Altoona nurses hold vigil; plead to community “take COVID seriously”

Local News

ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — Registered nurses in Altoona held a vigil on Wednesday night to remember the 43 Blair County Residents who died from COVID-19.

The vigil was across the street from the hospital on Nov. 18 and they called on the hospital to make safety changes.

“The hospital reports to the media that we’re prepared, we’re not overwhelmed, but let me tell you we are overwhelmed, we are not okay,” one nurse, Jaime Balsamo said.

Balsamo is one of about ten nurses who gathered at the vigil. The R.N. says she’s cared daily for patients with COVID-19 since July, an experience she described as being in the belly of the beast.

“My colleagues and I wear PPE for 8 to 12-hour shifts behind a temporary makeshift wall that’s been set up in our department. It’s not a sustainable work environment… we’re frustrated,” she went on to say.

The nurses are calling on UPMC to limit hospital visitors to reduce the spread of COVID in the facility and the community. They’re also asking administrators to give staff more resources to care for patients.

“It’s so hard because they require so much care, we just feel like we need more hands, more volunteers, more of everything.” 

Nurse Balsamo said she and her co-workers often cry during their shifts, both because of their demanding duties and also in sympathy with their patients.

The nurses issued a plea to the community to take COVID-19 seriously, to wear masks, and to follow other safety guidelines.

Meantime, UPMC issued the following statement:

As we continue to provide safe care and services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, our UPMC facilities maintain restricted patient visitation. With consideration of the benefits to our patients, we permit one patient support person inside the facility at a time, during defined hours. Support persons, who are identified by the patient, are an essential part of the care team to help our patients manage and communicate about their care. Patients with support persons have proven to recover faster, have better mental and emotional health, shorter lengths of stay and a better overall experience.

Support persons are always required to comply with UPMC’s universal masking guidelines properly wearing a face mask upon entry and while inside the facility, follow distancing guidelines, pass facility entry screening (including symptoms and potential exposure screening, and temperature measurement at hospitals) and be 18 years of age or older. The safety of our employees, patients and support persons is always our top priority.

Complete details are available at

UPMC has solid preparedness plans in place to manage this increase in cases, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We’ve gone this far, and we’re empowered to weather through the remainder of this pandemic because of our dedicated staff. It’s because of our outstanding teams and medical staff that we’re able to tell our communities that we’re ready, and we’re here for them. Our staff are well trained and highly skilled; our exceptional teams have been phenomenal at providing safe and compassionate care during these challenging times. Because we are part of a 40-hospital academic medical center, UPMC Altoona is working within our system to share resources, manage capacity, and conferring closely with leadership to ensure all needs are met.

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