Mother sitting with her two children in front of a computer

Don’t Let Distance Get In The Way of Connecting

You’ve likely heard this before: staying connected is important for our health.  But have you really thought about why and how, especially during this time of physical distancing?

“We are wired for social connection,” said Amy Hernandez Gamboa, BSW, a medical services care management trainer with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our new way of living has tested our ability to go long periods of time without seeing friends, family, being able to hug, or enjoy physical gatherings,” Amy said.

That lack of social connection can have a negative impact on how we feel both physically and mentally. “Right now we are feeling the barriers that are getting in the way of the benefits,” Amy said.

The Benefits of Social Connection

Science backs up the importance of social connection. In fact, social ties might be the single most important predictor of wellbeing.

Some of the positive impacts of social connection on physical health:

  • Strengthens the immune system;
  • Quicker recovery from disease;
  • Increases longevity;
  • Sharper memory;
  • Can help reduce stress and blood pressure when pregnant

There are mental health benefits of social connection as well:

  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression;
  • Higher self-esteem;
  • Greater sense of empathy;
  • Improved mood;
  • Increased trust and cooperation;
  • Increased ability to support others

Quality, Not Quantity

Social connection looks different for everyone, but there are four key elements, according to Amy:

  1. Having meaningful relationships. It’s about quality of relationships, not quantity.
  2. Making regular connections. For some, that may be a daily connection and for others, it is less often.
  3. Feeling a sense of belonging. Have you heard the expression “find your tribe?”
  4. Having shared experiences. Sharing experiences with others can enhance that feeling of connection.

5 Ways to Encourage Connection

“If you’re like me, you may find yourself missing your connections and needing to find creative ways to stay connected,” Amy said. “Social connection can occur without physical connection.”

Amy recommends five themes and thought-provoking questions to consider in order to encourage connection:

  1. Grace – be forgiving of yourself and others. Find time and make it a priority to stay connected. Social connection is going to look different today than in the past. Ask yourself: how can I let go of prior expectations and create space for myself and others to connect today? What are my one to two priorities today?
  2. Technology – it allows us to go places we may not have been able to go before via virtual tours, such as museums and zoos. Use social apps to connect for a virtual book club or virtual walk with a friend. Ask yourself: where do I want to ‘go’ today? When can I set up a video chat with a friend or relative today? Technology helps us break through the barrier of physical distance.
  3. Intention – be intentional in your connections. Who do you want to connect with and how today? Determine how you’re going to spend your time.  This can help address any barriers you may have. Think about a one-word intention that can help you strengthen connections this week, maybe it is “gentle” or “try.”
  4. Creativity – think outside the box. What creative idea can you share with a friend or family member today?  What inspires you today?
  5. Generosity – socially connect by thinking about others. Ask yourself: who might need to hear from me today or how can I support others?

Choose Your Own adventure

Choose to make your social connections an adventure.  This is especially helpful if negative thoughts begin to take up too much thought.  You can:

  • Remember the past. Reminisce on fun, shared experiences with friends or go through mementos.
  • Embrace the present. This allows you to appreciate today. A fun idea shared by Amy is to meet up for ice cream with a friend and enjoy from the safe distance of your cars.
  • Plan for the future. Make a bucket list. Think of all the future holds for you!

What ways have you stayed in touch while staying apart?

Share your tips in the comments section below.



Picture of someone in a hospital bed with medical professionals around them

COVID-19 Crisis Reveals The Importance Of eMOLST

Most people who are near the end of life lack the ability to make their own decisions about the life-sustaining medical treatments they wish to receive or avoid. For patients with advanced illness and frailty, the most important means of ensuring their preferences are honored is to have a properly completed and accurate electronic version of Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (eMOLST) available in their electronic medical records through connections with the New York state eMOLST Registry.

Peace of Mind For Those With Advanced Illness

eMOLST is for patients with serious health conditions who want to receive or avoid any or all life-sustaining treatment, who reside in a long-term care facility or require long-term care services, and/or who might die within the coming year. In New York state, eMOLST, and its predecessor, the hard copy MOLST, are the only authorized ways to legally document both nonhospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and Do Not Intubate (DNI) orders that Emergency Medical Services can follow. eMOLST also documents additional specific medical orders that are recognized and honored in all health care settings, including preferences regarding hospitalization. In hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, and the community, eMOLST is used to issue orders concerning preferences for resuscitation and life-sustaining treatment.

COVID-19’s impact on the frail elderly illustrates the important role eMOLST has in the way preferences for care, recorded as medical orders, are communicated. The importance will be intensified if predictions for a second and third wave of the virus are realized. eMOLST allows frail older adults to write their own final chapter and relieve loved ones of any anxiety that comes with making end-of-life health care decisions on their behalf.

eMOLST is not intended for healthy people, or for people who have a chronic condition or multiple chronic conditions but have a long life expectancy. Those individuals should complete a health care proxy and discuss their wishes for care with family and loved ones.

How to Complete eMOLST

Patients should ask their providers if eMOLST is right for them, and if so, complete the electronic form. If a hard copy MOLST already exists, the COVID-19 crisis would dictate that it be reviewed and updated and converted to eMOLST so that it is in the registry. If a patient lacks the ability to make end-of-life decisions, the health care agent or surrogate should speak with the provider. The tools and features in the eMOLST system ensure that a standardized process is used for conversations, and the completed eMOLST is 100 percent accurate.

Licensed physicians and nurse practitioners have the authority and accountability for accurate completion of MOLST and eMOLST under the Public Health Law. As of June 17, 2020, physician assistants also will have that authority and accountability. Only licensed physicians can complete MOLST and eMOLST orders for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities who lack capacity to make medical decisions and cannot complete a health care proxy.

When an authorized health care practitioner signs the eMOLST, a copy of the medical orders and the discussion automatically become part of the statewide eMOLST Registry that is available as a public health service in all settings, as patients move from one care setting to another across New York. The physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant also will print a copy of the eMOLST on prominent, bright pink paper that will physically travel with the patient.

Additional Resources and Education

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of two free community websites. has information on advance care planning, free downloadable health care proxy forms and instructional videos. has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions, and instructions for obtaining urgent access to eMOLST.

Picture of a variety of fruits and vegetables

Helping Our Community – One Meal At A Time

Food banks across New York state are helping families put healthy meals on the table, obtain personal care items, baby food, diapers and household cleaning supplies, and take-home fresh items like meat, cheese, eggs and produce. Now more than ever, with school closures, job losses, and health risks, millions of people have turned to food banks for much-needed support.

A food bank is a non-profit organization that collects and distributes food to hunger-relief charities like the dozens of food pantries in our communities. Food banks act as food storage and distribution depots for smaller frontline agencies.

“Feeding people facing hunger is about more than simply providing food. It’s about providing wellness, stability, and nourishment,” said Jessica Renner, regional president of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in the Southern Tier.

Partnering for Better Health

Food insecurity is known to impact health status, including putting individuals at greater risk for chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and kidney disease.

Furthermore, studies have shown that individuals struggling with food insecurity experience more difficulties managing their health, leading to more health complications, frequent emergency room visits, and hospital stays.

Now more than ever, food banks are helping to increase access to food and other social needs in our communities.

Rochester: Foodlink

In the Rochester region,  Foodlink serves more than 200,000 people each year across a 10-county service area. Foodlink provides services to a wide network of 190 emergency agencies (pantries, soup kitchens, shelters) and provides food resources to more than 300 area partners. These partners include community centers, clinics and affordable housing developments.

Excellus BCBS is proud to support the following services that Foodlink provides to the community:

  • A mobile food pantry truck that makes emergency food deliveries to undeserved areas in and around Monroe County.
  • Cooking Matters education program that empowers families with skills, knowledge and confidence to make health and affordable meals.
  • A curbside market truck that links low-income areas in the Rochester community with nutritious, fresh, and affordable produce.
  • The Lexington Avenue Community farm, which serves more than 60 local refugee families.
Foodbank mobile food pantry truck

Foodbank mobile food pantry truck

Volunteers are also a necessity at Foodlink. Hundreds of Rochester-based Excellus BCBS employees have consistently volunteered their efforts at the Foodlink’s food distribution center. Volunteers help by packing food products, sorting food items and distributing food to area partner agencies.

To learn more about Foodlink, visit

Southern Tier: Food Bank of the Southern Tier

In the Southern Tier region, the Food Bank of the Southern Tier is increasing access to healthy food and helping to build a strong, healthy, vibrant community. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier serves Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties. The organization is at the forefront of community collaboration around the  social determinants of health, like  food access and transportation.

“There’s really been a movement to focus on the social determinants of health. And, access to healthy food is right there at the top of the list,” said Jessica.

Excellus BCBS is proud to support the following services that Food Bank of the Southern Tier provides to the community:

  • A mobile food truck upgrade
  • A kids’ farmers market
  • The Selfless Elf 5K, currently scheduled to be held in mid-December

In addition, Southern Tier-based Excellus BCBS employees have also helped pack boxes of food or deliver food boxes to remote areas.

To learn more about Food Bank of the Southern Tier, visit:

CNY and Utica: Food Bank of Central New York

In the Central New York region, the Food Bank of Central New York serves as the main food distribution center for the counties of Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, and St. Lawrence. The organization partners with local agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, and emergency shelters that distribute the food to families in need.

Food Bank of Central New York’s Mobile Food Pantry

Food Bank of Central New York’s Mobile Food Pantry

Excellus BCBS is proud to support efforts to nourish the community through Food Bank of Central New York’s Mobile Food Pantry (MFP). MFP is an effort to reach communities and individuals in areas of unmet need. It is a practical distribution method to work around food access obstacles and food deserts. While the MFP program initially only operated in Oneida County, the program has recently expanded into several other areas including Onondaga and Oswego counties.

To learn more about Food Bank of Central New York, visit:

COVID-19 Impacting Food Relief

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 37 million people in the U.S. struggled with hunger, according to Feeding America.

Now, people who have not previously relied on food relief are also struggling and in need. That has caused a strain on food supplies.

Today, some food banks are reporting that they are running low on staples. Therefore, some food banks have had to supplement or ration some of the more popular food items.

Food banks have also had to change their procedures in order to provide food in the age of social distancing. Many food banks and pantries have moved to low-contact, drive-thru food distribution. They’re also now providing food at temporary community “hub” locations, such as schools and community centers, to help reach vulnerable populations.

Food banks don’t just need donations. They also need volunteers to sort and pack food boxes or to help make phone calls for donations. Now during the pandemic, many pantries are holding mobile no-contact distribution, but they still need help setting up the food and raising awareness.

If you are looking for a way to help, check in with your local food bank:

Picture of two adults sitting at a table talking.

Advance care planning is more important than ever

The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding new light on the often-abstract concept of advance care planning. Advance care planning is where individuals document what matters most to them, and then select the right health care agent to make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to speak for themselves. During this pandemic, many people have had the heartbreaking experience of making medical decisions for loved ones who were unable to communicate.

Advance care planning gives patients peace of mind in knowing that health care decisions will be made on their behalf by a person they trust. For the person selected to be someone’s health care agent, advance care planning gives them the confidence to make decisions based on their loved one’s stated values and beliefs.

Advance Care Planning: For all Adults Ages 18 and Older

All adults ages 18 and older should start advance care planning conversations with their health care providers, family members and trusted friends. Then, they should complete a health care proxy to formally name a health care agent.

Completing or updating a health care proxy can be done at an office visit to the individual’s physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. The practice of social distancing may require this to be done with a telehealth visit via telephone or by using video conferencing technology such as Skype.

The health care proxy form requires two witnesses to the signature. This can be accomplished in person, or by using video conferencing technology. A photo of the signed health care proxy can be mailed to the health care provider or uploaded to the medical practice’s secure patient portal. Individuals also should email a copy to family members.

If video conferencing is unavailable, speak with your health care provider about the process for verbal consent.

Read special considerations on how to complete a health care proxy during the pandemic by visiting

MOLST: For those with an advanced illness

Individuals with an advanced illness or advanced frailty are advised to reach out to their physician or nurse practitioner to discuss the Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST). MOLST reflects a patient’s preferences for treatment, including resuscitation, respiratory support on a ventilator, and hospitalization. It is based on a thoughtful discussion  about the patient’s current health status, prognosis and goals for care.

MOLST is not an advance directive and is not for healthy people. It is a set of medical orders signed by a physician or nurse practitioner that must be followed.

Learn More and Start The Conversation

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of a free community website,, that includes information on advance care planning, free downloadable forms and instructional videos. has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, eMOLST, and how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions.

An educational poster “Who Will Speak For You If You Can’t Make Your Own Health Care Decisions?” is available to download at

Sudden signs of stroke

Recognizing Signs of Stroke Can Speed Treatment and Limit Damage

Only one-third of adults in New York state say they can recognize the signs of a stroke, according to a review of self-reported data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. And that’s bad news since every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Knowing when someone is exhibiting the symptoms of a stroke can lead to quicker treatment and a lower risk of disability or death.

Acting F.A.S.T. If You Suspect a Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked with a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding within or around the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). The brain is deprived of oxygen, and brain cells die within minutes. The body cannot replace damaged brain cells, so the effects of a stroke are often permanent.

“A stroke is a brain attack, and damage can increase with every minute that treatment is delayed,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., C.P.C., Medical Director at Excellus BCBS. “The acronym F-A-S-T is an easy way to remember what to look for and what to do if you suspect someone has had a stroke.”

  • F = Face.  Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A = Arm.  Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm drifting down or appearing weak?
  • S = Speech.  Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or confused?
  • T= Time.  Time lost is brain lost, so call 9-1-1 right away if you detect any signs of stroke.

Know Your Risk

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Six thousand New Yorkers die each year from a stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and obesity. Among adults in upstate New York, more African Americans and Hispanic Americans self-report experiencing a stroke compared with those who self-identify as White.

“Anyone with any of the risk factors for stroke should speak with their doctor about medical interventions or lifestyle changes to reduce their risk,” said Dr. Massa. “And everyone should know the acronym F-A-S-T, so they can recognize when someone is showing signs of a stroke and can summon medical help immediately.”

Excellus BCBS created a free and downloadable educational poster, “The Sudden Signs of Stroke,” available at .

Learn more at

Picture of a woman holding her head in her hands

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone; it does not discriminate

News outlets across the country have reported a rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic –when families are essentially confined to homes, where a victim can’t easily escape an abuser. Abusers have more tactics at their disposal when victims can’t easily get away from home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from a partner in their lifetime — and the risks to victims can be severe.

Seeking Help

Victims of domestic violence face more social isolation in general, even when there isn’t a widespread pandemic.  With the multitude of entities closed to the public, it is important for those in high risk situations to know that courts and many domestic violence organizations, phone hotlines, and shelters are available to help.

Domestic violence organizations are also working to develop new strategies to support victims during the pandemic, such as offering hotline services through online chats or texting, in case victims cannot call with an abuser at home.

Resources Available

Below are links to local organizations that can provide you with information on how to stay safe from domestic abuse or get help if needed:


Crisis Services:

Western NY 211:

Family Justice Center:

Erie County Department of Social Services:


Willow Domestic Violence Center:

YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County:

YWCA Emergency Housing page:

Catholic Family Center:

Sojourner Home:

Domestic Abuse Support Services – 2-1-1 Life Line:

Domestic Shelters search site (by zip code or city):

Southern Tier:

Crime Victims Association Center:

Family Violence Prevention:

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler:


Vera House:

Salvation Army Women’s Shelter:

211 CNY:


Mohawk Valley YWCA:

Help Restore Hope Center:

Opportunities for Otsego:


photo of a woman checking her blood sugar

Taking Charge of Your Diabetes – Now More Important Than Ever

Bob Russell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 25. Today, he is the Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). He’s aware of the importance of managing the risks associated with diabetes.

Pictures of Bob Russell speaking at ADA events

Bob Russell, Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association

“Diabetes can affect anyone at any time,” Russell said. “Being aware, paying attention to your body and taking time to take care of yourself is even more important in our current environment.”

There are an estimated 1.6 million adults in New York living with diabetes, according to the New York State Department of Health. This chronic health condition, where the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin to digest sugar (glucose), can cause serious illness and damage many parts of the body if it’s not managed properly.

People with diabetes can jeopardize their health by failing to take necessary steps to keep their chronic illness in check. Many risk factors for diabetes can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight and diet, staying physically active and avoiding tobacco.

Managing Diabetes is Now More Important Than Ever

As diabetes affects the immune system, diabetics have an increased risk for infections, including respiratory viruses, that includes the family of coronaviruses and COVID-19.

“Managing our diabetes now is critically important,” he said. “This virus poses a challenge to those of us who are living with diabetes.”

Photo of Bob Russell standing at a podium holding a microphone

Bob Russell, Upstate New York Area Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association

Take Time to Take Care of Yourself

While many of us are currently working from home and sheltering in place, our routines have changed. People living with diabetes need to continue to watch what they eat and monitor blood sugar levels.

“We’re home and not as active,“ said Russell. “We need to continue to keep our numbers in check. Making small changes can help you be more in control of what you’re dealing with and can help you in the long run. You don’t have to give up the things you love. You just have to do things differently.”

One of the things Russell is doing differently is substituting a big breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast each morning with a protein shake that has less than 10 grams of carbs. “It’s a nice, simple way to take care of yourself,” he says.

Picture of a man mixing a shake

Bob mixing his daily shake (photo courtesy of Bob Russell)

“And we need to continue to stay active,” he adds. “The outdoors is still open to us, so go outside and take a walk around the block!”

Russell says everyone, and especially those with chronic disease, must be aware of their environment. “Social distancing is crucial. I limit where I put myself. I carry wipes and use hand sanitizer all the time.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends wearing cloth face coverings when going into public settings where social distancing may be difficult to maintain.

A Focus on the Spirit and the Psyche

He also says that social interaction is as important as social distancing, especially for those with a chronic condition. “With what’s going on, it’s easy for us to get stressed or even panicked,” he said. “Turn off the news and connect with friends or loved ones. We have to focus on our spirit and our psyche. It’s good for our mental health.”

He encourages those with diabetes or any chronic condition to reach out to support organizations for help.

“The American Diabetes Association is available anytime to help our community,” Russell says. “We’re in this together.”

Additional resources:

How A Call to the 24/7 Nurse Line May Have Saved a Life

In honor of National Nurses Week, we’re sharing stories that celebrate the compassion, empathy and kindness demonstrated by nurses and other medical professionals throughout our upstate New York communities.

The Call That May Have Saved A Life

When Grace (pseudonym) felt uneasy and scared about her husband’s worsening health condition, she turned to a nurse for guidance.

A registered nurse with the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield 24/7 Nurse Call Line answered the call for help. The nurse provided guidance and support that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis that may have saved his life. What his wife thought was COVID-19 turned out to be a heart attack and pneumonia.

Picture of a woman wearing a headset working at her computer.

Marleen Rein (photo courtesy of Marleen Rein)

“To find out that the chest pain, cough and shortness of breath was due to a myocardial infarction (MI) and pneumonia was shocking to the member. This call may have saved this man’s life,” said Marleen Rein, RN, a care manager with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

Nurses Making a Difference

Knowledge, compassion and ability to listen are qualities that are instinctive for many nurses and other health care professionals. Frontline helpers are making a difference on the health and wellbeing of upstate N.Y. communities.

“The nurses who answer our 24/7 call line don’t often know what happens to these individuals after they call us,” said Michelle Borth, RN, Director of Health Care Improvement with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Hearing these types of stories reinforces the important work that our nurses do and the impact they have on people’s lives.”

The 24/7 Nurse Call Line focuses on the health and well-being of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members, providing support and education through specially trained registered nurses, who offer compassion, empathy, and kindness while ensuring members are directed to the most appropriate care setting.

Access to Medical Advice 24/7

Marleen says care managers, like herself, continue to work with the member after the initial call by following his or her recovery through education to help avoid any reoccurrences, and by bringing in expert advice on questions around medications, diet, and physical activity.

“The ultimate goal is to help the member have a good understanding of their current health conditions and know how to prevent this from happening again,” Marleen said.

The efforts 24/7 nurses make in creating a healthier, more secure community is supported each day through easy access for members to seek advice whenever they need it, day or night.  Thank you to the nurses and other medical professionals who are making a difference in our lives.

The 24/7 Nurse Call Line is a service provided to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield members to support their relationship with their health care providers. The information provided is intended to help educate members, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as sharp pains, fever, loss of bodily function control, vomiting or any other immediate medical concern, dial 9-1-1 or contact a physician directly.

Picture of a person's shoe being tied on a rock.

2020 Plans and Resolutions Thwarted? Now what?

Many of us start the year by setting New Year’s resolutions or making plans for what we want to accomplish over the coming months. Maybe you signed up for your first 5K road race or had just enrolled in a professional development course. Perhaps you were planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation or had resolved to finally pay off debt. If you’re feeling upset about not seeing your plans come together, you’re certainly not alone. During this time, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings so that you can start building toward what to do next.

Remember Your “Why”

Think about why you wanted to accomplish your goals in the first place. Maybe, the bigger goal of running that 5K was to improve your health. Perhaps the ultimate reason behind your vacation was the desire to spend quality time with your family. Start revisiting your goals by remembering why you set them in the first place. Remembering your “why” can help keep you grounded in your motivation for doing things and springboard new ideas for how you can still achieve what you ultimately want, even if it is in a new way.

Shift Your Focus to “How”

Once you’ve reflected on your bigger goals, think about ways you can shift your plan to still get what you want. If your professional development course is off the table, consider books or podcasts on similar topics to help you grow professionally. Enjoy the process of working towards fitness goals by being mindful of how the activity makes you feel. For example, maybe you’ve realized that going for a run gives you more energy throughout the day and lowers your stress. If your goal was a house project or renovation, consider doing a smaller project like organizing drawers, cleaning out the attic or planting flowers.

Recommit Where You Can

If the chaos of these uncertain times has made it hard for you to remain motivated, consider small adjustments you could make to recommit where you can. Perhaps you vowed to avoid screens after dinner but are finding yourself catching up from work in the evenings. Instead, consider taking a real break for lunch to spend time outside, away from the screens. If you struggle with getting consistent exercise without that 5K race, consider picking a date on the calendar to run your own race – you can even enlist family or neighbors to cheer from the sidelines.

Make Short-Term, Realistic Plans For Now

After some reflection, you may find that you would benefit from some new goals altogether. When setting new goals, focus on short-term plans that are within your control. Plan to cook a special meal or get take-out from a favorite restaurant. Enjoy a themed movie night with your significant other (my suggestion, enjoy a double feature I call “Swayze Saturday” and watch both Dirty Dancing and Ghost). Find an obscure holiday to celebrate with your kids. For exercise, take advantage of working from home with a daily lunchtime walk. You’ll likely find many small ways you can set short-term, achievable goals that tie back to your “why.”

How You Want to Feel vs. Things You Want to Do

At the end of the day, remember the bigger picture. Think about how you ultimately want to feel or what impact you want to have on others. You may find that you’re well on your way to achieving your goals after all.

Photo of a nurse tying a face mask around her head.

Kathy Gorall: How Military and Nursing Training is Helping Patients

The same day she received her nursing degree from SUNY Brockport, Kathy Gorall RN, BSN, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force, choosing the Air Force because it allowed her to experience all different areas of hospital nursing care.

Picture of Kathy Gorall. She has brown hair and glasses.

Kathy Gorall (photo courtesy of Kathy Gorall)

After leaving the military, she put her Air Force experience to work in a hospital emergency room and cardiac catherization lab before joining the nursing team at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. Kathy currently works as a medical specialty drug coordinator.

However, there was one Air Force experience she never expected to follow into her civilian career: preparing a mobile hospital.

On the Front Lines

In early March, Monroe County saw its first cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and local hospitals began implementing drive-thru test sites amid the outbreak.

“I work as a per diem nurse at an urgent care center to keep my patient skills sharp,” Kathy said. The urgent care center is located on the grounds of a local hospital, and when the hospital decided to put up test and triage tents outside of the urgent care, she volunteered to help, taking on additional shifts.

“It felt like I was back in the Air Force. They created a mobile hospital in a day. It’s what I would have needed to do in a war situation,” she said. “Training prepares you to be able to quickly assess who needed to be tested and who didn’t.”

She said working in the fast-paced setting, performing exams in a car, in a tent, outfitted in face shields and protective gear, standing all day in the cold, was challenging but worthwhile.  “We’re here to support the community. Patients don’t know what to expect and they need someone to say, ‘It’s ok, you’re going to be ok. Go home and take care.’ They need reassurance.”

Picture of Kathy Gorall wearing protective equipment and gown

Kathy on the front lines (photo courtesy of Kathy Gorall)

Did she have any fears about the risk of working with a contagious disease? “I had a little fear in the beginning, but once I got there, I felt protected. We wear protective gear, we’re cautious, constantly changing gloves, washing our hands. I feel good. It’s the right thing to do to be out there and seeing patients.”

We are All In this Together

Back at her day job with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Kathy supports members and providers from her home office. As a nurse coordinator for the medical specialty drug unit, Kathy works with doctors’ offices on drug reviews for patients with complex diseases. During this unprecedented time, Kathy and her team are working to make the drug review process as flexible and convenient as possible.

“For example,” said Kathy, “during this time of social distancing, our team offers guidance and assistance to providers who have patients who would benefit from receiving their medication infusion at home instead of in their doctors’ offices or hospitals.”

“I’ve also found that offices need to talk about the craziness of life. And, of course, I listen. It’s a scary time for everyone. I just try to be supportive and understand. We are all in this together.”

Service Before Self

Kathy believes her training and experience with the military and as a nurse are benefits during this time. “I am very thankful for that knowledge and mostly that I am able to help out where needed. This is a time where we all need to pull together for our world, and we’re gonna get through this,” she said. “That’s why we’re here, why we do this – to help people. I am proud to be part of that process.”

Kathy’s dedication to others demonstrates her commitment to another of her military experiences: the Air Force core value of “Service before Self.”

How have you or others helped the community as we adjust to our new normal? Share your stories in the comments below.