Nurses stay in donated RVs to protect their families from COVID-19

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During the coronavirus pandemic, ER nurse Naomi Barajas is staying in a trailer donated by Mark Draganchuk, who runs an RV rental business. Photo courtesy of Barajas.

As an ER nurse at the Ventura County Medical Center, Naomi Barajas doesn’t know whether or not she’s been exposed to COVID-19.

So she’s doing everything she can do to keep her 2-year-old twin girls and her husband safe, including not touching them or stepping into their home.

“My trailer is a 2017, 19-foot Dutchmen Aerolite,” she says about her new home, a donated RV she parked in her driveway. “There's a little sink to the right, and a stove. There's even a little refrigerator that really needs to be stocked, so I don't have to have my husband do everything for me.”

Barajas got her trailer through a Facebook group called Ventura County Trailers for Nurses COVID-19 Response, which pairs health care workers with unused RVs.

Naomi Barajas at work. Photo courtesy of Barajas.

“The idea began with the personal need,” says Angie Mireles, a nurse at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura who started the group. “I‘m working around a lot of COVID positive patients, and don’t want to bring anything with me in my home.”

In late March, when Ventura surpassed 100 cases of COVID-19 and announced their fourth death, Mireles started calling different RV lots and dealerships around town. A lot of them were closed. Others quoted her prices she couldn’t afford. So she posted a video to her Facebook, asking for neighbors and business owners with RVs to donate them.

The idea took off. Now, when Mireles isn’t working a 12-hour shift, she’s running a quasi-matchmaking service. So far, her group has organized 14 RV drop offs for nurses in need.

Mark Dragenchuk, who runs an RV rental business, has donated five of his trailers so far. Normally, he rents them out for about $100 a night to California roadtrippers during the summer, bringing in about $50,000 a year. But his revenue has stalled.

“All the reservations we had got canceled, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because where they were going was closed,” he says. 

So when he saw nurses were looking for a place to live, he started delivering them, nearly free of charge.

“I do have to charge them $1, just to make it an actual transaction so insurance stays in effect.”

He drops each trailer off, makes sure it’s level, and shows the nurse how to hook it up to electricity, water and plumbing.

“If you're putting your life at risk, dealing with COVID-19 patients, I couldn’t imagine doing it,” says Draganchuk. “I commend them, and am happy I can do something to make their lives a little easier when they come home.”

Angie Mireles, a nurse at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, started a Facebook group pairing health care workers with unused RVs. Photo courtesy of Mireles.

Even on her days off, Mireles stays in the trailer in her driveway. She says she feels guilty every time she enters the house, even just to do laundry. Her WiFi is bad, so she reads, uses FaceTime, and texts her husband and kids.

“I miss just being able to have good conversations with my husband and being close to him. That's been a challenge,” she says. “My son is in high school and since schools have closed, it's really hard for me to help him with his homework. I can't hover over his back and see his computer screen, so that’s been a challenge as well.”

For Barajas, who has the twin toddlers, being away from them can feel heartbreaking.

“I think the hardest thing is not being able to snuggle them like I used to,” she says. “But the amazing thing is that they understand that there are a lot of germs right now, and that mommy is working with sick people.”

Naomi Barajas with her twin girls, pre-COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Barajas.

Instead of snuggling, they have family picnics at a safe distance. She reads to them in the backyard, and watches as they play in the kiddie pool.

“People are praising all of the frontline workers, which is appreciated, but there are so many spouses at home holding up the family frontline. I am so grateful to my husband. He is such a trooper and has been beyond patient and amazing with all of this,” she says.

The Facebook page is getting new requests and donations each day.