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Sacrificing to Save Lives: Why Some Health Care Workers Won't Go Home and How You Can Help

Posted April 10, 2020 by UVM Medical Center


Kathleen Keenan holds back her tears as she describes what it’s been like to live away from her kids. 

Keenan, a nurse in the Emergency Department of the University of Vermont Medical Center who is caring for COVID-19 patients, moved out weeks ago to protect them.

"I’m high-risk, I love my family... it just felt like the right thing to do,” she said.

Keenan is not alone. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact health care providers around the country, more and more are moving out of their homes to protect their families from possible exposure. The University of Vermont Medical Center recently announced plans to provide temporary housing for front-line health care workers to help protect their families and loved ones. 

And they have a message for all us: Stay home. Slow the spread and flatten the curve so that they can saves lives, and get back home.

"This is the time when doctors and nurses and others are putting their lives on the line. The better we can do as citizens to stay apart, to slow the virus, the more lives they will save." Tim Lahey, MD, UVM Medical Center infectious disease expert

As Vermont and Northern New York approach a critical time in the fight against COVID-19 -- a surge in number of people who get sick and require medical attention, a hospital bed, oxygen or even a respirator -- everything we can do to minimize the spread of the virus will save lives. 

“This is not the time to relax,” said Tim Lahey, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Vermont Medical Center, during a video-conference interview.

Kathleen Keenan, RN 

Kathleen Keenan, RN starts a shift in Emergency Room at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington.

Lahey acknowledges that, after weeks of social distancing and isolation, people are tired. They just want all of this to end, for things to get back to normal, to see their friends, their loved ones’ face to face, to hug them.

“This is the time when doctors and nurses and others are putting their lives on the line,” he said. “And the better we can do as citizens to stay apart, to slow the virus, the more lives they will save.”

It’s that simple.

Keenan knows all too well what the consequences of not staying home might look like. She’s already seen up close just how devastating COVID-19 can be. Although a majority of people are ok – about 80 percent of those infected experience mild or moderate symptoms that can be treated at home – Keenan has witnessed others fighting for each and every breathe in an Intensive Care Unit where she works.

For her and her fellow health care providers, the stay home message is personal. 

"I love my family... it just felt like the right thing to do." Kathleen Keenan, RN, a UVM Medical Center Emergency Room nurse

“This is probably the most critical time to stay away from each other,” she said over a video interview. “It will take longer to get through this if people don’t do the right thing.” 

When Keenan talks about work, her demeanor is professional, the tone of her voice clinical, steady as she talks about patients that she and others at the hospital are helping to keep alive. 

But when asked about what it’s like to be away from her family, Keenan’s eyes swell with tears.

“I want to go home,” she said. “I want to be with my family... I think that everyone does.” 

Female nurse with goggles and mask covering her face 

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