Thank You For Your Service: 8 Nursing Staff Members Student Debt To Be Paid Off

Thank You For Your Service: 8 Nursing Staff Members Student Debt To Be Paid Off
The Brooklyn Hospital Center. (Photo: Zainab Iqbal/Bklyner)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN – Eight nursing staff members at The Brooklyn Hospital Center (TBHC) will be able to pay off their student debt thanks to a $400,000 gift from the staff at Alger, an investment firm.

Four nurse managers Stephen Gooding, Jenelle Codrington, Brenda Diaz, and Tatiana Alexis-Wohl; two senior directors of nursing – Richard Ortiz, and Mary Godineaux; director of nursing Claudetth Samuels; and Aileen Tanafranca, assistant vice president of nursing,  are recipients of the donation.

Dan Chung, the CEO and the Chief Investment Officer at Alger, remembers researching about the health care system a few years ago and even attended a nursing school to see what kind of education nurses get. That is when he learned that nurses graduate with nearly $85,000 in student debt. Once the pandemic hit in March, Chung saw the intense work all of the health care workers were doing, especially the nurses. He wanted to give back.

“While watching the news about the pandemic, I wanted to find a way to support our healthcare workers on the frontlines of this terrible crisis. Nurses are the backbone of a hospital, providing 24/7 care to patients, and too often are the unsung heroes of a crisis like this,” Chung told Bklyner.

“I also knew that, while the U.S. has a shortage of nurses, we also have an educational system that saddles the typical nurse graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of educational loan debt. This led me to the nurse managers at TBHC, each of whom are remarkable individuals. I am thrilled that we can relieve their significant financial burden and thank them for their career commitments to those less fortunate in Brooklyn.”

Chung lives in Brooklyn with his family and has focused a large part of his life on giving back to the community. When he told his employees about what he was thinking, more than 90% of Alger’s employees agreed to help raise money for the nurse managers at TBHC.

Tatiana Alexis-Wohl is a nurse manager at TBHC. She has been a nurse for nine years and has been working at the Hospital for five. The gift will help her out tremendously. In fact, she said in the video that it will allow her to go back to school to finish her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in education.

“I always tell everybody this year was very very challenging for me. I lost both my parents to COVID,” she said. “So I guess the strength they instilled in me before they passed away is what is keeping us going.”

Since March, TBHC and its incredible work have been reported on by the NY Times. One of the first stories was about their Intensive Care Unit and how overwhelming it had gotten. At the peak of the crisis, almost every patient in the ICU was on a ventilator.

“There were patients in their 80s and in their 30s. Patients whose asthma and diabetes helped explain their serious illness. And patients who seemed to have no risk factors at all. Patients from nursing homes. Patients who had no homes,” the NY Times reported in March. “Pregnant women, some of whom would not be conscious when their babies were delivered to increase their odds of surviving to raise their children.”

Wohl (top left), Ortiz (top, second to left), Codrington (top right), Godineaux (bottom left), Gooding (middle row left), Diaz (middle row right), Samuels (bottom row left), and Tanafranca (bottom row right). (Photos via TBHC)

“At the Brooklyn center — a medium-size independent community hospital — that misery was evident. Deaths attributed to the virus more than quintupled from the previous week. The number of inpatients confirmed to have Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, grew from 15 to 105, with 48 more awaiting results. Hospital leaders estimated that about a third of doctors and nurses were out sick,” the Times wrote. “The hospital temporarily ran out of protective plastic gowns, of the main sedative for patients on ventilators, of a key blood pressure medication. The sense of urgency and tragedy was heightened by a video, circulating online, showing a forklift hoisting a body into a refrigerated trailer outside the hospital.”

During the summer, Alger also provided a stress management program for all TBHC nurses. The class was led by mindfulness expert Sam Chase three times a week from July to September.

“I was a biology major. My sister is a doctor, and certainly, doctors are heroes in this, too. But nurses are the backbone of a hospital,” Chung said in the video. “They are extremely giving, caring, putting themselves on the risk and I just thought we could do something to help as a reward for their service, as recognition for their contributions for our community that would be meaningful.”

Dan Chung. (Photo via the video)

In April, the Times reported that more than a half-dozen hospital workers had contracted the virus, and close to 50 staff members were potentially exposed by just one patient. Both testing kits and PPE were in short supply, and the Hospital has no parent company or network to share or request extra supplies from “for the predominantly low-income and culturally diverse population it serves. It has resisted the era of mergers,” the Times wrote.

“They just take their courage in their hands,” a doctor at TBHC told the NY Times back in April. “They put on their garb and they show up. That’s what they do. Of course, they have anxiety, of course, they have fear, they’re human. None of us knows where this is taking us. We don’t even know if we might get sick. But none of them so far has defaulted on their duty, their calling.”

In the video, Judy McLaughlin, TBHC’s Chief Nurse Executive said, “This team was incredible during the whole crisis. everybody just gave and gave and gave. For somebody like you and others to have recognized that it really warms your heart.”

The video shows a clip of the video call where Chung announced to the nurse staff that they’d be receiving the money to pay off their debt. Once Chung made the announcement, all of the nurses clapped. One of them then asked him, “How do we thank you?” To which he replied, “You have already done more than enough.”

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