NEW YORK — It is not a job they signed up for, and and yet, collecting the possessions left behind by patients who lost their lives to COVID-19 became a part of Demetrius Long and James Andino’s daily tasks at Saint Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.
“This was something we had never experienced, just like the entire world, but to see the influx of patients coming in and see so many patients expire and leave so many belongings was devastating at first,” recalled Long.
Long is the director of security at Saint Barnabas and added to his title during the pandemic, also becoming the fatality management coordinator. He and his team secured a room next to the hospital’s morgue to store hundreds of items left behind.
At times, hospital staff were unable to contact a next of kin, but in most cases they said family members were just too fearful to come to the hospital as the coronavirus ravaged the city.
Saint Barnabas Hospital sadly saw hundreds of deaths during the pandemic. Those hundreds left behind clothing, phones and chargers, but also items of more sentimental value like jewelry. Every item signified a loss, but meant something to someone.
The growing collection of patient possessions is one mirrored at nearly every New York City hospital, and the responsibility to care for each item was one hospitals staffers PIX11 spoke with took and continue to take very seriously.
Desiree Conway, MPH, is the patient representative at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“In our eyes, patient relations is the heart of the hospital," she said. "During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team worked around the clock to ensure that our patients and families remained connected, both to each other via Zoom 'Virtual Visits' and to their belongings. We listened to the fears of families, cried with them, and supported them while our fearless clinicians fought every day to save lives.”
For James Andino, who is the associate director of security and morgue manager at Saint Barnabas, it is an experience he said will stay with him forever, especially after losing his own father last October.
“It showed me that every once in awhile everyone should give a call to their family members to make sure you keep in contact because you may not be able to say hello or goodbye today,” said Andino.
A large number of possessions remain in storage at our local hospitals and families can still claim the items. You simply need to reach out.