Shamokin grad heads to New York to care for patients

Brittany Grybos takes a selfie with her husband, Jon, and their 3-year-old daughter, Ava.

NEW YORK — A 2010 graduate of Shamokin Area High School is among health care workers across the country going above and beyond the call of duty.

Brittany Grybos has been training to be a nurse practitioner, but when classes were canceled an opportunity arose for the 27-year-old nurse from Bloomsburg to take her six years of experience in an intensive care unit (ICU) at Geisinger Medical Center and apply it to the country’s pandemic epicenter.

Grybos has been working in the ICU at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan since April 16 and will assist patients there for at least eight weeks.

New York City has been especially hard hit by the illness, with 156,100 confirmed cases and 11,708 deaths as of Monday afternoon, according to the city’s Department of Health.

“There are definitely some cons, such as moving away from family, but if I didn’t do it, I would have regretted it,” Grybos, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, said. “I didn’t become a critical care nurse to run away from danger. I like to move towards it.”

Grybos graduated from Misericordia University in 2014, and had been working per diem at Geisinger Medical Center since June while attending classes at Drexel University and clinicals at two hospitals in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. The flexible schedule with Geisinger made it possible to assist in Manhattan.

Grybos said Columbia needed assistance, especially from ICU nurses, and felt her experience as a critical care nurse at Geisinger would be beneficial.

“If I was in their position, I would want the help, too. My co-workers at Geisinger were a little bit apprehensive for me to go there because it might mean more exposure,” she said, “But, for me I knew I wanted to help, and I would be exposed to patients either way.”

Grybos has been staying at a hotel a little more than a mile from the medical center in order to avoid parking in Manhattan. The room is paid through a partnership with Hilton Hotel and American Express, which has donated one million hotel room nights for American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) members.

She described Manhattan as a ghost town consisting of just a few open grocery stores. She said the streets are mostly barren and those who do venture outside wear masks.

“Definitely everyone is adhering to guidelines. I haven’t seen one person without a mask. Everyone is taking this seriously when they are outside,” she said. “It’s not your typical New York where hundreds of people are out.”

Grybos said there are many patients at the medical center who need intensive care. Staff increased the ICU capacity by repurposing other sections of the medical center, she said.

Despite COVID-19’s impact on the Big Apple, Grybos said New Yorkers and the staff at Columbia have been very welcoming.

“I would like people to know how receptive the staff has been,” she said. “There are people, like me, who want to help because not all nurses have critical care experience. They are so happy to see people who want to help. Despite the stress of the situation, it’s been a positive experience.”

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