In the last decade of her 48-year nursing career, Becky Montesino-King oversaw pandemic preparedness drills.
She didn’t expect to use that training again after retiring March 1, 2019. But barely a year later, her former employer, Baptist Health South Florida, came asking for her expertise.
“At the time when we really went into a pandemic, I guess they thought about me,” Montesino-King said. “I was honored.”
Working remotely from the Village of Dunedin, she joined a team to figure out what to do with the hospital system’s nurses. Montesino-King had retired as chief nursing officer.
“It quickly became 10 or 12 hours a day with Zoom meetings,” she said. “It was hard work. This wasn’t just talking.”
When outpatient facilities closed, they moved quickly to organize and shift hundreds of nurses to a hospital setting.
Her team had to determine how to handle unanticipated issues that arose.
For instance, if a nurse’s family member tested positive for the coronavirus, the employee had to quarantine. So the hospital would need another nurse to take his or her place for a properly staffed emergency room and intensive care unit.
A highlight of her time back at work was being involved in the launching of a treatment program that transfused plasma with COVID-19 antibodies from recovered patients into critically ill ones. Research suggests this may be an effective therapy.
When Baptist Health felt better equipped to handle the pandemic’s challenges, Montesino-King returned to her retirement, but she said she’d be happy to work again if called upon.
“It was truly a privilege to participate,” she said.
She’s not the only health care worker the pandemic inspired to temporarily leave retirement, with some heading for the front line.
In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order allowing recently retired health care professionals to return to the workforce immediately.
Montesino-King always wanted to be a nurse. As a child, she’d pretend her dolls were sick so she could bring them back to health.
She spent much of her career in nursing leadership roles.
“I didn’t actually pursue them,” Montesino-King said. “Almost always, I was tapped on the shoulder to either apply for a promotional position or to try a new opportunity.”
Though she’d been enjoying retirement, Montesino-King is glad she could jump back in to help.
It’s been hard watching from afar. Miami-Dade has had more cases than any other Florida county.
Montesino-King worries about her family living in the area and her 92-year-old mother, who’s in Lee County.
She knows three people — a doctor, a nurse and a family friend — who died from COVID-19.
Montesino-King said she feels safe in The Villages, where cases have been low.
Seeing people wearing masks offers reassurance, and she encourages residents to continue taking the safety guidelines seriously.
“The increase in cases in Florida is a good warning to a vulnerable population,” Montesino-King said.