Alexandrians Band Together to Support Hospital Workers During Covid Crisis

"They are our healthcare heroes.  The least we can do is to put up a sign that thanks them." says Melissa Riddy.

Signs in front of Inova Alexandria Hospital show community support for hospital workers during the Covid-19 health crisis. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Ellen Harmon saw a Facebook message from an Inova Alexandria doctor about needing masks, so she contacted the doctor and arranged for her to pick up extra masks she had.

Melissa Riddy, an Inova employee who is working from home, arranged for families in her neighborhood to make signs of encouragement for the frontline hospital staff and then placed them around the outside of the hospital.

Janet Hawkins, who lives near the hospital, had a banner made to thank hospital staff and hung it on the fence.  These are just some of the examples of how Alexandrians are reaching out to support Alexandria Hospital and its staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s heartwrenching to know what our staff and others across the world are having to go through,” said Shannon Hiskey, Inova Health Foundation Executive Director of Philanthropy for the East Region, “but it is such a privilege to be a part of such grassroots community support.  Alexandria is a community hospital, and its supporters are so entrenched in their memories there and their families’ experiences there.”

“Working Hard to Keep Patients as Safe as Possible”

Harmon, a retired T.C. Williams High School teacher who lives in the West End, was one of the more than 100 Alexandrians to see a Facebook post that led to an outpouring of support for Inova Alexandria.

Honks and high-fives and lots of smiles have surrounded this sign donated by Janet Hawkins to celebrate the hazardous and dedicated work of the Inova Hospital employees. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

The post was authored by Kristina Hibshman, a physician who works at the hospital, and read in part: “It always makes me sad people don’t see how much we do … Remember there are people on this site that have been at work for the last month trying to help. … We come to work for you and find ourselves reusing masks … I look at my colleagues wearing masks and gowns that probably don’t work at this point.  These people have families, lives, and are scared to death they are going to get it and die.  They show up to work for this community anyway.  We are working hard to keep patients as safe as possible and honestly are doing a huge effort.”

Alexandrians saw the post and leapt into action to express gratitude and encouragement for hospital staff.

“You need those glimmers of hope to be able to go the next step,” Hiskey said.  “All those little stories will add up.”

A Retired Schoolteacher Donates Masks

Like everyone who has been one of those “glimmers of hope”, Harmon was quick to say, “I don’t need any recognition.”  Her path to helping Alexandria Hospital originated from deep concern about what is happening in her home town of New York City.

Inova Alexandra Hospital is grateful for the outpouring of love but asks that no more signs be brought to the property because of safety and traffic concerns. (Courtesy photo)

She said that she “ called around to medical supply places and bought 10 [masks] for my friends and me as a personal supply.”  With family ties in Queens, “I called Elmhurst and asked if I could buy and send them a large quantity, would they want me to send them.”  She was “getting ready to pack up and send some more and then I saw that … there was a collection in Arlington.  Which got me to thinking of Alexandria.  So I asked, ‘Are we collecting stuff?’ and [Alexandria Mayor] Justin Wilson said yes we are … I decided to … donate when I can.”  Harmon said she is in regular touch with a local medical supply company that sells out of masks every day but gets regular shipments.  She had made it a practice to buy 100 masks for donation, as they become available.

“But then there was this message from this doctor at the hospital [Hibshman],” Harmon went on, “so I asked her via private message if she needed some masks. … I told her I would give her some and then I would donate the rest to the city.  So she came by and picked up a quantity to share with her colleagues and they were happy.”

Children Make Signs of Encouragement

Riddy, Inova Director of Eastern Region Government and Community Relations, said the hospital staff are incredibly grateful for gestures like Harmon’s.  “Inova and Alexandria have seen an outpouring of kindness from our community and we thank you so much, and we feel so fortunate to be in Alexandria,” she said.  “Everyone who wants to donate the littlest thing to the biggest thing.  We are so fortunate.”

Making signs to thank the hospital workers at Inova was a labor of love at the Riddy household. (Photo: Melissa Riddy)

She has been working from home for almost a month and was motivated to take action for her co-workers who are on the frontlines.  “It reminded me about 9/11 and holding up signs for first responders,” she said.

Last week, she arranged for an in-store pick-up of sign making materials at Michael’s.  “I bought a ton of supplies and put them on my front porch.”  She then contacted her neighbors who came over, one by one, to collect supplies to take home and make their own signs with their children.  “The kids did a great job,” Riddy said.  “Every parent I spoke to whose kids did it were so excited about it and they wrote adorable messages about washing their hands.

Once the signs were made, Riddy contacted [Alexandria School Board Vice Chair] Veronica Nolan who donated sign sticks to the cause.

“The message is to stay home,” Riddy was quick to add.  “I brought [the signs] up to the hospital and put them all around the front and around through the team member parking lot, but I just went myself.  Also, I’m an Inova employee, so I could get staff parking, and I didn’t stop traffic.”

“What might seem like a small gesture means so much to our frontline warriors,” Hiskey said.

Kids decorated and signed posters to thanks the staff at Inova Alexandria Hospital. (Photo: Melissa Riddy)

Like Harmon, Riddy expressed that she did want any particular recognition and wants the community to, instead, recognize all the Inova Hospital employees who are at risk every day, just by virtue of doing their jobs.

“This was something grassroots I did for my teammates,” Riddy said.  “My teammates have been very appreciative, and it really means a lot when they’re pulling in for long hours during this very nervous time.  They are our healthcare heroes.  The least we can do is to put up a sign that thanks them.”

A Diverse Hospital Workforce

Both Riddy and Hiskey said that, while support for the hospital’s doctors and nurses is greatly appreciated, they hope the community remembers and recognizes what a large and diverse staff the hospital has.  Inova employees, like them, who are able to work from home are doing so in order to support the effort to socially distance, but many hospital jobs don’t lend themselves to teleworking.

“It is all kinds of people who work in there,” Riddy said.  “People in the finance department and who collect the trash and serve food to patients.”

“I think about the cleaning staff, the cafeteria workers,” Hiskey said.  “Obviously the frontline workers have the most possibility of being exposed, but everyone is showing up in circumstances that are changing every day.”

Hiskey herself just started with Inova in January.  “I knew I was going into the deep end of a pool,” she said.  “But it’s been like a tsunami.”  She said she wasn’t “sure I would have accepted if I knew this was coming down the pike, but I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Echoing Harmon’s and Riddy’s sentiments, Hiskey quickly said, “But this isn’t about me.  This is about the staff at Alexandria.  They are incredibly competent and humbled and grateful for the support the community is showing them.  I want Alexandrians to know that the team is looking out for everyone’s best interest and doing an amazing job.”  She said the staff “are doing amazing work and are incredibly grateful for what the community is doing for them.  It might not seem like a lot but it means a lot.  It all adds up.”

“We have been planning for this [the coronavirus] for months,” Riddy said.  “There is a multi-disciplinary team that are keeping our community safe.”

“Yes, I will be staying at Alexandria hospital [as a patient] when I get it,” Hibshman’s post read.

How to Help

Those wanting to support Alexandria Hospital staff are asked to please not go to the hospital, but instead to visit the following websites:

To donate clean, unused personal protective equipment for the city and the Alexandria Health Department to distribute, please use the form at: https://www.research.net/r/AlexandriaVA-PPEDonation

Information about ways to support Inova hospitals, including Alexandria Hospital, is available at: https://foundation.inova.org/covid-19-how-can-i-help/

While the signs have been heartwarming for the staff, Riddy asked that Alexandrians not enter hospital property with signs, as that could put them or hospital staff and patients at risk.  Instead, please use the following online link to send a message of support to the staff: https://support.inova.org/page/17912/survey/1?ea.tracking.id=website&_ga=2.33264635.459969849.1586037180-991773198.1585672523

Similarly, Hiskey said, “It’s not right to have people dropping off supplies.  And meals can only be received from restaurants or catering companies.”  She said the hospital is incredibly grateful for the numbers of people wanting to provide supplies or meals and asked that they make arrangements for courier pick-up or delivery by emailing inovadonations@inova.org

Harmon said she hoped her story “will inspire people who may be hoarding or have access to supplies to do some donations.”  More than that, she said,” I expect a very small stimulus check, but I will spend what I get on things like this.  I consider it to be a small act of civic mindedness.  Acting locally is good.  As it turns out, who knew that we needed it here.”

Hiskey said it is so moving to think of, for example, “how many masks have been prayed over and what that must mean not only to the person receiving it but to the person giving it.  Whatever people can do to make the world a better place when it seems like an awful place is just lovely.  It’s nice to be able to do something good during these times.  I’m super proud to be a part of this community and to know the people on the frontlines.”

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