FIU alumna joins NYC Rapid Responders in fight against COVID-19

When Taylor Barger ’14 visited New York City in late 2019, she was met with electric billboards, bright lights and thousands of people. She learned beeps and honks were normal – the city that never sleeps led up to its namesake.

Come mid-April, NYC was unrecognizable.

“There were no sounds of the typical hustle and bustle that NYC is known for. The one consistent sound throughout my time there was sirens,” Barger said.

She’s always had a knack for medicine — her favorite gift she received as a child was a plastic stethoscope. As she grew older, she realized helping others at some capacity was her calling.

As an emergency medicine physician assistant at a community hospital in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Barger began treating and admitting positive COVID-19 patients as early as March. That’s when a recruiter messaged her on LinkedIn.

They were looking for acute care/emergency medicine physician assistants interested in traveling to NYC as rapid responders against the COVID-19 fight. Barger weighed her options but, in the end, it was an easy one to make.

“The most influential factor was my want to do more. With our overall emergency department volume decreasing and NYC hospital volumes increasing, I wanted to give my time and efforts where they were needed,” she said.

Her husband, family and friends were incredibly supportive of what they considered a heroic act.

Upon arrival, there was no time to waste. She worked 12-13 hour shifts for 15 days straight.

The shuttle bus would pick her up at 5 a.m. to ensure she was at the pop-up field hospital by 5:30 a.m. Before she knew it, the bus was back to pick her up around 6 p.m. En route ‘home’ she’d order dinner delivery from a local restaurant to be able to eat when she arrived. There wasn’t time for TV. Eat, shower and straight to bed because that alarm rang again at 4:30 a.m. and she’d repeat her steps the following day.

Barger was stationed in Queens, in an area that was receiving an overflow of patients from local emergency room hospitals.

She managed patient care for those recovering from COVID-19, as the main goal was to get the patients home safely and reunite them with family.

On average, the field hospital saw about 25-30 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 or presumed positive.

“It was kind of like a revolving door, one or two patients would be discharged, then a new one would be admitted,” Barger said. “Most patients we received were transferred for continued monitoring and treatment. The most rewarding moment was when I was able to discharge a 96-year-old female who successfully recovered.”

Her team came from all over the U.S. — the day shift consisted of 40 advance practice providers and 10 doctors. Only Barger and two others had a Hispanic background, so among her many other roles, she was an interpreter most days.

Once the field hospital’s volume decreased, her stint in NYC came to an end. After some time off, she has returned to her home hospital providing care to a range of patients in the Emergency Room.

The opportunity to serve others in what was once considered the epicenter of the pandemic allowed the FIU biology alumna to as she says, grow, learn and appreciate. She thinks this will further encourage her to step out of her comfort zone in the future.

Barger will take this experience with her for the rest of her life. It has re-emphasized her why. Even in such a troubling time, she notes it’s comforting to know we can all still come together. 

She’d even go back to New York, in a heartbeat.

“Having the opportunity to meet other healthcare providers and come together for the greater good of our patients was empowering. I’m humbled by the fact that God chose me to be a rapid responder in New York City.”

Video by Taylor Barger. Music: I’ll Wait by DJ Kygo and Sasha Sloan