West Seneca RN currently working with COVID-19 patients in New York City
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
While it’s human nature to flee from danger, West Seneca resident Ron Oakes, a registered nurse, volunteered for the frontlines of the fray against COVID-19 by taking a temporary job as a bedside nurse at New York University Langone.
He works for Aya Healthcare, a Joint Commission-approved nurse staffing company based in San Diego.
Oakes’ willingness to work in America’s COVID-19 epicenter represents his dedication to nursing, which was inspired by watching his cousin, Wendy Eygnor become a licensed practical nurse in the 1990s. This influence exposed Oakes to the consideration of nursing as a career.
He also felt drawn to nursing because of “the values that I grew up with and I always wanted to help people,” Oakes said.
Eygnor, now an RN, works at Fiddler’s Green Manor in Springville. Oakes followed suit in pursuing a healthcare career. He earned his nursing degree at Erie Community College in 2006, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Daemen College in 2012 and a master’s in nursing leadership from University at Buffalo in 2016. He’s also the current president of the Professional Nurses Association Western New York Chapter.
“When I was doing bedside nursing, I realized I loved critical care,” Oakes said. “I love that the interventions you do as a nurse can have almost immediate impact and influence on patients’ health. I love seeing that immediate response.”
He has also enjoyed leadership roles in nursing that have involved coaching a team of nurses in the emergency room. Though a restructuring at Catholic Health ended his previous employment, it also opened him up to possibilities that can help him protect healthcare workers. He has applied to law school.
“The more that I have been in nursing leadership, the more I see the impact of the legal system on our practice,” he said. “I have had a lot of experience working with risk management attorneys, having to evict a patient who wouldn’t leave and supporting nurses who were assaulted by patients. I have helped them through the waters of pressing charges. I think there is a need for attorneys out there that have the perspective of the bedside nurse who has their interests in mind. It’s a way to better represent the nurses in our community.
“Nurses are punched, thrown against the wall. They’re putting their lives on the line to help people because they’re attacked.”
He hopes to represent nurses and “work toward the betterment of the health of our community, whether involving myself in legislation or representing nurses,” he said.
In the meantime, he continues to nurse through Aya Healthcare and, perhaps once he’s back in Buffalo, as a per diem critical care nurse.
He views the biggest challenge facing nursed today as “the amount of work that needs to be done and being able to provide the care that you yourself want to provide to your patients. Down deep, all of us have real connections to people and patients and we want to connect to them on a personal level and sometimes it’s not possible.”
He tries to meet that challenge by developing an “intentional presence when I’m with patients and family, making direct eye contact and trying to connect as much as I can.”
Oakes enjoys the human aspects of nursing the most.
“The gratitude that you hear from patients and families, or sometimes, you just see it in their eyes, is one of the most rewarding things,” Oakes said. “Being that person who has helped them through a difficult recovery or eased suffering during end-of-life is profound. I enjoy being that person who can provide that comfort and care.”
He views nursing as a career with many opportunities for people who have “a deep desire to care for people and the compassion to set aside the distractions and make your patient your priority.”
In his free time, he works with the Professional Nurses Association. Oakes is also a foster parent and takes care of rescue dogs.