Antonia Richards-Stewart, a nurse at Kingston Public Hospital (KPH), was honored by Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, for her exemplary work as a frontline worker in the COVID-19 pandemic. A registered general nurse (RN) at KPH, Richards-Stewart was praised by Blinken during the White House Virtual COVID-19 Summit, which was held to call attention to the dedication shown by health care personnel who have worked with COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic.
The summit was also organized to highlight the help that the US has given nations around the world to fight the coronavirus. According to Blinken, Richards-Stewart was a beneficiary of the additional training and medical equipment provided to Jamaica by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Blinken noted that Richards-Stewart and her colleagues at KPH used their training to save patients’ lives, saying that a critical element in the fight against COVID-19 is the people who work to “beat back” the virus. He also said that the US plans to continue its provision of training and equipment to health care workers in the Caribbean and around the world and that US President Joe Biden was also planning to donate more vaccines to small nations.
USAID described Richards-Stewart as a Jamaican nurse who made sacrifices to care for patients with COVID-19, adding that she “represents all front line workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty as Jamaica continues in its fight against the pandemic.”
Antonia Richards-Stewart, 33, has two children and in spite of carrying a heavy workload at KPH, also volunteered to work at the newly established COVID-19 ward in 2020. She admitted that as a nurse, she is prepared to address any communicable disease; nurses understand disease spread and are trained to handle it, but COVID-19 shocked the entire staff at the hospital. She saw her fellow nurses fear for their own lives and the health of their families and acknowledged it was difficult to find staff to work in the hospital’s isolation ward. She was not deterred, however, recognizing that someone must remain to care for patients regardless of the dangers, and at the height of the pandemic worked 16-hour shifts.
Richards-Stewart watched patients die and was often the last human face they saw as COVID-19 restrictions did not allow families to be with their dying relatives. She said it was not easy, but she viewed it as part of her duty as a nurse. She said she care for three very sick COVID patients who told her they were determined to stay alive and that together they fought for survival. They all walked out of the hospital alive and that gave her “great joy,” she said. Later, these patients returned to the hospital ward and gave back by making donations of medical supplies.
Richards-Stewart said she learned a lot from the pandemic in terms of patient care but realized that the major factor necessary for winning the battle against COVID-19 is the people, who need to “rise up, wise up, and see the situation for what it is,” she said, appealing for people to work hard to maintain their own health and the health of others.