Each year, Time Magazine famously dubs a particularly influential person or group of people as its “Person of the Year.” While Time went with president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris, I’d like to recognize one of Time’s runners-up, frontline health care workers, as the Hermiston Herald’s own Person of the Year.
Primary care doctors, emergency room nurses, surgeons, respiratory therapists, certified nursing assistants and other health care workers are absolutely crucial to this country’s well-being. Their services save lives, prolong lives and improve lives. And yet, as an American, I have been deeply ashamed of how we have treated them this year.
In the spring, we sent them into hospitals where people were dying in hallways because there were no beds available, attempting to fight a deadly disease about which little was known, all without proper protective gear because our country was under-prepared and slow to respond to the need. Some died as a result. Others lived in hotels or slept in their car, terrified of what they might bring home to their families.
At the time, Good Shepherd Medical Center was fortunate to not be so overwhelmed and under-equipped as hospitals in cities like New York. But when I interviewed nurses participating in the “Essential not Sacrificial” car parade protest through town in May, they told me that, while they couldn’t reveal details due to privacy concerns, what they had seen as they treated local COVID-19 patients had left them scared of the virus in a way no season of influenza ever had.
Throughout the year, as waves of the virus have overwhelmed various hospitals across the country, doctors and nurses have described working inhumane hours in conditions worse than anything they have ever experienced in their careers. The personal protective equipment they’ve been grateful to finally have has left dark purple bruises across their faces during the long hours they’ve spent treating patients who complained it was too much to ask someone to wear a mask for 15 minutes in Costco.
They have had to bear more of the emotional burden of patients’ deaths as families have said goodbye to their loved ones via video while a nurse held the dying patient’s hand instead of the patient’s spouse or child. The mental health toll of the pandemic on health care providers has been extensive, workers say, but they feel they must keep pushing through burnout because they are so badly needed.
All of that would be bad enough, but an ignorant segment of the population has, instead of being grateful, reviled and vilified health care workers. On social media and in the news, doctors and nurses have described patients who sneer and scream insults, accusing them of injecting them with poison to perpetuate the “hoax” of COVID-19 or insisting on a magic cure they’re sure the doctor has but is withholding in order to make sure they die for political reasons.
Imagine dedicating your life to saving lives, only to have the very people you’re working to save use their dying days to baselessly accuse you of murdering them.
Others have not gone that far, but on the Herald’s social media pages and other community Facebook pages I have repeatedly seen local residents falsely claim that local health care workers are committing fraud by lying about what patients died of because they “get more money for COVID” — along with other slander against their integrity that would get someone challenged to a duel were we living in the 1700s.
Enough is enough. We need health care workers, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their service. It’s time people who appreciate that speak up again and reminded them that we’re with them, cheering them on as they help us get through a dark winter and on to a world where vaccines have helped tame this beast.
To the hundreds of local health care workers, from hospitals to nursing homes: Thank you for your service.