COVID-19 called 3 Birminghamians to NYC. This is their story

Nurses from Birmingham who went to NYC to work on COVID-19
Megan Drummons and Stephanie Stover working in NYC. Photo via Stephanie Stover

Around the time many of us started #shelteringinplace, some of our Birmingham-area neighbors heard the call to service on the COVID-19 frontlines in New York City. We’ve got one really fun video from a Birmingham-based travel nurse and the personal stories of three others who answered the call. Keep reading for all the details. 

First, a video from Christie, a Hoover-based travel nurse who went to New York Presbyterian

Christie is a Hoover-based nurse who headed to the heart of the action back in the spring. You’ll see her in the video above wearing her Alabama Dirt Shirt and holding an “Alabama Travel Nurse” sign. 

While it looks like they were having a lot of fun, they also lost a friend and colleague to the virus days after her arrival. 

Now, meet Petty Officer James Belcher, RN + Realtor Stephanie Stover and Petty Officer Gregory Garcia

Two sailors from the local Naval Reserves, Petty Officer James Belcher and Petty Officer Gregory Garcia, and an RN + Realtor, Stephanie Stover, were among those from our area who went to NYC to offer their services at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. 

The two U.S. Navy Reserves Petty Officers went to work at the Javits Center (sort of like NYC’s version of The BJCC), which turned into a temporary field hospital. 

Stepanie Stover went to work at Harlem Hospital in NYC.

Here is their story. 

1. Petty Officer James Belcher from Bessemer’s Navy Operations Support Center (NOPS) helped set up the temporary field hospital in the Javits Center

soldiers working on setting up the temporary field hospital at the Javits Center in NYC for COVID-19
New York National Guard,” by The National Guard. CC BY 2.0

Petty Officer James Belcher normally works for Johnson Memorial Funeral Directors on the Bessemer Superhighway. He left Bessemer on April 4 and arrived in New York City on April 6 after a stop at Fort Dix.

First, there was an announcement that the people in New York would need help to put this operation together. When his unit’s chief reached out to ask if he’d like to take part, Petty Officer Belcher’s answer was a resounding yes.

Together with Navy unit EMS Bethesda, which comprised more than 600 people, the other branches of the U.S. Military from all over the country, and the New York National Guard, they transformed the convention center into a fully-functioning medical facility. 

What it was like, turning the Javits Center into a field hospital

“That was very different. I’d never been part of a team that’s done that, and it was a great experience,” Petty Officer Belcher said. 

When I asked him how the experience changed him, he said “It gave me a sense of urgency that when things like this happen, we can be mobilized at any moment, show up, get the job done and make a great impact on the community.”

What he’d like the rest of us to know

“Simply follow the precautions set by the CDC and wear your mask. A lot of people think it’s redundant at this point, but if you wear all the PPE, you’re gonna make it. We were in and out every day with COVID patients. I was tested three times and was negative every time.”

2. RN+Realtor Stephanie Stover donned her nurse’s uniform and went to work at Harlem Hospital

Nurses in NYC working on COVID-19
Nurses in NYC. Photo via Stephanie Stover

Gardendale resident Stephanie Stover has been juggling dual careers in nursing at UAB and real estate with RealtySouth for years. The common denominator: helping people. Making the decision to head from UAB to Harlem Hospital, a similar type of level 1 trauma center and teaching hospital, was a no-brainer. 

During her service period, from April 7 to June 3, Stover’s husband held down the fort at home with their children. 

“My husband is such a great supporter of mine and has definitely been in my corner cheering me on. He has been playing mom and dad, and is doing an incredible job, so much so that the kiddos don’t really seem like they’re missing me too much—which makes this easier because ‘mom guilt’ is real.” 

Stephanie Stover, RN + Realtor

Stover got to share the NYC experience with a UAB colleague

Birmingham nurses in NYC for COVID-19
Nurses Megan Drummons and Stephanie Stover in NYC. Photo via Stephanie Stover

Fortunately for Stover, UAB nursing colleague Megan Drummons also answered the call to serve in New York. Not only were they assigned to the same hotel, but the same work assignment and shifts. Coincidentally, Stover explained: 

“We both lost our parents at young ages and wanted to be a light of hope for our patients in NYC and provide a voice for them.”

Photo from COVID-19 times in NYC
“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” Photo via Stephanie Stover

When her colleagues at RealtySouth asked her what life was like in New York, she recounted:

“New Yorkers are so resilient and tough, and during this time their communities are leaning on one another for help and reassurance that this will all be over soon. They have been so very welcoming, and I cannot tell you how amazing the people have been while I have been here. 

Everywhere you go, someone is telling you how much they appreciate our help, or they offer us food or drinks—it’s definitely something I wasn’t expecting. 

The love is felt throughout the city, and I am very proud to be doing my part in helping NYC to get through this trying time.”

3. Petty Officer Gregory Garcia from Leeds served as Leading Petty Officer in the ICU at the Javits Center

Navy medics working on patients
USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) Performs Surgery” by Navy Medicine. Public Domain Mark 1.0

In his civilian life Petty Officer Garcia is Chief of Operations for a couple of medical facilities that he helps operate in the Birmingham area. The U.S. Navy selected him to go through the Naval Reserves. 

When New York Governor Cuomo opened up the Javits Center as a way to relieve stress from emergency rooms in New York City, they needed people to help treat patients there. 

What it was like working at the Javits Center

“It was different—not like a normal hospital, but more like a field hospital. 

It was a positive experience and good that we were able to help out the communities there. One of the biggest things is that we were able to treat 1000 patients with all services we were able to provide for close to 60 days.”

How being in NYC working with COVID-19 was life-changing

“The biggest thing was that a lot of people get to see the military do humanitarian stuff but not in our country. But they’ve never seen us activated in the U.S. like this, and it was nice to be part of a first-time mission.

I’ve been in the military 18 years, and having the chance to give back to the community and have people see that we do other things felt good. Now whenever they hear about it, they’re like ‘oh man, you did what? You guys treated how many people?’ 

It opens up their eyes and gives them a different appreciation that we’re here not to just to protect but also to serve and help people get better.”

What the rest of us need to know

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As long as you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing, there’s hope. Medicine’s changing. Have hope, have faith—we’re gonna get through this.

The numbers are real. The cases and deaths are real. I’ve seen it first-hand. At the end of the day, it’s nice to see a patient leave because they got better.”

Now tell us, Birmingham, do you know people who served in New York City on the COVID-19 frontlines? Tag us on social @bhamnow and let us know!

Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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