A Penn nurse plays an integral role in temporary COVID-19 hospital

For as long as he can remember, Kerwin Barden has put the needs of others ahead of his own. That’s how he explains his decision to enlist, at 19 years old, in the New Jersey Air National Guard as a medic 24 years ago. He later went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology and become a registered nurse.

Kerwin Barden wearing a face mask wearing military fatigues.
HUP’s Kerwin Barden. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

In December 2008, Barden joined the cardiovascular step-down unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), which cares for patients who are able to leave critical care but still require a high level of monitoring in their recovery. There he filled a variety of roles over the next four years, including charge nurse. From there, he moved to the cardiac electrophysiology department at HUP. Then, in 2019, Barden joined the electrophysiology team at Chester County Hospital, which treats abnormal heart rhythms.

Still a member of the Air National Guard, Barden is now a captain and chief nurse for the 177th& Fighter Wing in Atlantic City, NJ, where he oversees a staff of 18 medics. He’s also in charge of several health, wellness, and safety programs on the base, an immense undertaking, though Barden says his “number one responsibility” is immunizations, even well before the COVID-19 pandemic. At any given moment, every soldier stationed at the base must be prepared to deploy, and that means, in part, being up to date with their vaccinations.

Asked if his job has been made more difficult by the pandemic and the subsequent vaccine rollout, Barden says, “Yes and no. Once COVID-19 hit, I knew everyone was going to be deployed, myself included.” Sure enough, the call came the night of March 31, 2020. He was to report the next morning at 8 a.m.—Barden and the 177th were charged with helping to run a 250-bed field medical station at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, in Secaucus, N.J.

This story is by Diana Walker. Read more at Penn Medicine News.