Heidi Espinal

Working to improve the health of those in her community, RN Heidi Espinal credits her benefits with helping her protect her own mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not everyone has a chance to help the people in their hometown stay healthy, but that’s what Heidi Espinal does every day when she goes to work as a registered nurse (RN) in the intensive care unit at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. “Growing up, I saw so many sick people in my community have trouble finding good care,” Heidi explained. “I really wanted to be a part of improving that.”

Heidi started her career as a medical assistant with Boriken Neighborhood Health Center, where she first became an 1199SEIU member. She used her training benefits to get tutoring that helped her pass her college entrance exam, which led her to become an RN. Now, at St. Barnabas, Heidi makes sure her patients get the best care they can—which is especially important in the COVID-19 pandemic. And while they had many success stories, Heidi and her team also saw many patients pass away from the disease. “Every time we sat down to lunch, we would cry,” she recalled.

My benefits helped me so much, I don’t know how I would have been able to deal with everything without them.

Heidi Espinal

Registered Nurse, St. Barnabas Hospital

That’s why Heidi is grateful that her benefits include coverage for mental health visits. After starting weekly video therapy sessions just before the pandemic began, she continues to rely on them. “My benefits helped me so much, I don’t know how I would have been able to deal with everything without them,” she said. “They cover the full cost of my sessions, so that was one less thing to stress about. We even lost six co-workers—it was so difficult. But it helped me so much to know I could speak with an unbiased professional when I felt bad.”

Heidi is proud that she was one of the first people to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available last December. “I took it to help others,” she said, “to decrease the risk that I could spread the disease to my mom, my daughter, Angelina, or my neighbors.” In fact, she hopes getting vaccinated might have sent a message to people in her community who are skeptical of the vaccines: ”Because I have a medical background and I trust the science behind the vaccine, maybe they will feel comfortable to do so, too.”

Heidi continues to do all she can for those in her neighborhood. She plans to register for the Funds’ COVID-19 and nutrition webinars on the Benefits Channel to learn more about those subjects. She’s also preparing to become certified as a critical care nurse, again using her training benefits to help cover the cost of her classes and exam. “Hopefully, I’ll learn more about my patients, so I can provide better-quality care for them,” she explained. “It’s stressful, but I’m so happy to do the work I do. It helps me feel connected to the people in the community where I was born and raised.”

What Do Your Benefits Mean to You?

You count on your health benefits to support you in your efforts to stay healthy, whether it’s by getting regular checkups, keeping a chronic condition under control or just improving your lifestyle in general. But has there ever been a time when your health coverage literally saved your life or the life of a loved one? If so, we’d like to hear from you. To share your story with your fellow members in an upcoming issue of For Your Benefit, please contact the Funds at [email protected].

For Your Benefit Magazine