take a job as a school nurse.”

A professional dancer for many years, Pinto co-founded The Garden State Dance Project, worked full-time as the school nurse at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit and completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and completed my school nurse certificate from Caldwell University.

“In 2017 I started working as a school nurse at the Long Valley Middle School,” she said.

And then school closed down for the year in March.

Writing On The Wall

Pinto said that as a school the administration and teachers began preparing for the possibility of closing so the writing was on the wall. She called the last day surreal.

“One of the last days of school we were working as staff and faculty but there were no students. I remember working at my desk and hearing the bell ring for the kids to change class but the halls were empty and quiet,” Pinto said. “It felt like a dream, and I was going to wake up to all the kids laughing and talking and halls busy with movement but each time the bell rang there was silence. It was very eerie.”

With no end in sight, Pinto remains positive. She said that the sincere gratitude expressed by her patients on a nightly basis has been over-whelming.

“This job takes a combination of nursing skill and human compassion. Family and visitors are not allowed, and we nurses are gowned up in masks, full face shields, surgical gowns,” she said. “Yet somehow through all that PPE my patients could feel how sincerely I cared for them.”

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