By Deanna M. Ford
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 marked the date of Mercy Health – Youngstown’s first positive COVID-19 case. This news was shared locally on the same date that the COVID-19 virus was deemed a global pandemic.
While our leaders and associates were watching the world respond to the crisis of the pandemic, our spiritual care team was preparing as well. They felt the hospitals’ stress as admissions and critical patients increased, and they demonstrated unique agility to adapt to a new way of tending to our patients, families and staff. A Spiritual Care Hotline was developed for our associates who needed to speak with chaplains for their own spiritual care. Our chaplains had hundreds if not thousands of sacred encounters during this difficult year.
Since that day, our ministry has responded with God’s guidance and presence as we met our challenges with strength, tenacity and resilience. The pandemic extended past days and weeks into months, creating fear, but also adaptation and commitment to meet the needs before us.
And as the anniversary approached, we knew that a commemorative marker date to stop, pause and reflect was necessary for our ministry. Our planning team wanted to ensure we were offering different opportunities for our associates to recognize this solemn, but hopeful, day as we look back at the incredible work and strength of our Mercy Health – Youngstown associates over the past year.
We planned many events to commemorate the date of March 11. Closed Masses were offered at each of our hospital campuses. A virtual prayer service allowed an opportunity for all to pause and acknowledge the sacrifice of our caregivers yet promote the hope of our future. We observed a moment of silence at 1:57 p.m., the time when our first positive test was resulted in Youngstown.
Our chaplains were prepared to minister to our teams within our hospitals through rounding and were available to provide and lead prayer at unit and department huddles throughout our ministry. Meals were provided to our associates as a gesture of thanks. “Year in Review” slides were shown in various locations displaying pictures of our healthcare heroes. Our facility service teams illuminated our hospitals with purple lights to recognize all essential workers who continue to fight COVID-19. We provided leadership webinars on how to cope and identify others who may be having difficulty coping on anniversary events. Our well-being leadership offered self-care tips and affirmation cards for leaders to share with all associates across the ministry.
Lastly, our health system and our foundation announced plans for a permanent COVID-19 memorial at Mercy Health – St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, representing a tribute to the loved ones we lost and continue to lose. This sculpture and memorial will be funded by donations to the Mercy Health Foundation – Mahoning Valley and should be completed by fall 2021. There will be three plaques at the site: one honoring caregivers, one for those affected and who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and one serving as a permanent historical marker to recognize the healthcare workers among us who sacrificed greatly to care for the sick and dying in our community.
We plan to place time capsules at each of our hospitals, to be opened on March 11, 2121. These time capsules will contain memorable items from across our ministry to educate future generations about COVID-19 in the Youngstown market and what our associates, our care teams, and our front-line staff experienced in this global pandemic.
Deanna M. Ford, RN, is director of mission at Mercy Health in Youngstown, OH.