Alabama Nurses Helping With Covid Crisis Get Warm Upper West Side Welcome — Magnolia Pudding and ‘Northern Hospitality’


Skylar Killebrew (left) and Chelsei Ward Kumar (right).

By Lisa Kava

Two Alabama nurses arrived on the Upper West Side earlier this month to help treat Covid-19 patients in NYC.

Chelsei Ward Kumar, 35, an ICU nurse, and Skylar Killebrew 32, an ER nurse, responded to an urgent request for nurses needed in New York City and began working in a city hospital on April 8th.  The nurses are living on West 69th Street in a short term rental.

The two friends, who attended nursing school together, felt it was their responsibility to help in a place where there was clearly a great need.  “Alabama is being affected by Covid-19 but not nearly as badly as New York” said Chelsei.  “We would need to be quarantined from our families no matter where we worked so we decided to go where we were most needed.”  The nurses were required to undergo a lengthy screening process prior to being accepted to work at the New York City hospital.

Chelsei and Skylar provide daily care 5 days a week to patients afflicted with Covid-19. They work 12-14 hour shifts beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 8 p.m. or often later, with a 30 minute lunch break.


Their temporary digs on West 69th Street.

“A typical work day involves long hours of running around, mixing drips and taking care of critically ill patients on ventilators” Chelsei told West Side Rag. “The patients are scared because family cannot be there. That is the hardest part, the patients are alone. We are seeing patients die with no family at their side. It breaks our hearts and we wish we could do so much more.”

“It is also difficult being so far from home and from our loved ones” said Skylar who left her mother, nieces and grandmother at home in Alabama. Chelsei, who is a mom of a 12 year old daughter with asthma (currently being cared for by her own mother) echoed her friend’s sentiment.

Despite the emotional and physical toll of the work, both nurses say the experience is incredibly rewarding. ”Working in healthcare, you have to be selfless” said Chelsei. “We act as advocates for the patients and have even helped them FaceTime family members” said Skyler. “We are working with terrific physicians and residents and we hope we are making a difference.”

This is the first visit to New York City for both women. They are touched by the kindness of their new UWS neighbors. “The people who live in the building have been amazing, they check on us every day to see how we are doing” said Chelsei. “One night I was craving Coca- Cola and I texted Eileen Vazquez, the building manager, just to ask where I might find some.  A short time later she was buzzing at our door to deliver 5 bottles of soda.”

“People talk about Southern hospitality but I can say that the residents of West 69th Street and some of the people we have met on the Upper West Side have Northern hospitality!” said Skylar.

On days off, the nurses catch up on sleep, run in Central Park and marvel at the cherry blossoms. They have been enjoying the free banana pudding given by Magnolia Bakery to healthcare workers. “I have to say it is better than any Southern cooked banana pudding I have tried,” said Chelsei.

Both nurses will return to Alabama after June 12th when their contract at the New York City hospital ends. They will then need to quarantine for two weeks before reuniting with their families.

“We would like to tell all New Yorkers, stay strong, we all are one nation and we will fight this together. Everyone in New York, inside and outside the hospital has been amazing. We would like to thank everyone for the gratitude and support and for the cheers every night at 7 p.m. We hear them and we are so thankful.”

NEWS | 110 comments | permalink
    1. UWSmom says:

      Thank you for all you are doing, Skylar and Chelsei. Welcome to the neighborhood!

    2. Linda says:

      All the best to those two, beautiful steel magnolias!!

    3. Southerner on 79th St says:

      Roll Tide or War Eagle, ladies, whichever y’all are, and thank you very much for coming.

    4. julie parker says:

      As a former Tennesseean now living on the Upper West Side, I thank you for the kindness and compassion you are showing to my adopted city. We are all so appreciative and forever grateful.

    5. UWS_lifer says:

      Beauty, brains, heart and courage. What a combination! These girls are amazing.

      Thanks for everything.:)

    6. Katherine Weber says:

      Wonderful story and amazing nurses! New Yorkers are grateful for your service!!!!! Welcome to the neihinirbood. Wishing you and your families health and peace during this difficult time. You are an inspiration and we thank you!

      • Chelsei says:

        And we thank y’all for being so grateful and amazing! We appreciate Everyone supporting us and welcoming us. We are very thankful.

    7. Carolyn Powell says:

      So proud of my daughter-in-love, Chelsei. She is a phenomenal nurse! She loves her patients and cares for them as if they were her own family.

    8. GeorgeCPW says:

      You are what makes America great. Thank you.

      • Chelsei says:

        Just trying to make a difference and help others when we can. We have been grateful for the gratitude and support.

    9. jsv says:

      Absolute champions. Welcome to New York! We are so glad you are here!

      • Chelsei says:

        We are so glad to be here! Even though nothing is open, we are still enjoying it and everyone we meet and trying to help make a little difference .

    10. Kathy says:

      Welcome Chelsei and Skylar! Thank you for everything that you’re doing!!!

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you all for welcoming us and the support! We are so thankful everyone we have met has been wonderful.

    11. KS says:

      Words cannot describe how grateful we are to you. Glad you are being treated like royalty! Wishing you and your families good health and happiness always.

    12. Kathy Smith says:

      So proud of my daughter Chelsei and her friend Skylar
      Me and Ry miss you but we are so proud of you. We know you are doing what you were called to do and that’s put your passion and love into taking care of your patients. Thank you all for being so welcoming to them

      Love mom and Ry

      • MeInWhySee says:

        @Kathy Smith: thank you for raising your daughter to be such an outstanding human being, willing to contribute everything she can to people she doesn’t know—going so far as to leave her own daughter to do so. You must be an excellent mother, and your daughter is herself setting a wonderful example for her own daughter. The people of NYC thank you and Ry—and especially Chesei and Skylar—for the sacrifices you’re all making for the greater good. It is precisely this spirit that will keep the world turning and help lift a new (and newly pervasive) breed of our tired, our poor, and our huddled masses yearning to breathe free. (And on a personal note, I must say I’m so pleased Chelsei and Skylar are having the chance to dispel the myth of the cold New Yorker as I myself did when I moved here from the south many years ago… I was expecting abrasive, hurried people who would look at me with scorn and contempt, and what I found instead was a lot of unexpected kindness and warmth)

        • Chelsei says:

          My mother did an amazing job raising me and has always been selfless. We are teaching my daughter the same. To love everyone and help when you can. Thank you so much for the sweet comment for my family and for us. We appreciate you all!

        • Kathy Smith says:

          Thank you so much for the kind words. Y’all are making me cry. I’m very proud of Chelsei and when she told me she wanted to be a nurse I told her then if you can care for your patients like they were your family then that’s what you should do but if not you should find a different profession. She has made me proud. She felt like she was needed most there and that’s what she was called to do so we support her. I know in my heart she is giving her patients the best care possible. Again I appreciate all the kind words. I believe we should always love and help anyone in need and she iis the same.

      • Chelsei says:

        Love you mom and you taught me to be selfless. I love you and Ryleigh so much and miss you both with everything I have!! ❤️❤️😂

    13. Diana says:

      Skylar and Chelsei, we are so grateful for you coming to help our city in its time of need. You are the best of humanity. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you for your support and kindness. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here to help right now.

    14. GigiH says:

      Thank you and bless you!

    15. Danielle Remp says:

      Years ago, in convincing my niece to become a nurse, I described nursing as one of the “noble professions”. After reading about you Chelsei and Skylar, I now know that my description was not syrupy idealism.

      Thank you for coming to our aid, for saving so many lives, and for being like family to those who would not see theirs again. May your examples inspire young people to choose a path similar to yours, rather than the elusive one of fame and wealth.

      We will not forget you — just as we still hold in our hearts all those who came to help us after 9/11 — when, finally, I understood that New York City was part of the union, and that people in the rest of the country knew we were one.

      Bless you and all your loved-ones.

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you for your sweet and thoughtful comment. People definitely do not become nurses for the money. You have to care and love strangers you don’t even know. Take care of them while your missing holidays and family gatherings, but it’s what we love to do. We were called to do this job. I knew at 5 years old. ❤️

    16. JL says:

      Thank you so much for helping those in need of support and care. I have many friends who were also trained to care for others, and they are suffering due to the long hours and some couldn’t imagine this was what they signed up for as a profession.

      Thank you both for traveling into the hot zone to save lives and helping those who save lives. You are an inspiration to us all.

      • Chelsei says:

        It’s definitely tough. On our days off we mostly sleep, due to just having to catch up on rest to try and stay healthy and not get sick. Thank you for the sweet comment and support!

    17. kaylord says:

      Angels. Thank you.

    18. JSR says:

      THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!
      Sending much love, be safe!

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you and for the gratitude! We are doing our best to stay well and safe. Thanks for the support :/)

    19. NotImpressed says:

      I’m impressed!!

      Thank you to you both.

    20. EricaC says:

      Thank you so much for coming and helping (and I’m so glad this time the UWS greeted and welcomed you properly!).

    21. Bob says:

      So glad these two came here, and that they’re getting a chance to see a bit of our beautiful and amazing city. I just hope they’ll get a chance to come back and see us again sometime when we’re a little more together — there’s so much of the city that they won’t get to experience right now, and hope someday they’ll see all of it!

      • Chelsei says:

        We definitely want to come back with things get back to a “semi-normal” so we can experience more, but everyone has been so nice and thankful. Thank you for the support and gratitude !

    22. Kathy Kelley says:

      Wow. After all the nastiness of the past 3 1/2 years it is so refreshing to read of goodness being shared on both sides of our nation.
      The nurses are just what I know of nurses… they are ANGELS!!!
      Their neighbors and cheerleaders are just what I’ve always known of Americans, GREAT PEOPLE! N

      • Chelsei says:

        We love everyone and everyone needs support and help. There is a whole world of people that just need love and happiness and peace and we try to bring that where we go. Thank you so much for the gratitude!

    23. Rods5 says:

      Thankyou and Bless you. You two are the best of America! If only our sparring politicians would set aside their differences and care about people half as much as you do, we would be a stronger nation for it. Character counts!

      • Chelsei says:

        I 100% agree that character is a huge part of trust and success. Thank you for your support and gratitude. ❤️

    24. Chris says:

      I have tears in my eyes reading this.
      Thank you for coming and thank you for printing this.

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you for your kind words and we are thankful, they took the time and effort to recognize us on the upper west side. ❤️

    25. LInda says:

      Thank you Skylar and Chelsei.
      We are all so grateful!!

    26. UWS thanks you says:

      Welcome to NYC and THANK YOU!

    27. MH says:

      Wow. THANK YOU! I hope that Chelsei and Skylar have access to West Side Rag, so they can read the outpouring of gratitude and love that is being posted here.

      • Chelsei says:

        They sent us the link and every-time someone comments it makes us smile in the hard times! ❤️

    28. UWCIDER says:

      I’m in love with both you. Thank you kindly for all your work.

    29. writergirl says:

      This is so incredibly selfless and heartwarming.

      Thank you, ladies!! You are both heroes. And welcome to the neighborhood!!

      • Chelsei says:

        We just feel we are doing what we were called to do. Thank you so much for kind words.

    30. Ben D says:

      From a neighbor on 69th Street:

      Thank you both so much for your kindness and heroism.

      We hope you hear our cheers at 7pm each evening- they are for you

      • Chelsei says:

        We definitely hear the cheers and love to hear them, especially the little bit we are at home ❤️

    31. Dale says:

      Thank you Skylar and Chelsei!!! You are what the world needs right now. Selfless human beings who do the right thing no matter the cost to yourselves. Welcome to New York City, Welcome to the Upper West Side and thank you, thank you, thank you for coming to our aid in our hour of need.

    32. Chelsei says:

      Skylar and I thank you all so much for the wonderful and uplifting comments! We have so much gratitude for all of you! We thank you all also! Thank you all for welcoming us into the West Side and for being so kind! It won’t be our last trip! We hope to come back when things are semi-normal again! Love to you all!!

      Chelsei and Skylar

    33. sunflower says:

      Thank you, Skylar and Chelsei, for your selflessness and generosity, for leaving your home and families behind temporarily to help New Yorkers. We are so grateful!
      Stay safe; we hope you can come back to enjoy all this amazing city has to offer when things get better.

      • Chelsei says:

        Thank you for the support and gratitude and we appreciate the kind words! Thank you so much! ❤️

    34. Carol says:

      Skylar and Chelsei, welcome to the block from your MS “neighbor” and a UNA alum. It’s not limited to southerners, but I am not surprised to see this spirit in you as it is such a part of our heritage. I am grateful for others having an opportunity to see it and for the care and warmth you are bringing to your patients. After many years, what I miss most about the South, I think, is a home with more than one room that provides the chance to socialize in a home vs in a public space. And I wish I could serve you some of my Mamaw’s banana pudding……. The pick in my soda-drinking days was Dr. Pepper. Hope you can continue to find some Coke for fun refreshment.
      I chime in with the other voices of welcome and wish you well during your stay.

    35. Nancy Wadler says:

      This made me cry. You two are absolute mensches. I cannot think of a bigger compliment. Your parents did a great job. Awe inspiring. Thank you so so very much for caring and doing.

    36. Elizabeth Caputo says:

      LOVE OUR BLOCK! Thank you!

      • Susan says says:

        You are two amazing women and we are so thankful to have your help and to have you in the neighborhood. I hope you come back to see visit NYC when it’s back to normal. Many thanks to you and your families for the sacrifices you made to help us.

        • Chelsei says:

          We cannot wait to come visit when things open back up and get back to semi-Norma! We love the city and the gratitude!

      • Chelsei says:

        We love your block too! Feels like home!!

    37. Linda says:

      You are heroes. NYC ❤️ You

      • Chelsei says:

        No hero’s, just two girls with so much love for others. We love all of you and all the amazing comments!

    38. Debra says:

      So wonderful. Reflects what America has always strived to be: generous, loving, and open to new experiences.
      Thank you, ladies!

      • Chelsei says:

        We have a heart that is open to everyone and love everyone. We are so grateful to see NY and cannot wait to come back!

    39. Thomas Godfrey says:

      Fantastic story! God bless them.I assume their rent is being picked up by the hospital if not I’m ready to help.

      • Kathy smith says:

        This is Chelsei’s mother. Her rent is not paid by the hospital they are paying out of their salary but she went because she wanted to help and felt that’s where she was needed most. As her mother I appreciate all the kind words everyone has commented on her and Skylar. Her daughter and I miss her very much but we understand she’s doing what she was called to do and we are very proud of her. I’ve sat and cried happy tears reading everyone’s comments. Again thank y’all so much.

        • MEGAN YOBURN says:

          Please let us know if you would like meals or food or seamless delivery gift cards dropped off! Are you craving something but don’t have the time to look for it? We’re here! The UWS is a community that wants to help where we can and although we could never even begin to repay you both for the gift you are giving our state, we are here for anything that might make the upper west feel a bit more like home. Truly, I would be happy to provide anything to my best ability. Even more earplugs for hours you’re home and sleeping! I can drop anything off in the lobby of the building! 🤗 Thank you again for your amazing service!

          • Chelsei says:

            Thank you so much for your generosity! We love the UWS! Everyone has been amazing to us. I know we are where we are supposed to be.

      • Chelsei says:

        Unfortunately our rent has to be paid out of our salary and we didn’t realize NYC had such high living expenses. That’s so sweet of you to offer to help. We were hoping we didn’t have to move from the current place we are at, due to having all the expenses of the Uber’s to get to work. Thank you all for being so kind and generous.

    40. TravelgalNYC says:

      Thank you so much ladies!! NYC is so grateful to both of you 🙂

      • Chelsei says:

        And we are grateful also for all of the generosity. We love NY. We feel like we both have a second family!

    41. MR says:

      Thank you Skylar and Chelsei!!! WELCOME to the neighborhood; we wish you here anytime (especially when the city is back up and running!)

      • Chelsei says:

        We have already talked about it! Due to this being our first trip. Cannot wait to see when everything is open. ❤️

    42. Erin says:

      Thank you, ladies, for all of your efforts! I am from Alabama and live on the Upper West Side. Please let me know if I can assist you in any way! Much love and appreciation!

    43. UWS lifer says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you!
      You have gone above and beyond! And for this we are grateful.
      Nice to have you in the neighborhood1

      • Chelsei says:

        We are just happy to be able to help in a time of need. We were needed here most! Thank you.

    44. lisa says:

      Great writeup! The table is superb. Really lets me see all the providers side by side, making it super easy to compare!

    45. M. Denise Corcoran says:

      Love this! ♡♡♡

    46. Stephanie Jutt says:

      Skylar and Chelsei, we can never thank you enough! Beautiful girls, we salute you!!!

      • Chelsei says:

        We are thankful also for all the kindness shown. We love the people here. Everyone has been so kind and helpful.

    47. Joyce Bielski says:

      I cried when I read your post. Words can not express the gratitude for your service. You exemplify the America that I grew up in. The America that is enshrined in “ONE NATION”–Thank you for your service, Thank you for caring, Please stay well, and one day we hope you will return so we can throw one of our famous “block parties” in your honor.

      • Chelsei says:

        Would would love to come back and enjoy a block party and see everyone! We cannot wait to come back when everything is open. Thank you all for the kindness you are showing through the comments. We are one Nation and one world. Thankful I grew up and had my families support in anything I have done in life. I am thankful.

    48. A Reader says:

      Great work WSR creating and quickly maxing the GoFundMe campaign. Skylar and Chelsei are here until at least June. Please up the campaign goal so we can give them some money to enjoy NYC as much as possible – such as ordering from neighborhood restaurants – and perhaps giving them some funds to begin saving for returning to us in happier times with their families.

    49. Kathy Smith says:

      Thank you UWS for being so kind to my daughter Chelsei and her friend Skylar. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for how loving and kind you have been to them. You have eased the hurt of her being away from us because I no longer feel like they are in a big city alone. They have a whole community supporting them and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks to you that did this article on them so I know now they are ok. Much love from Alabama, Chelsei’s mom ❤️❤️❤️

    50. ChantieNYC says:

      Hi, For some reason the comments on the rent fundraiser is closed. Thank you Chelsei and Skylar for your tremendous public service! We are very grateful. Do you know that you shouldn’t be paying rent at all? NYC.gov offers free hotels to health care workers. You can learn more here: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/helpnownyc/get-help/covid-19-hotel-program.page

    51. Peter Horn says:

      Wonderful. They are doing what makes America really Great — now!
      I am a few months past 80 and don’t feel confident about volunteering now. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis I volunteered at a lunch program once a week. I am glad younger people are stepping up to the plate! They are the real heroes!

    52. Erin says:

      Thank you for your service!

      But, for those considering paying the rent of others—–educate yourself.

      Non-NYC Nurses “are seeing pay packages of over $10,000 per week or $100,000 for a 13-week assignment. But, be prepared to enter a war zone.” https://nurse.org/articles/new-york-travel-nurse-jobs-covid19-incentives/

      Maybe your NYC local healthcare worker neighbor needs some help making ends meet. Existing NYC health care staff do not appear to be getting compensation anywhere close to this.

      https://abc7ny.com/free-hotel-helping-nurses-dawn-butler-hudson/6100850/

      https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/nyc-hotels-become-barracks-for-visiting-health-workers-going-to-war/2386418/

      https://www.michiganradio.org/post/new-york-offering-nurses-7k-week-michigan-offering-way-less

      https://www.businessinsider.com/nurses-sue-after-state-of-ny-hospitals-worse-than-expected-2020-4

      https://nurse.org/articles/new-york-travel-nurse-jobs-covid19-incentives/

      • Kathy Smith says:

        I can promise you they don’t make anywhere near that. As her mom I can assure that. They went because they wanted to help where help was needed most. Their expenses were taking most of their salary. They didn’t ask for their rent to be paid but God Bless to those who contributed. Thank you and God Bless
        If they were making that kind of money I assure you they would not have accepted it.

      • Chelsei says:

        We appreciate your concern, but the Nurses that are making up to 10,000$ a week is coming on death mission assignments to work 21 days in a row and then go home. I promise the hospital citizen workers are making more per hour than us, due to me asking them. Yes they were giving free hotels to healthcare workers, but some of the nurses and others have had to leave work because the hotels are canceling there hotel rooms and the hotels are starting to charge the nurses again, especially once May 15 is done. I stay on top of this everyday. It was our choice to stay away from
        Hotels, knowing we would have to eventually be kicked out and washing clothes with 1,000 other healthcare workers that some are even working positive because they can. We wanted to lessen our chance of more exposure and we are on a COVID unit and want to Atleast feel comfortable when walking in the door taking our mask off. After May 15th NY will loose a lot of nurses, especially at the public and private hospitals because of them not having a NY license. Luckily we can stay and help. The healthcare workers here know they make more than we do because we confirmed this. We did not ask anyone to raise money for us, but Thank God the kindness of people on the UWS and NY because they have helped us with a huge burden. We didn’t know the cost of living and regular grocery items and the cost of having our families overnight our medications and everything. We came to Voulenter, not because of the money, because NY needed the mostly help. I would have never came and risk my life when I have a twelve year old daughter at home. We did it because we knew y’all needed the most help and was drowning and we feel like we were called to come and help. We did it because we have a heart for strangers we don’t even know. So, please ask the people that are really experiencing this, instead of believing everything your read. No one knows unless their families are here or they are in this so called “war zone” what’s going on. We appreciate everyone’s support and kindness from the UWS and the citizens of NY being so kind. We also don’t have our health insurance paid which is 2,000 a month for me and my daughter, which is private insurance and having to pay my mortgage and utilities at home on top of the expenses we acquire here in NY. Along with cost of supplies and groceries (which are triple the prices in Alabama). I also have my daughter quarantined with my mother and having their expenses also. Again, the UWS has been so great to us and we appreciate all the kindness and gratitude and love shown. Bless you all and as one Nation we can fight this together.

        Much Love,

        Chelsei