Respiratory therapist comes out of retirement to help during pandemic

Posted at 6:50 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 19:57:08-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Across the nation, hospitals are dealing with staffing concerns due to the pandemic. Workforce's are getting sick, or the staff is overwhelmed with the number of patients.

That concern has brought medical workers out of retirement to help in places like New York and California, and even Nebraska Medicine.

“I wasn’t doing much of anything, I was just being retired and bored,” said Jenifer Portillo, a respiratory therapist at Nebraska Med.

After more than 20 years in that job, Portillo retired a year and a half ago.

“I didn’t like retirement, so I picked up a part-time job at a grocery store.” Portillo got a job at Hy-Vee working in the deli, but like most of us, saw the news about COVID-19.

“The situation was really dire, so I figured I have the skills, so I might as well use them,” said Portillo.

When Nebraska Med was getting more and more cases, that’s when Portillo’s old boss gave her a call. That’s when Portillo un-retired.

“Otherwise, I’d feel badly that I didn’t do anything with this virus that’s going around, so it was kind of like a civic duty,” said Portillo.

She is once again working as a respiratory therapist, which has freed up other medical staff to help COVID-19 patients.

“I feel kind of feel proud to be a respiratory therapist now, I was before, but now I realize how valuable we are to the team, and with this disease, it seems like it’s a lung problem, so we’re really needed,” said Portillo.

She helps manage ventilators and works with patients who have cystic fibrosis and COPD. She says the adjustment was a little tough at the beginning but is getting more comfortable.

She now laughs about the thought of retiring again.

“I’m glad to be back. I was kind of wondering am I going to have another retirement party, but it’s nice to be back.”

Portillo has been back on the job for two weeks now and says she will work at Nebraska Med as long as they need the extra help.