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​"I'm answering your questions while on break at RIH-ER," says Pauline Ducharme Imbruglia. She's a triple anchor — B.A. in psychology (1988), M.S. in counseling (1990) and M.S.W. (2011) — who's working overnight on the frontline of the COVID-19 crisis at Rhode Island Hospital's Emergency Room. In the daytime she practices at a long-term care facility as a social worker.

Imbruglia is one of the many healthcare workers struggling to help those who need them. And she's certain that it's her work ethic that gives her the strength to get up and do what she can to help those impacted by the virus. 

"As social workers we are called upon in the most difficult of times — in times of abuse, death and dying, mental health crisis — so helping individuals through this pandemic is no different. People depend on us to be there," she says.

Imbruglia is a woman of many strengths. In addition to her three degrees, she is also a member of the Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps and a field instructor for social work students from RIC. And just two weeks ago she obtained a temporary 90-day Certified Nurse Assistant certificate from the Rhode Island Department of Health to help with patient care, such as bathing, dressing and personal care, should facility staff be impacted by COVID-19.

"People need to be kind and patient with themselves and others," she explans. "Some are out of work so there is tremendous need. I had a seven-year-old tell me, 'Thank you for what you did for my family. We have food now,' as she grinned and slurped down some noodles. This touched my heart."

 Imbruglia believes that although there's a great deal of anxiety, uncertainty and fear, every person needs to take some time to practice self-care, whether by reading a book, going for a walk or meditating. "Keep yourself in the present and try not to anticipate what's going to happen next. Find one thing to be grateful for each day," she advises.

 As for now, Imbruglia knows that what is happening is unprecedented. "This is a virus that shut the world down. I can't fully wrap my mind around that yet. One day, when we arrive at some new normal, I will sit and process all of it." She adds, "I know for certain there will be people I will never forget — the people I've seen struggle, that little girl and her words, and the co-workers who will be more like family."

This story is Part 1 in a series of stories about members of the Rhode Island College community serving various roles at Rhode Island Hospital during the COVID-19 crisis. Read the other parts here: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6