Voices From the Front Lines: Hoonani (Nani) Cuadrado, PA-C, Street Medicine Program
BY TED WILLIAMS
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, none more so than those working on the front lines of this crisis – our health care heroes. Voices From the Front Lines is a series of interviews with Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) health care providers who are working to care for patients who are ill with COVID-19, as well as those who are dedicated to helping prevent the spread of this virus.
An interest in medicine has been a family tradition for Hoonani (Nani) Cuadrado, PA-C. Her father, Michael Sinclair, MD, was a cardiothoracic and trauma surgeon at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for 30 years before joining Doctors Without Borders. As a child, Cuadrado remembers following her hero (her dad) around the world helping people within countries in crisis. She ended up getting her physician assistant degree at DeSales University, then joining LVHN herself. She’s practiced medicine at the network for 18 years [most recently with Valley Health Partners (VHP)] and now helps people in crisis as program director for VHP Street Medicine. This program is dedicated to bringing primary and urgent health care directly to homeless individuals wherever they are, from shelters to tent encampments.
What is every day like during the COVID-19 crisis?
The lifting of the moratorium (to “green phase” in Pennsylvania) has meant more homelessness. We’ve been working in the field all along, and now we’ve started to see patients in our offices again as well. Our goal has been to keep folks as healthy and positive as possible during the pandemic.
How has this experience changed you, professionally or personally?
It’s made me more appreciative of our interactions prior to COVID-19 and just how resilient people are. A number of those served by VHP Street Medicine live in tent encampments across our community. That population, I’m happy to say, has remained remarkably healthy – not one has tested positive for the virus. Back in March as COVID-19 hit our area, we were heartbroken when homeless people had to be released from shelters. But it may have actually saved lives because the virus appears to be less transmissible outdoors.
One difficult thing is we now show up at tent encampments in masks and gloves, and we can’t risk the hugs we used to share with them. I know our patients miss that personal touch.
What’s inspired you? What is a defining moment during this?
The positivity of the homeless individuals we care for, their willingness to stay self-quarantined, has been wonderful to see. This is such a life-changing experience for many people, those who struggle over wearing masks in a store for instance. Our patients don’t have to deal with anything like that. They tell us, “Hey, come hang out with us. We’re safe here.”
What have you learned about yourself or your team?
We have four providers, an administrator, a community health provider and two per diem nurses who dedicate about eight hours a week to this community. They’re the most resilient people I know. From the very beginning we’ve been doing what we love. It’s not really a job for us. We’re in this for the long haul. We’ve managed to stay as healthy and as positive as the people we treat.
What are your rituals to keep you and your family safe?
We’re like everyone else – trying not to bring anything home that could cause a problem. Our boots stay outside, and our clothes go right into the washer. We wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer often. It’s especially important at my house because my mom has been cancer-free for about a month now. We take no risks with her at home.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for health care employees or the community?
The COVID-19 pandemic will bring out the best and the worst in people, but I believe people are inherently good, and we often don’t get to see how a crisis can bring people together. We’ve seen such great community support at LVHN, how loving everyone has been and how much of a blessing their support is to us.
For more Voices From the Front Lines, please visit LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG.