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UTC nursing graduate prepares to begin career during surge in COVID-19 pandemic

Gabrielle Helton during nursing school at UTC - image courtesy Gabrielle Helton..png
Gabrielle Helton during nursing school at UTC. (Image courtesy Gabrielle Helton.)

On Wednesday Hamilton County saw a record number hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

The Hamilton County Health Department says 161 people are in our hospitals and 83 of those patients live in Hamilton County.

With those kind of numbers, Mayor Jim Coppinger is asking healthcare workers for help in the hospitals.

Mayor Coppinger is asking for any retired nurses or caregivers to come and help out at hospitals where staff might be stretched thin.

For soon-to-be nurse Gabrielle Helton, she's ready to start her nursing career in the midst of the global pandemic.

She started nursing school back in 2018, when the word COVID-19 did not exist.

“I mean, it's scary to know that you're going into this head on,” said Helton.

Gabrielle Helton will begin her first year as a nurse in January, during a time when officials say the virus could be at an all-time high.

“We call on any person out there that's retired, that's a nurse or any kind of caregiver, that can help out in the hospitals,” said Mayor Jim Coppinger.

On Wednesday, Hamilton County Mayor Coppinger asked anyone with previous experience to help hospitals that might be stretched thin.

“We have bed capacity, but it also takes nurses- this is something we're running short of not just in Hamilton County, but throughout the state, throughout the country, because some of them get sick as well,” said Mayor Coppinger.

Helton says she's heard from friends and fellow nurses about the strain they have been under.

“I just know how exhausting it has been on the nurses and how mental health has been affected and like self-care techniques are being taught,” said Helton.

Helton is not surprised Mayor Coppinger is asking for help. She says the dean of her program at UTC prepared her class to be called to the front lines.

“I think that was shocking for a lot of us just to see that. They are expecting cases to get worse And there is such a nursing shortage that I mean, they even want, you know, brand new grads who don't have training, they need all the help they can get,” said Helton.

Helton says she's ready to use what she's learned in school come January 2021.

"I think this will be like an incredible experience to start working,” said Helton.

Of those hospitalized in Hamilton County, 30 patients are in the ICU.

For retired nurses, medical professionals and caregivers that want to help, health officials say they will be paid for it depending on the hospital and the work.

If you can help: Please call 423-209-5400 to reach out to the Hamilton County EMA Director Chris Adams, who can put volunteers in touch with people in different settings.

Adams asks volunteers to email He says his office will respond with questions, and then pass along the information to medical facilities.