Healthcare Heroes

‘Absolutely Extraordinary’ Commitment

By Jay Gonzales

There were heroes in every corner of the community – and that was not lost on those who were on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

Those interviewed by BizTucson took great caution to discuss the heroism they witnessed only through anecdotes, so as not to single out one effort over another. It continues to be a community effort within and outside the walls of the hospitals and clinics where COVID-19 patients are being treated.

“It takes thousands of people to make this work,” said Judy Rich, CEO at Tucson Medical Center. “There are hundreds of people here around the clock who are not getting their pictures taken and are not wearing signs that say, ‘I’m a hero.’ They’re cooking food for us and cleaning the rooms and making sure that everything is working.”

“I’ll tell you what, those housekeepers charging into those rooms and the bravery that we saw on a daily basis from our staff – every single staff person here has been absolutely extraordinary,” said Northwest Medical Center CEO Jennifer Schomburg.

The community response was swift. Restaurants were forced to close their businesses, yet instead of retreating to the sidelines, they stepped up to provide meals for hospital staff and first responders who were working long hours. Churches prepared meals, sewed masks and other forms of personal protective equipment, and offered childcare.

“The daycares were closed, the schools were closed, so we were really concerned about making sure our staff could show up and know that their kids were safe,” Schomburg said. “That’s a scary thing.”

Local radio station The Drive Tucson launched a GoFundMe drive that provided a dual benefit. Donations were used to support local restaurants by buying meals that were then delivered to hospital workers and first responders. The drive raised more than $40,000.

“Healthcare workers and first responders have put aside their worries for their own families and health to show up for us every day,” organizer Hill Bailey said on the GoFundMe page to encourage donations. Bailey co-hosts the morning radio show, Bobby & Bailey on 101.7 FM. Some of the heroism was more personal.

A physician from St. Mary’s Hospital lived out of a recreational vehicle closer to St. Joseph’s Hospital for a month so he could take shifts there for doctors who might have families and were needed at home. His expertise was more in need at St. Joseph’s as the hospital became the COVID-19 unit for Carondelet Health Network.

“He didn’t have to,” said Frank Molinaro, CEO of Carondelet Health Network, which includes St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Tucson and Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales. “He led by example and showed up every single day, wearing his PPE and going into the unit and not sleeping in home at night through most of this.”

Individual customers, prompted by no one, paid for coffee and snacks at a Starbucks near TMC and had them delivered to the hospital, Rich said. The manager showed up at TMC on a Saturday morning.

“She said, ‘My customers have been buying coffee and buying food here and have been asking us to bring it to Tucson Medical Center,’” Rich said. “I cannot tell you the number of local restaurants owned by a single person who, just out of the generosity of their hearts, have brought food for 50 to 100 people – daytime, nighttime and weekends.”

“The list of people who have been heroes through all this has been amazing. And the list is long,” said Dr. Chad Whelan, CEO at Banner-University Medicine Tucson. “It’s nearly impossible to single out a person or an organization.

“We’ve received tens of thousands of items from our community. It’s incredible – food donations on an almost daily basis for our staff at the hospitals and clinics.”

Healthcare leadership also singled out an unsung group of heroes who were also in harm’s way during the COVID-19 response.

“We absolutely appreciate our clinicians, our nurses and doctors who are on the front lines of this battle,” Whelan said. “But there’s one group that it’s just too easy to overlook and that’s our environmental service teams. They just deserve so much credit for the work they do. They are truly on the front lines around the clock.

“They’re keeping our units and our rooms spotless and sanitized, the trash cans empty, patients fed and supplies stocked. We couldn’t be successful without each of them. And the thing is, I have never seen such pride in that group as I’ve seen over the past several weeks. The pride that they feel providing that safe environment, it’s just really special.”

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