The NBC 6 Investigators got rare access to South Wing Seven at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the dedicated COVID-19 unit in Downtown Miami.
Full protective suits are required inside, including two layers of face protection: an N-95 mask and a face shield.
Mora Sagrario, 62, was one of the 23 patients in the unit when NBC 6 visited. She told us she had been there for two months.
The NBC 6 Investigators get results
“It’s very difficult,” Sagrario said. “I want to tell my family to be careful, that I love them with all my soul, and I will see them soon in Jesus’ name.”
Monica Cozar was the nurse treating Sagrario.
“It makes you see reality, life, how it is. Black and white,” Cozar said when asked about her experience treating COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Claudia Alvarez told NBC 6 the daily battle inside the unit can wear down medical professionals.
“One of the hardest parts of doing this job is knowing you can do everything you could but you can’t fight against this virus,” Dr. Alvarez said. “You can’t stop something that’s taken over the world.”
She said scrutiny and conspiracy theories outside the hospital make it worse.
“There’s been times when many of us have wanted to quit,” Dr. Alvarez said. “But what keeps us going, and at least me, I know that there is still a need and there are still people out there that will survive because of the care that we provide them.”
When a patient’s organs begin to fail, doctors send them to the Medical Intensive Care Unit, or MICU. Dr. Alvarez said about half of the patients they send to the MICU don’t make it.
“It can affect every single organ of your system and that is something we’ve been learning over the past year,” Dr. Alvarez said.
The day the NBC 6 Investigators went inside, six out of the eight patients in the MICU-B were on ventilators.
“The ICU is the last step. Either you make it or you don’t make it,” Yania Ortega, an ICU nurse, told NBC 6.
Our cameras captured some of the hectic moments frontline workers face there.
At some point, alarms began to go off in the hallway as a patient began to “code.” Nurses rushed to the patient’s room, some asking if he had a pulse. After a few moments, they were able to put the patient in stable condition.
According to the Florida Department of Health, more than 31,000 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
It’s a difficult reality for doctors.
“It still affects us, very much. Every single patient that we have in the ICU, every single patient that we lose, it’s ours. It’s someone that was under our care and it affects us the same,” Dr. Alvarez said. “It’s heartbreaking. That’s the right word.”
One of the toughest times, according to Dr. Alvarez and others we interviewed, was in July 2020 when the number of patients overwhelmed many local hospitals. They say the state brought in outside nurses from other states, which Dr. Alvarez said helped them control the situation.
When NBC 6 was in the COVID unit, health care workers celebrated the successful discharge of two patients. Nurses lined the hallway and clapped as the two patients were being wheeled to another part of the hospital.
They told us seeing patients leave is a sign of hope in a year of loss.