Courage in Action, an Interview with Erica Ruppert, MSN, CNS, ANP-BC

A day before heading to a prominent New York City hospital to volunteer at the epicenter of the United States’ coronavirus outbreak, Mallinckrodt employee, Erica Ruppert, talked to us about why she answered the call to return to clinical practice to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What is your role at MNK?
I joined the company three years ago as a clinical specialist and then transitioned to the sales team. Prior to that, I was practicing as an Adult Nurse Practitioner managing a service of patients who were acutely ill in the hospital requiring surgical heart valve replacements. Ten years prior to that, I was a highly experienced Critical Care Certified Registered Nurse who worked in multiple intensive care settings.

What made you decide to return to the hospital setting amidst this crisis?
As soon as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began asking retired and non-practicing health care professionals to join the fight, I knew I had to go. I possess all the skills necessary to do this job and I couldn’t imagine sitting at home knowing that I could help. I needed to go.

What does volunteering on the front lines mean to you?
It means everything. In times of emergency or crisis, you want someone to save you. Normally it is a police officer or firefighter, but in this type of situation, life and death will depend on the amount of staff available at hospitals. It is my turn to step up to save lives, even if it’s just one.

Are you concerned about the danger you may be putting yourself in? What about your family?
I don’t see it that way. I’ve trained and prepared for these types of situations. I worked in level 1 trauma centers during 9/11 and was drawn to become a critical care nurse…to help the sickest of the sick.

I do have a family so I am concerned about putting them at risk, especially since the hospitals can’t provide housing for staff right now and I have to come home in between my shifts. I’ve developed a strict protocol for when I come home where no one can even say hello to me until I’ve changed, showered, and put my clothes in a garbage bag in the laundry. My shoes stay outside and everything will get wiped down with alcohol and bleach.

How did you pick the hospital will you be working in?
The greatest need is in the public hospitals right now so that’s where I want to be. When I signed up a few weeks ago there were about 400 open positions in 10 NY hospitals. Two weeks later, there were 1,500. I will likely be stationed in the triage areas set up in tents in front of and behind the hospital

How long do you plan to volunteer?
As of now, I’m on a two-week leave but the hospital is looking for 5-week rotations from volunteers. I’m grateful that Mallinckrodt has made it so easy for me to jump right in and is assessing the longer-term needs.  I’m also incredibly grateful for the shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) I received from the company yesterday. As everyone knows, there is a shortage of supplies at all the hospitals and I was scrambling to find a face mask. I learned that MNK had already shipped pallets of supplies to local hospitals, but the operations team in Madison was able to send me a face cover, masks, safety goggles, protective gowns, gloves and shoe coverings. I’m so grateful to them and proud to work for a company willing to step up and help out.

How do you think this experience will change you?
I’m sure I will be impacted by the ethical burden that all the healthcare workers will be facing. This situation is wildly different from 9/11. In that situation we were overly prepared and had help from all over the country, but unfortunately there were no survivors to help. This time we have thousands of patients coming in and the biggest burden put on healthcare workers is determining who they can save and who they can’t. Who gets the bed, the ventilator, the dialysis machine? But, there are other ethical challenges as well, particularly as patients are alone and can’t have their families with them at their bedside. It is difficult to watch patients die by themselves. 

What do you want your Mallinckrodt colleagues to know?
Well, there’s a quote that has stuck with me throughout my career that I think people could reflect upon during these challenging times…“A smooth sea, never made a skilled sailor.” We certainly are facing rough seas, but I’m hopeful that this crisis will bring people together, not pull them apart.

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We all work better as a team and I go into this fight knowing that I have my Mallinckrodt team behind me. Keep sharing the positives with each other, and offering support where you can. We are stronger in numbers.

What message do you have for us?
This quote describes why I can feel at ease responding…..

“Let me dedicate my life today to the care for those who come my way. Let me touch each one with a healing hand and the gentle art for which I stand. And then tonight when the day is done, let me Rest in Peace if I’ve helped just one.”

Teri Lynn Thompson

We will check back in with Erica when she finishes her volunteer time in a few weeks.

Erica, thank you for talking with us.