Retired nurses, health care providers volunteer to support front-line workers in NH, Vt.

  • Kim White, of Barnard, middle, paused while taking care of her chickens and sheep with her children Corinne, 12, left, and Broder, 9, Thursday, March 27, 2020. White is a former registered nurse and is married to Josh White, medical director at Gifford Medical Center. She has offered her assistance if the hospital experiences a need for workers in the event of a COVID-19 surge. “I’m sure I could be quite helpful,” she said. “If they wanted me to, I would mop floors. I could do that.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photographs — James M. Patterson (top)and jennifer hauck (right)

  • Kim White gathers eggs as her daughter Corinne, 12, cuddles with a hen at their Barnard, Vt., home Thursday, March 26, 2020. White is a former RN and is co-owner of Movement Evolved, a gym in Randolph that has had to close down during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Paul Foster, of Norwich, Vt at his home on Friday, March 27, 2020. Foster a semi-retired licensed independent social worker and is offering free counseling by phone to workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • Judith Joy, of Newport, is a licensed registered nurse who taught in the nursing and public health programs at Colby Sawyer College and has also worked in hospice care. She has retired, but has signed up to volunteer with the COVID-19 crisis through the New Hampshire Nurses’ Association. “I’d be willing to sit with people who are dying. I can do that,” she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2020 9:53:18 PM
Modified: 3/28/2020 9:53:16 PM

CHARLESTOWN — Retired registered nurse Katie Lajoie was one of hundreds of nurses across New Hampshire to answer a survey the New Hampshire Nurses Association sent out last weekend asking for volunteers to respond to COVID-19.

Lajoie, a 70-year-old Charlestown resident, isn’t prepared to care for patients at their bedsides, but by phone or internet she would like to help public health officials monitor patients who have been exposed to the virus.

“I’m here to help in whatever way I can,” Lajoie said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I realize these are extremely trying times and that the health care professionals are really working hard to get New Hampshire through this outbreak. I wanted to contribute whatever I could.”

Lajoie and other former health care workers are offering up their time and skills to expand the workforce as more hands are needed to respond to COVID-19, the respiratory disease first identified in Wuhan, China, late last year.

The call last weekend from the Nurses Association sought support for the state’s public health system in following up with confirmed cases and identifying close contacts, checking on those on home monitoring, and helping to triage calls to the public health call center.

The survey was aimed at medical professionals, ranging from nurse practitioners to licensed nursing assistants, and also looped in retired nurses, those with expired licenses and school nurses.

Within 24 hours, 300 people had responded.

“We were blown away,” said the association’s executive director, Joan Widmer.

She said she would sort the list of responses by county and share it with the state’s acute care facilities.

Among those on that list is retired Newport nurse Judith Joy. During her career, Joy served as a medical/surgical nurse in the Army, worked in information systems at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and taught nursing at Colby-Sawyer College in New London. Until recently, when D-H stopped inviting in volunteers, Joy had been a volunteer in palliative care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Joy, who still has an active nursing license, said not only had she signed up to help through the Nurses Association, but she is a member of the medical reserve corps and she answered the Army’s recent call for medical volunteers.

“I think there is a role for people who care (and for) people who understand how to be with someone who is very, very ill,” she said.

As hospitals brace for a surge of COVID-19 patients, the Twin States both issued calls last week for volunteers with and without medical backgrounds to help with the response effort. While some volunteer medical professionals under the age of 60 may help out on the front lines, others may fill in for medical staff who are responding to the surge, provide routine health care services or conduct telehealth visits.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for our state,” said New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette in a news conference last Tuesday. “We need your help.”

Shibinette asked health care workers with a variety of skills — including nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, interpreters, administrators, transportation specialists and information technologists — to volunteer.

In Vermont, volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps have so far helped assist with COVID-19 response by answering questions that come in to the state’s 211 line and with packing up materials to be shipped from the state’s stockpile of medical supplies, said Heather Rigney, who co-coordinates the Upper Valley Medical Reserve Corps.

The Upper Valley group, which has 46 active members, has been deployed during public health crises in the past, Rigney said. During the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, volunteers helped with testing, screening and vaccines. More recently, volunteers helped draw blood from Bennington County residents affected by PFOA contamination in drinking water.

While it remains to be seen exactly what missions volunteers will be called to for COVID-19, Rigney said, “It’s very much all hands on deck. If you have a skill, we’re going to find a niche for you.”

Some in the Upper Valley are finding less formal ways to offer their services during this crisis.

Barnard resident and former nurse Kim White co-owns Movement Evolved, a Randolph gym that was forced to close last week due to the state’s social distancing requirements.

Though White is now home with her two children, ages 12 and 9, she has told her husband, Dr. Joshua White, chief medical officer at Randolph’s Gifford Medical Center, that she would be happy to assist should the need arise.

Her license has lapsed, but White said she ought to be able to help in a crunch, assuming she could find someone to watch the kids.

“If I could help, then I will,” she said.

In Norwich, semi-retired licensed independent social worker Paul Foster, 67, is offering free counseling by telephone or teleconferencing via Zoom to people feeling a high level of stress due to COVID-19.

As of Thursday, no one had yet taken him up on the offer he posted to the Listserv on March 19, but he said it still stands.

“I think people are generally feeling sometimes a little overwhelmed with this pandemic,” he said.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said in his Listserv post. “Stay safe.”

In some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for retired medical providers to do their volunteer work. Good Neighbor Health Clinic and Red Logan Dental Clinic in White River Junction have closed their doors to patients for the time being, due to concerns about transmitting the virus.

Staff are doing what they can for their uninsured patients by phone, such as ordering refills of medication. But they are no longer seeing patients in person, which means that those with acute needs are being sent to emergency rooms, said the free clinic’s volunteer medical director, Dr. Paul Manganiello.

“We’re in a real bind,” Manganiello said.

Though he and other retired medical providers have maintained their licenses so they can volunteer at the clinic under normal circumstances, he said they are aware that as older adults they are at an increased risk of developing serious symptoms from the disease.

Even without that risk, Manganiello, who is 72 and a member of the Upper Valley Medical Reserve Corps, said he is not ready to treat acutely ill patients at DHMC.

“I’ve been out now for seven years,” said Manganiello, who was an OB/GYN with D-H before he retired. “There’s no way in the world I’m going to go back to a medical center. You don’t want me to practice on you.”

Some health care providers, retired and not, are supporting the COVID-19 response through municipal governments.

Pomfret Health Officer Dr. Hugh Hermann, 90, is one such volunteer. He is coordinating with the town’s Selectboard to keep tabs on seniors and others who live alone. They are directing resources, such as Meals on Wheels, to those who need extra help.

“A lot of small-town doctors wear many hats,” he said.

Hermann’s volunteerism hasn’t kept him from his day job. He continues to operate his Woodstock clinic, where he was during a phone interview last week.

He is doing more visits by telephone, but he continues to see patients in person in the office and through home visits when necessary. His clinic averages about four patients a day, he said. He uses protective gear when necessary and meet patients with respiratory complaints in the parking lot.

“Hopefully that curve will flatten in the next few weeks,” he said.

Volunteers in New Hampshire can sign up to help at and Vermonters can sign up at

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

Valley News

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