Offering heroes in the war with COVID-19 a home away from home

Mikhaila McLean was heading to her post on the frontlines of the battle with COVID-19. She’s an ER nurse at a local hospital.

But it wasn’t her home she was leaving Wednesday morning. Instead, she and her husband, also a health care worker, have been staying at the Courtyard by Marriott in Montvale, one of several places offering accommodations for medical workers during the crisis — both those in from out-of-state and others, like McLean and her husband, who worry about bringing the infection home.

“Crazy. Every day crazy, chaos,” McLean said when asked about what her workday is like. “We don’t really know what we’re getting or how many patients we’re getting. But we’re all pulling through as a team.”

Being able to stay at a hotel is a source of solace, she said.

“I don’t want to go home and infect the rest of my family if I’m possibly exposed to the coronavirus,” she said, adding that she’s worried about her parents and others. “My sister just had a newborn baby.”

Still, the self-imposed isolation is tough. “Very difficult,” she said. “We’ve been communicating a lot through FaceTime, but still not the same to be with them.”

At the Marriott, which is offering the rooms at a special rate, front office manager Michael Proto said he welcomes his honored guests with a personal touch, perhaps a touch of home.

“Making sure when they come in that there’s spring water for them, that they have something to eat, they feel comforted, they feel welcome,” he said. “It’s the same thing whenever you walk in your door.”

Proto says he can see the effort is getting results.

“Even though we’re practicing social distancing, we have to become more emotionally connected, we have to be emotionally invested,” he said. “You just can’t say it for the heck of saying it. You have to mean it from the heart, and if you mean it from the heart these people can see it.”

Marriott isn’t the only chain offering much needed respect and respite away from the front lines.

Earlier this week. Gov. Phil Murphy took to Twitter to thank Hilton and American Express for partnering in an effort to donate up to a million hotel room nights for frontline medical workers across the United States through the end of May.

Also among Proto’s guests are Amber Witt and Tiffany Clark, two nurses from Texas who have traveled to New Jersey to volunteer at Pascack Valley Medical Center in hard-hit Bergen County, where more than 7,800 people have contracted the virus, and 314 have succumbed to its complications.

They appreciate the hospitality.

“It’s been great,” Clark said. “They went above and beyond to make sure that we were comfortable, to make sure that we had everything that we needed. I have so many great things to say about the Courtyard Marriott and the staff that are working there.”

Witt echoed her colleague, and also said she also appreciates the reception health care workers have gotten from residents of the region surrounding the hospital in Westwood.

You can find the community’s signs of appreciation for the risks medical workers are taking and the life-saving jobs they’re performing through yard signs and more.

“The kids from the local school made us signs,” Clark said. “It makes me feel glad that I came, for one, and it just makes me just want to do more.”

“It makes me proud to be a nurse,” Witt added.

To be sure, the boost is sorely needed by those on the battlefield against COVID-19.

“It’s hit or miss,” Clark said. “We have some highs. We have some lows.”

“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Witt added. “The way the patients present, to what we’ve been taught in nursing school, just take it day by day. Partner with each other. Make sure that we’re safe. That we’re gowned properly. And being positive.”

The need for hotel rooms and other temporary housing is likely to increase as New Jersey ramps up its complement of hospital beds to accommodate an expected surge in COVID-19 patients. Three field hospitals sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — one already operating in Secaucus and two others in Edison and Atlantic City — will play a key role in that effort, and are expected to be staffed in large measure by volunteers, some from out of state.

In addition, officials are reopening medical facilities that had been closed in recent years, and they too are likely to rely heavily on volunteers to provide care in those facilities too.