How a 30 year old ER Nurse making $90,000 fighting COVID-19 in Detroit Spends his Money

Ron Navarro is a self-described “late bloomer” when it comes to money. The now-30-year-old didn’t really pay attention to his finances, he says, until he went to nursing school in the Philippines in 2010 at age 20. It took living — and budgeting — on his own in another country for him to get his money into shape.

The Philippines shaped his financial viewpoint in other ways, too. Though he moved back to Michigan, six years ago, he still mostly uses cash to pay for things, he says, which is common in the Philippines. He splits his household expenses with his mother, Gertrudes, and his wife, Carmela. Everyone contributes what they can, and there’s rarely arguments over who bought what, or who pitched in more or less.

“One thing about the Philippines is that not a lot of people have credit cards,” he says. “Even though people there might not have as much money, they really don’t have debt. They help each other out as a family.”

That family mentality also shapes how Navarro approaches his work in the U.S. As a registered nurse in the emergency department of DMC Detroit Receiving Hospital, Navarro is on the frontlines of the pandemic in one of the hardest-hit regions in the country.

“People are passing away with loved ones on the phone. They’re usually alone,” Navarro told CNBC Make It in April, just as the city’s daily Covid cases and deaths were beginning to fall. “We’re the ones that take place of their loved ones.

It’s been especially difficult to see patients enter the hospital “walking and talking,” he says, only to be intubated – the term used when a person has a tube inserted to help them breathe — and unresponsive a few hours later.

But he views it as his duty to care for the community no matter the circumstances, referencing the Florence Nightingale Pledge for nurses, which puts the welfare of the community before individuals.

“I have seen and heard of coworkers, veteran nurses [and] doctors who teared up, something that you don’t really see,” he says. In the E.R. “people there are pretty tough. And we have to be because we see a lot of things.”

It helps, he says, that he is eligible for overtime pay. Navarro earned around $90,000 pre-tax last year with overtime. In the first few weeks of the outbreak, he worked 12-hour shifts, four-to-five days per week. Recently, though, he’s scaled back his time to his regular schedule of three, 12-hour days per week at the behest of his mother and wife, who worry about his exposure to the virus. He estimates he’ll make around the same amount this year.

Navarro’s mother came to the United States from the Philippines in the 1970s, and she was a nurse at the same hospital where her son works. She retired in 2014. One of the big differences between their experiences, he says, is that his mother receives a pension from the hospital, which the family puts toward their bills. Navarro will not receive that when he retires, as it’s no longer offered to hospital employees.

But that doesn’t bother Navarro. It’s a blessing to be able to do what he loves while earning decent money.

“I love nursing, taking care of people,” he says. “It’s an honor to be helping those in need.”


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