Updated: Aug 26, 2020
By Michelle Jung, Communications Editor
Michelle Jung: You may introduce yourself.
Anna Meister: My name is Anna Meister, and I am a dietitian. I'm a Wellesley College graduate from the class of 2002, and I've been working at an outpatient dialysis center, DaVita, which is in New York City in the Bronx.
MJ: What is the situation like for COVID-19 in your area?
AM: New York City has been significantly affected by coronavirus, including where I live in Manhattan and go to work in the Bronx.
MJ: How has your life changed personally and professionally?
AM: My life has changed a lot since then both work and personally. With my son not going to daycare and being at home and my husband working at home and myself — I was taking a leave of absence from March to April when my son's daycare closed because I didn't have anyone to take care of him. Then, I returned to work at the end of April and was not given the choice to work from home remotely. So, I returned to the clinics where I work. We have lost a lot of patients to coronavirus and had hospitalized patients and patients who had to be isolated and treated in a separate facility, which is just for positive patients. And then I had several patients who were still in the hospital. There were also patients who were being tested all the time and it’s just now starting to get back to normal. But it certainly has affected the way we work. We use more protective equipment and I change to working in scrubs, wearing a mask everywhere, sanitizing and washing my hands all the time.
MJ: How much change in workload and demand for your service has there been?
AM: My personal workload hasn't really changed much in terms of patient care. But I did have to help with the screening process of patients and visitors. So, as they enter our clinic, we have to screen them for possible symptoms and check their temperatures and give them masks. I have been participating in that, which has increased my work, plus the added responsibility of helping to disinfect the waiting areas and the common areas. But the patients that I see and follow up on or are about the same.
MJ: How has the pandemic affected the patients you are serving?
AM: Yes, there are patients that, you know, unfortunately did get sick and hospitalized and did not recover. Obviously, those were very affected. And then the patients who did get hospitalized and then recovered slowly were also affected that way. Overall, my patients are more low income, so a lot of them had to rely on the New York City food programs to help get food delivered to their homes. With limited income and not being able to go out to the grocery store as much, if they didn't have a family member who could go for them, it definitely affected them in terms of food access and sometimes their own health due to a lot of co-morbidities and diabetes and things like that.
MJ: So, you said that most of your patients are low income.
AM: Yeah, most of them are, yes, in the Bronx.
MJ: Would you say that they had a tougher time because of the pandemic? How would you say it affected their lives?
AM: I'm not across the board, but some of them had a lot of family support or other support from spouses or partners. A lot of the patients who had limited family support to begin with had a very difficult time because they weren't going out to even get their medications or basic food supplies, and they didn't have the resources as much as other people.
MJ: When the pandemic started to rise within the United States or within New York, what was your biggest concern and what were your patients’ biggest concerns?
AM: One of my biggest concerns was the lack of childcare for my son, since that affected my ability to go back to work and my schedule at work because it made it difficult for me to work a full day. And I had my own anxiety and fears about going back to work as I travel on the subway to work and taking public transportation was an issue (but did end up doing it after spending a few weeks taking Ubers and Lyfts). And then my patients were definitely feeling more isolated. For some of them, and as you said with the issues with food and also their medications, they were used to going to pick up their prescriptions at the pharmacy, and they weren't doing that. And they were just coming to the clinic for their dialysis and going home. It was a definite change of their lifestyle.
MJ: I guess another concern for you would be when you're taking transportation and contacting patients who were infected, and then coming back home and having it affect your family. That must have been tough as you still had to go back to work.
AM: Right, yeah, that was. Yeah, yeah. I first was very hesitant to go back to work, because I feared getting infected myself or affecting my family. Even though I was separating myself from friends and people outside of my home, it was still a difficult decision.
MJ: Has there been any way the pandemic has set back some of your personal or work goals?
AM: I mean I definitely have been looking for a job. And I feel like, yeah, that has definitely been slower and less successful because maybe places aren't hiring right now and some things are still remote. My job search has slowed down, and it's turned my thoughts more to remote work or to private practice because I feel like if things don't change and jobs that are remote are available, then I might switch to that.
MJ: What do you think like a main struggle would be for you as you shift work to remote?
AM: Because a lot of my job is counseling directly with patients and seeing them day to day, I feel like I can be most effective that way, even with wearing face masks. Up until last month, I was wearing a face shield and talking through all that, I still feel like that's effective in person to counsel them rather than remote. But, since I've never really worked remotely, I don't really know. But I feel like telemedicine and Telehealth is a big growing area anyway. So, this just made it more relevant, I think.