In this second chapter of the journey of 3 remarkable Clinical Fellow Speech-Language Pathologists, we meet Bayonne, New Jersey’s Antonia Alburtus (Right in photo to with Jaime Faitlowicz). Antonia is a graduate of Seton Hall University and began working for Language Fundamentals in December 2019.
Right off the bat, she ran into 2 major pandemic-related obstacles. Antonia utilized mass transit to travel to her SNF in Manhattan. When the system was shut down, thousands, of New Jersey residents were now unable to commute into Manhattan by rail. Shortly thereafter, she contracted Covid where in her own words “couldn’t even really function.”
Once she was able to return, the SNF she was assigned to in Staten Island was in a full-blown crisis. Despite the need for SLP services, at the beginning/height of the pandemic, and prior to the access to testing, the facility was forced to implement a Covid-outbreak reduction plan to minimize exposure of high-risk patients. According to Alburtus, “We had to discharge most of our therapy caseload, and I essentially functioned as a CNA. I helped with ADLs and oral care because so many staff members on the unit were out. I learned a lot about everyone’s job and gave me a better understanding of what everyone does. ‘You never really know until you find yourself doing it.”
After a second quarantine period, Antonia returned to the building still dealing with a mountain of unprecedented issues. “As patients began testing negative, we were able to rebuild caseload and provide therapy to those in need. At one point, we couldn’t see new admissions until they could be approved by the doctor.” Following the mandatory period which required new patients to safely test out of quarantine with negative Covid results in order to reduce the risk of a facility outbreak and maintain patient safety.
Alburtus shared, “The whole building was in it together. Regardless of role or job description. Everyone put the patients first and did everything we could. With many patients, instead of the goal being to make them better, it was to help make them comfortable.”
Still, the emotional toll on the team was evident. Antonia was reflective when asked what she learned during those difficult times, “I learned how to show empathy when speaking with family members and also the importance of communicating. These people wanted to see their loved ones and couldn’t.”
In terms of her advice to the Class of 2021, “Peers can teach you a lot. The CNAs are the ones who care for the patients and the ones who know them the best. No one is ‘Just an Aid.”
Next week, we will meet the third member of this amazing group and hear her unique story.