By Gary Miller

Two school nurses from Linden Public Schools are volunteering their time to help meet the need for extra help as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

Elizabeth Radil of School No. 6 and Colleen Goeller of the Central Registration Office were given permission by Interim Superintendent Denise Cleary to assist in New Jersey’s fight against the coronavirus epidemic in addition to their regular school duties.

Radil has been working at the COVID-19 testing center at Kean University, gathering samples of those being tested for the disease. Goeller has been working at the Union County Office of Health Management connecting residents in need with the proper services. Both are volunteering through the Union County Medical Reserve Corps.

“I am so proud of what they are doing and wish them well as they work on the front lines providing assistance to those in need,” Cleary said.

Elizabeth Radil, far left with fellow volunteers at the COVID-19 testing site at Kean University, and at right outside School No. 6 earlier this school year.

Radil has been a nurse since 1985, joining Linden Public Schools 15 years ago. She worked for 13 years at McManus Middle School, before joining School No. 6 two years ago.

When schools transitioned to home learning on March 16, Radil kept busy with her duties from home, reaching out to families via phone and email, focusing on students with chronic health conditions, and providing information and support.

“Still, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” she said. “I wanted to do more to help in this health crisis. I thought of the nurses, including many of my friends, working on the front lines in unimaginable circumstances. I felt useless.”

She initially tried to volunteer with the Union County Medical Reserve Corp for case management, but they had enough volunteers. Instead they asked if Radil would be interested in volunteering at the Kean testing center.

“I said yes and started the next day,” she said.

She said her husband was concerned for her safety at the testing center, but she assured him she would be protected with the proper medical gear. She said the drive-through test site is well organized and designed to minimize exposure to workers, so she is not afraid of being exposed to the virus.

The hard part, she said, is seeing the worry on the faces of those coming in for testing.

“Sometimes my eyes tear up at the sight of elderly folks being driven by their children, whole families being tested, or by the grateful reactions many people express behind the window,” she said. “I enjoy volunteering at the test center.

“I have met inspiring people, some who are still working their regular jobs and volunteer on their days off. County staff are dedicated, knowledgeable, appreciative, kind, and always smiling despite many working six days per week. It feels good to be part of this group that is providing a vital service to those affected by this dreaded virus.

“I feel useful now and that feels good.”

nurse on phone at desk

Colleen Goeler working on case management with the Union County Office of Health Management.

Goeller has been a nurse since 1984, and worked at School No. 4 from 2008 to last school year, before joining Central Registration this year. Before schools switched to home learning, Goeller assisted with the collection of health information to be provided on the district website, including a “Paw Patrol” video on hand-washing that was distributed to students.

Since starting her volunteer work, she has been helping with case management for the Union County Office of Health Management, communicating with individuals, physicians and local boards of health regarding COVID-19 test results to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

She says we all have a crucial role to play in fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

“Fighting COVID-19 is the responsibility of every individual,” she said. “If one cannot provide essential services then they are duty-bound to stay home to flatten the curve. Individuals must stay apart so that they can then be together.”

Goeller said she expects to be working in a front-line capacity in the coming weeks.

“The health care sector is currently stretched beyond its capacity,” she said. “Navigating the health care system is poorly understood by those who are not involved in the delivery of care.  Every second counts. Delays in access to testing, test results, and appropriate follow-up care jeopardizes the health and well-being of our community at large. I have the skill set and desire to assist those whom I can.

“Humanity is why I answer the call.”