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May 13, 2020, Maywood, Illinois – The COVID-19 pandemic turned the disciplines of Lent into mandates as the coronavirus forced the entire world to practice isolation and separation and face their fears. That is one aspect of a reflection written by Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, a hospital chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois. She writes of the suffering that patients – whether or not they had the virus – endured while isolated in the hospital and of the fear that all of the hospital staff face. “For us, the hospital was the place where Lent was practiced every moment,” she writes, but concludes by encouraging readers to take on the hope of Easter.
Read Sister Xiomara’s reflection on life during the pandemic in the newsletter of Giving Voice, a national, peer-led association for younger women religious. Sister Xiomara serves in leadership of Giving Voice as a member of its Core Team.
May 12, 2020, Henderson, Nevada – The signs in front of all three campuses of Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, say it all: “Heroes work here.” The signs pay tribute to the staff members of the three campuses, who, like health care workers throughout the world, are risking their own lives to heal patients with COVID-19. The hospital buildings are also lit in blue to recognize the efforts of their partners, the first responders who bring patients to the hospitals.
As of May 8, 2020, Clark County, Nevada – which includes Henderson and Las Vegas – reported 4,616 cases of COVID-19 and 253 deaths, according to the Southern Nevada Health District. Patients with the virus are treated at the Siena and San Martín campuses of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals. The original facility, St. Rose de Lima Campus, has only 10 beds and has not treated patients with the virus.
“We’re hoping we’ve peaked,” said Sister Phyllis Sikora, OP, Vice President of Mission and Spiritual Care for the Nevada Service Area of Dignity Health. Recently returned to her office at the Rose de Lima Campus after seven weeks of working from home, she said her greatest challenge was not being with the staff during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. “They were faced with it day in and day out,” she said.
The dedication of the staff inspired Sister Phyllis to write weekly emails to them, thanking them and acknowledging the unusual times they faced. “I spoke about their courage to keep coming back every single day,” she said. “The hardest part for me was not to be here at the hospital” to share the challenge.
In her emails, Sister Phyllis also reminded the staff of another particularly challenging time: the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, when 58 people were killed and 413 wounded. The panic brought the number of wounded to more than 800. The three campuses of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals treated 79 patients, while the chaplains reached out to patients, family members, and staff who were traumatized by the shooting. “I tried to draw upon what got us through October 1, and that we did it and were able to support each other,” Sister Phyllis said. “This is another opportunity for us to do that.”
Religious faith has played a key role in helping staff, patients, and families through the pandemic. “A lot of staff members have said what a difference it makes to work in a faith-based hospital,” Sister Phyllis said. They are able to talk about their faith and the ways in which it helps them to deal with the crisis. The hospitals have incorporated formal prayer: each day at 7:00 p.m., staff members are encouraged to light a candle and pray for all who are impacted by COVID-19, she said.
Sister Phyllis noted other creative ways in which the Spiritual Care Department reached out to patients and their families. “We had to find ways in which we could make that connection” without going into the room of a patient with COVID-19, she said. Priests celebrated Anointing of the Sick through the intercom at the nurse’s station so that the family, patient, and the rest of the staff could hear. Sister Phyllis also cited the case of a woman who celebrated her 91st birthday in the Siena Campus hospital; staff members purchased a cake, brought it to her, and sent a picture of the celebration to her family.
Sister Phyllis said the staff members at the Siena and San Martín campuses also learned to celebrate their victories: the recovery of COVID-19 patients and their discharges from the hospital. After Easter, she said, St. Rose Dominican initiated its Code Hope program, in which a patient about to be discharged chooses a victory theme such as Amazing Grace or the theme from the movie Rocky. That music is played over the loudspeaker as staff members line the corridors, cheering on the patient who is wheeled out of the hospital to continue recovery at home. “On TV every night you see how many new cases we have,” Sister Phyllis said. “It’s important also to know that people recover from [the virus] and to celebrate that.”
While St. Rose Dominican employees support one another, their patients, and the patients’ families, they are also on the receiving end of support: from members of the larger Henderson and Las Vegas community.
“There probably isn’t a day that goes by when somebody in our community doesn’t bring in breakfast or lunch for our employees,” often including non-medical staff, such as Environmental Services workers who keep the hospital clean, Sister Phyllis said. Community members also sew and donate cloth masks that can be worn by non-medical staff and by medical staff members when they aren’t working directly with a coronavirus patient.
Watch a video of employees of the Las Vegas office of Whiting-Turner Contracting Company bringing 100 box lunches to employees at the St. Rose de Lima Campus of Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican Hospitals.
Sister Phyllis said that St. Rose Dominican Hospitals and the Las Vegas area in general have been blessed. “One of the reasons I was able to come back [to work in the hospital] was that our numbers of cases have dropped drastically.”
Yet, Sister Phyllis acknowledges that a resurgence of COVID-19 cases is possible once the Las Vegas Strip is reopened, and that the future is uncertain: how the “new normal” will look and how the hospitals will be able to celebrate postponed events such as Nurse’s Week in May and the hospital’s popular fundraising gala. The words of the prayer recited every evening by St. Rose Dominican Hospitals employees could inspire them no matter what future they face:
“As we make the healing presence of God known in our world, we ask for a peace that surpasses all understanding. We also ask for the fortitude needed for the road ahead, knowing that we are walking through this journey together.”
Feature photo at top: A sign in front of the Siena Campus of St. Rose Dominican Hospitals pays tribute to hospital employees during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar signs were placed in front of all three campuses of St. Rose Dominican Hospital.