Heroes don’t all wear capes or even uniforms.
Dory Smith may have retired from her job as a nurse six years ago, but she never lost her desire to care for people. She joined the Burlington County Health Department’s Medical Reserve Corps in January to assist with efforts to get people the COVID-19 vaccine and its potentially life-saving protection.
Little did she know that she would more directly come to the aid of a local resident in distress.
The life-saving rescue happened Tuesday, March 30 when Smith and Virtua Health nurse Janet Bader were on assignment for the Health Department administering COVID-19 vaccine to homebound residents unable to travel to the Burlington County Vaccine Mega-Site in Moorestown or other area vaccination sites and clinics.
The two were on a homebound vaccination visit when they discovered an elderly resident alone and on the floor inside her house.
The 78-year-old woman had apparently fallen overnight and had been alone on the floor for about 12 hours. She was conscious but disoriented.
“Janet was getting stuff out of the car when I went to the house and knocked on the door. I didn’t get a response, but when I knocked again, I thought I heard something,” Smith recalled. “The door was open and I went inside and saw a woman on the floor with blood coming from her head. She had been there all night and most of the day.”
Bader called 911 and then the woman’s family while Smith tried to assess and comfort the woman.
“Dory was exceptional. She stayed at her side to comfort her,” Bader said. “We did assess her. She had pain but was moving her limbs … We just talked to her and tried to reassure her and let her know the EMTs were coming. I think she was just relieved someone had showed up.”
Emergency Medical Services and the New Jersey State Police responded and took the woman to an area hospital for evaluation. Meanwhile, the two nurses located and secured the woman’s cat and made sure it had ample food and water available.
“It was fate. We were meant to be there,” said Bader, who has worked as a Virtua Health nurse assigned to the Health Department for the past 11 years.
Smith said the experience of volunteering with the Burlington County Medical Reserve Corps has been incredibly rewarding. Her background in oncology and homecare at Virtua has been a tremendous help with the County’s homebound vaccinations.
“For me, it’s like going home again,” Smith said. “You just want to help. It’s in our DNA. We’re nurses forever.”
More than 800 health care professionals and other volunteers have signed up for the Burlington County Medical Reserve Corps since its inception. The group trains with the Burlington County Health Department and Office of Emergency Management to respond and assist with health care emergencies, and County officials have described them as an integral part of the County’s COVID-19 response.
BCMRC members have performed more than 10,750 hours of volunteer service since the pandemic started.
“Since the start of the pandemic, our Burlington County Medical Reserve Corps have been on the front lines of our COVID-19 response with our Health department, hospital employees and first responders,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell. “We owe all these health care heroes a tremendous debt of gratitude for all their service.”
The Burlington County Health Department launched a mobile vaccination program in early March and has spent the last month focused on vaccinating homebound and other vulnerable populations with limited supplies of vaccine.
Homebound residents were identified from the County’s Meals on Wheels program and other service providers, and the mobile program has also vaccinated residents located in domestic violence shelters and residents without homes, along with social workers who have assisted them.
“Public health work is amazing,” Bader said. “People forget, but us nurses are in the trenches. For some of these (homebound) individuals, we’re among the only people they’ve seen during the pandemic. They’re grateful and excited for the vaccine, but also for the kindness and companionship.”
Burlington County Medical Reserve Corps nurse Dory Smith and Virtua Health nurse Janet Bader were on a homebound vaccination visit when they assisted an elderly woman who had apparently fallen overnight and unable to call for assistance.