Essential Worker Highlight: Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and the Clinical Program Director
While medical personnel treat the coronavirus in our hospitals, other human service providers and essential workers are ensuring New Yorkers have the resources they need to not only remain safe but also continue to have opportunities to thrive. These individuals, whether working from home or within our neighborhoods, are supporting a strong recovery for those who are too often overlooked, underrepresented, or underinvested in.
The following Q&A took place between two members of CPC Leadership Council: Chris Kuo and Lena Chang, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and the Clinical Program Director for the Cardiovascular Departments at Mount Sinai Union Square and Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
The CPC Leadership Council is a tight-knit community of business and nonprofit leaders who seek to advance CPC’s mission to promote social and economic empowerment of Chinese American, immigrant, and low-income communities. This interview presents the perspective of a Leadership Council member who is also an essential worker.
Join CPC in sharing stories of essential workers using the tag #AlwaysEssential and #EssentialWorkers.
Essential Worker Highlight: Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and the Clinical Program Director for the Cardiovascular Departments at Mount Sinai Union Square and Mount Sinai Beth Israel
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Tell us about your background and the work you do.
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: I am the clinical program director for the cardiovascular departments at Mount Sinai Union Square and Mount Sinai Beth Israel, where I’ve been for 26 years. I got interested in health care during junior high school, when I volunteered at a Chinatown pediatrics program run by St. Vincent’s Hospital. For four years I worked as a nurse on a surgical unit before going to nurse practitioner school for my master’s. Then, for two and a half years, I was a director of nursing, managing the hospital’s cardiac services. I learned a lot but found the work tiring. My current role is more of a nice mix. I get to see patients and manage projects. I coordinate fundraisers and events. It's still a lot of work, but I enjoy it.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: What has it been like working in the hospital during the pandemic?
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: At first, we really didn't know anything about the disease or what to expect. We just had to remember to cover ourselves from head to toe and take care not to get sick. Our days would start out with us prioritizing who to help first. The treatments we used would change every few weeks. When we reached the middle of the pandemic, the hospital didn’t have enough beds. There were so many patients that we couldn’t help everyone. We had to partner up with temporary staff or volunteers and train them. Some of us didn't eat lunch. It was just nonstop. For patients who didn’t look like they could hang on, we had to decide which families to call first. We put iPads on stands facing patients so they could talk to their families and not feel alone. At the end of the day, many of us didn’t go home. We didn't want to bring the virus back to our families.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: How did you stay motivated throughout this time?
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: I think it’s that we were all in the trenches together. That gave us strength. Since many hospitals brought in temporary staff, we had a lot of people pitching in. We also witnessed amazing acts of kindness. Volunteers donated food and PPE [personal protective equipment] to us. We got Uber rides home from work. We were offered free or discounted hotel rooms. It was amazing having that kind of support in a time of so many losses. We were so exhausted, but it just kept us going. A lot of us think that if there's a second wave, we are not going to have a whole lot of energy like we did the first time. We’re worried about all these new cases appearing in the US.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Why are you interested in being a part of CPC Leadership Council?
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: I'm actually co-chair of my hospital’s diversity council and do a lot of work with Asian care, like offering health services to seniors at community fairs. I also know that many people right now are stuck at home without a job. They need meals, resources, and services. CPC has been an amazing resource to the community. It's been involved and given back so much, and I want to do that as well. This kind of work is more important now than ever.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Have you experienced any discrimination during this pandemic?
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: I have out in the community. One day, as I was leaving my house for work, I got an alert on my phone. It said an Asian woman had disinfectant sprayed on her at a subway platform. I was headed in that same direction, so I decided to take a cab instead of the train. Another time, three people came over to me and said, “Hey, can I get some sushi?” Thankfully I got away from them. When I wear my scrubs outside now, I hope that people won’t target me if only because they’d want me to take care of them in the hospital. It's horrible that things are so backwards now. I feel like we’ve gone back in time.
Chris Kuo, Leadership Council: Is there a moment from your work you’d like to share?
Lena Chang, Member of CPC Leadership Council, Cardiology Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Program Director: We had a patient transferred to us from another hospital who was so sick that they couldn’t treat him. He said he was a social studies teacher. We really didn't think he was going to make it, but he responded well to treatment and recovered. I was so amazed and grateful for a victory like this one. Later on, I got interviewed by my high school for an alumni story. He saw the post and reached out to me. It turns out that we attended the same alma mater! It’s such a small world that we were able to reconnect this way.
Essential workers risk their health and their families’ health to serve others through COVID-19. As New York begins to recover, organizations like CPC will be among the ones helping the hardest hit New Yorkers put their lives back together. Support them here! #AlwaysEssential