Alumna caring for elderly nuns in COVID hotspot Italy

Photo: Sister Linda Hill with Sr. AntonillaBy Frank Couch

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Nursing Alumna Sister Linda Hill, BSN, RN, RM (BSN 1988), is caring for a community of 35 retired and elderly Consolata Missionary sisters in Grugliasco, Italy, in the northern part of the country which has a higher rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases than most of Italy.

“As soon as our first case was diagnosed, we isolated her in her room and I cared for her, I changed her linens and even drove her to the hospital,” Sister Linda said as she recalled how they began to deal with the crisis. “We believe she contracted the virus from a worker who was repairing a stove in the kitchen where she worked. He later tested positive for the virus.

After her passing in early April, the Italian government tested everyone in the retirement community as a precaution, and they discovered 21 of the 35 tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. As of mid-May, however, all 35 were COVID-negative.

Sister Linda said despite her close contact with all of those who have tested positive she has not become ill. “100 percent God is in control here,” she said as she described many of the measures, they have put into place to help combat the spread of the virus. “We have quarantined ourselves without having outside help cleaning and cooking. We all have our own rooms including individual bathrooms, so that limits our communal contact. We also all wear masks, limit dining to two per table and have moved the tables to give more distance between them. We have also cancelled large group meetings, including a daily exercise session, however, we still meet and pray in the chapel as a group but keep one meter between us.”

Photo: Consolata Missionary sisters in Vernaria Reale ItalySister Linda, who survived a cholera epidemic in Africa while serving as a missionary, is one of three nurses living in the house. The most common symptoms they have observed could be described as flu like including fever, aches and sore throats. Many of the retired sisters served in Africa and described the symptoms similar to having Malaria.

“We treated all cases with Augmentin and Tylenol, even our 100-year-old, who is one of the strongest of us all”, she said.

Before COVID-19, Sister Linda not only provided routine healthcare for the 35 sisters she shares a house and chapel with near Turin, her duties also included responsibility as the nurse in charge of the Sisters of Consolata throughout Europe, encompassing around 150 sisters.

“Before all of the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus I would travel to our different houses in Italy and Portugal coordinating care for all of our sisters, now it is all conducted by the telephone,” she said.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Linda Hill knew she wanted to career in medicine. She was introduced to the Consolata Missionary Sisters in elementary school where several of the nuns taught school. After two years of undergraduate school she felt, “God’s calling to join the order.”

She spent nearly five years training in the U.S. and Italy. She returned to school and in 1988 earned her BSN from UAB School of Nursing. Upon graduation she was stationed in Kenya where she spent the next 27 years. She taught at Wamba Nursing, led a small mission dispensary caring for patients with malaria, pneumonia and typhoid as well as other tropical dieses common to Kenya. She was also stationed near the Chalbi Desert, caring for patients in an environment where the temperature reached above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. She later returned to Wamba to help students in the diploma registered community nursing program finish their certificate with honors, and she helped upgrade the program to a three-and-a-half-year program that prepares high school graduates to obtain their diploma as registered nurses.

“I was trained well at UAB,” Sister Linda said as she reflected on her lifetime of service and how she has been able to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The basis of all that I do I learned at UAB.”

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