By Conor McCue

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – In just a few days, a Colorado health care worker will start a new chapter in her career in what’s considered one of the nation’s worst coronavirus hot spots.

Starting Monday, Melissa Schuch will work as a respiratory therapist at an Tséhootsooí Medical Center, an Indian Health Services hospital located in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Over the next 13 weeks, the majority of her patients will be from the Navajo Nation.

Schuch will hit the road first thing Friday morning, temporarily leaving behind her teenage daughter and comfortable life in Castle Rock, for a small trailer in an RV park in Gallup, New Mexico. The rural hospital will also be much different than her most recent workplace with UCHealth in Greeley.

“I left my job with UCHealth so I can go and take this job because I’ll be gone so long,” Schuch said. “I’ll be working on Fort Defiance in Arizona, and I have to stay in New Mexico, just across the border.”

Recently, the Navajo Nation surpassed New York and New Jersey for the highest per-capita infection rate of COVID-19 in the country. Officials have imposed strict lockdowns, but the small, rural hospitals could use all the help they can get.

(credit: CBS)

“I think it’ll be a lot busier there because of the sheer amount of numbers that are coming in,” Schuch said.

For Schuch, who has been a respiratory therapist for more than seven years, the new job will come with a bit of a learning curve. It’ll not only be a smaller facility, but its operating at capacity, and the ventilators, which are a different model than Schuch is used to using, are limited.

(credit: CBS)

“What we’re having to do is stabilize them and ship them out to larger facilities down in Albuquerque and Phoenix,” She said.

No matter the differences, Schuch’s mission will be the same as it’s been her entire career. In her eyes, the risk is not much different than in Colorado either.

“I’m not really worried about catching it myself,” she said. “As long as I have the proper equipment, I’m not worried about that. It’s my job to help other people and try to save lives.”

Schuch is also going the extra mile. This week she posted in neighborhood Facebook groups, soliciting donations of fabric masks. She plans to bring as many as she can collect and donate them to the reservation.

“To my surprise, I had dozens of messages and have been able to secure several hundred masks to bring down there and donate on the reservation, which is just fantastic,” Schuch said.

So far, she’s collected a few hundred masks, but will continue accepting donations until Thursday evening. If you have any masks you’d like to donate, you can message her on Facebook or drop donations off at Mountain Man Nut & Fruit Co in downtown Castle Rock.


Conor McCue


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