A Nurse with a Passion for Her ER Patients


By Vanesa Vennard An emergency room might sound like a chaotic place to be, but to Shari Weisburd, RN, it's exactly where she likes to be.

"When you're actually physically in the environment there's a very good flow, everyone knows what they are doing," said Weisburd, assistant nurse manager of the emergency room in Beth Israel. "There's a very good sense of how to care for the patient."

Weisburd has worked in Beth Israel's emergency room for 22 years and is director of their SAFE Program. She received an art degree at SUNY Purchase and originally wanted to pursue photography. However, she fell in love with nursing when she studied at the Beth Israel School of Nursing and did her externship in the emergency room.

Weisburd handles staff scheduling and directs where patients need to go on a regular basis. On average, Weisburd says Beth Israel sees about 320 to 350 patients a day. Yet, the busy emergency room was put to the test during Hurricane Sandy, and so was Weisburd. When the hurricane struck, Weisburd said they were seeing up to 450, sometimes 480 patients on some days.

"We're pretty big, but we're only so big," she said. "With that huge amount of influx of patients we had to decide what areas can be changed and how one area might be used more efficiently."

As soon as homes nearby started to lose power, Weisburd said elderly people who depend on electricity for oxygen and those who depend on dialysis started coming in. There was a makeshift area made for dialysis patients and they made arrangements to work together with a nearby methadone clinic that was open.

"I have to say I was shocked at the influx of patients that occurred pretty much immediately after the lights went out," she said.

Weisburd said she and her staff developed a fast pass urgent care area for patients to be treated and released faster. The auditorium in Beth Israel opened up as a makeshift shelter for people to stay and they were offered food and services.

Weisburd said she and other nurses were working 15-hour shifts and were finding spots in the hospital to sleep in to avoid the commutes home.

"Unfortunately, since the hospital was so full, sleeping arrangements were hard to come by," she said. "We were the only ones open in the area, so you could only imagine, serving the Lower East Side of Manhattan."

Despite the long hours, the emergency room worked efficiently thanks to dependable generators and fast thinking by Weisburd and her staff.

"We were able to operate without jeopardizing anyone's health in the emergency department," she said. "Our patients were safe."

Weisburd also dedicates her time to sexual assault victims with the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Program and has been a sexual assault forensic examiner for about 11 years. She started by assisting the busy nurses who were working with the patients. She saw that the patients weren't getting as much one-on-one time, so when a SAFE Program came to Beth Israel she took a course to be an examiner.

Weisburd has been the SAFE Program director at Beth Israel for four years.

"It is upsetting to hear how often and how much sexual assault goes on," she said. "But the idea that I could solely help a kid on my own and give them my undivided attention for those hours, it just seemed like a kind thing to do and the right treatment for someone who has already been through such a horrible experience."