The healthcare heroes working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City include Boris Lukatskiy, who is a nurse in a Manhattan intensive-care unit, as well as a SUNY Oswego online MBA student.

Interviewed recently, Lukatskiy generously shared his perspective, in between working night shifts, between 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.

"Before the COVID crisis, my ICU only dealt with cardiac patients, now my ICU and all the other ICUs are COVID ICUs," Lukatskiy said. "All our beds in the ICU ... all the patients are COVID positive and on ventilators."

The routine has greatly changed since the pandemic began, he said.

"Usually in an ICU, a nurse is assigned either one or two patients," Lukatskiy explained. "If the patient is truly sick, that would be the only patient the nurse has all shift. I come on shift and check my assignments, which at times varies. I have had some patients in my unit for weeks, which I have taken care of, while others are dying and a different patient is brought up. When I check my assignment, I receive a report from the day nurse and start my shift. We try to minimize our time in the rooms and make as few trips as possible, but that is not always possible."

With COVID-19, Lukatskiy now has to focus on ventilator settings and arterial blood-gas draws to ensure the vent settings are working correctly, attend to bedside dialysis and stay on top of medication and all kinds of critical work for patients whose conditions are often unstable.

The ongoing work means that Lukatskiy and his nursing colleagues rarely get a break and "and you are lucky if you can get a drink of water," he said. "As soon as you sit down for one moment, either an alarm goes off in the patient's room or their vital signs start to fall and you have to go back into the room to address the issue. The nights feel long and at times very defeating. These patients are all truly sick and unstable and personally I feel uncomfortable even stepping out for a second to drink some water. Some nights I feel like the providers and I are playing catch up because as soon as one problem is addressed another one appears."  

He said this can leave the team feeling "drained, exhausted, worn out and sad." Lukatskiy added that they give "110 percent" effort every shift, yet many patients, unfortunately, do not get better. "There are shifts where we almost do not see each other because we are in our patients' rooms all shift. We only see each other towards the end of shift as we are leaving," he noted.

Inspiring colleagues

Yet he finds inspiration and connection with his colleagues as they bravely battle the pandemic together.

"What inspires me about my co-workers is that regardless of how tough or bad their shift went, we still find moments to talk to each other and be there for one another. If we see one of us is having a tough shift, we make sure to help each other out. We may be each assigned patients, but at the end of the day all the patients belong to all the nurses," Lukatskiy said. 

"One night I truly was having a rough shift and one of the nurses made me a cup of coffee and at that moment it was the most delicious coffee I ever had," he recalled. "My co-workers are truly incredible; there are moments where you do feel alone because you are in the patient's room doing everything you can and more, and it is just you and the patient. But the moment you need help, there is someone in the room by your side." 

Lukatskiy echoes the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, which include:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Staying home as much as possible, and especially when you are sick.
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands).
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces. 

He also emphasizes one additional piece. "What I want to add is if there are people in your family who are considered high risk such as the elderly or those who have weak immune systems, to continue to isolate from them and for them to limit how often they go out," Lukatskiy said. "If you can, buy and drop off their groceries and medications. Such small gestures will really help." 

MBA pursuit

While his work is valued, Lukatskiy would like to see nurses get more of a say in how hospitals are run as well as how nurses are trained and supported. "As important as nurses are to a hospital, many things are done without them. The burnout rate in nursing is very high and many nurses are leaving the profession," he noted.

Lukatskiy hopes that by attaining the online Oswego MBA he will be on a path to making things better for nurses, which in turn will improve patient care. 

"Getting an MBA from Oswego, I want to be in position at my hospital to be able to change that," Lukatskiy said. "I want to change our compensation and benefits to recruit and keep nurses. I want to write policies and protocols that are nurse-driven and friendly and ones that nurses agree with. I want to make sure every nurse is properly trained and has more opportunities to further advance their skills in the hospital. 

"There are certain procedures and tasks that I believe nurses are capable of doing and should do, which will lessen the workload for doctors. Nursing is a wonderful profession, but I know it can be even better and be taken into a new age with an MBA from SUNY Oswego," he said.