A marker donated by Peconic Monuments is placed in a garden of remembrance outside the hospital's employee entrance. Photo: Denise Civiletti

One year after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Suffolk County, Peconic Bay Medical Center staff came together outside the hospital to remember and reflect on what they’ve been through in the battle against the virus over the past year.

In a moving and sometimes emotional ceremony, hospital leaders spoke about how Peconic Bay Medical Center’s frontline workers overcame their own fear and anxiety to fight the mysterious killer virus that was spreading in the community.

They spoke about what they learned as they navigated the round-the-clock battle to care for the sick, save lives, cope with daily tragedy on a scale few had ever seen before and overcome fear for the safety of themselves and their families.

“We were ready to face a global pandemic,” Peconic Bay’s executive director Amy Loeb told the group of several dozen people gathered in the darkness last night.

“We didn’t know it. But we were ready,” she said. “We were afraid. But we were ready. We had way more questions than answers, but we were ready. Our personal lives were upside down with kids home from school and not knowing what to do and our loved ones at home and being afraid. But we were ready.”

Loeb, who joined Peconic Bay two years ago and managed the hospital’s coronavirus response, recalled a leadership retreat that took place when she first came to Riverhead.

“At that retreat we discussed ‘the collective why.’ Why were we all here? What made what we do important? And we decided that the community deserves world class care. And the reason is because everyone is someone’s someone,” Loeb said. “Everybody has somebody that loves them and who they love. And together we were going to do everything we could to raise the bar.”

The day of remembrance is a day to remember loved ones lost and lives lost around the world, Loeb said.

“But also, this is a day of remembrance of how we stood together,” she said.

Members of the hospital administration wore scrubs yesterday
to remind themselves of who they are and what they do, Loeb said.

“We’re caregivers too,” Loeb said. “Whether we directly lay hands on patients or we indirectly help. We are all caregivers and so we wanted to remind ourselves. But second, and even more importantly, we’re here to stand together with all of you, in support of the amazing work that you do every single day. We’re grateful for the privilege of being your leaders. And you are a source of hope,” she said.

“We’ve learned so much about each other — who can sing, who can be creative, who can make ventilators, who can create new masks, who can modify PPP so that we can manage to get through a day, how can we document on glass doors in the ICU. I mean really, we thought of everything,” she said. “And we came together to deliver care differently and work as one. We came together like never before.”

PBMC’s new medical director, Jeff Zilberstein, who recently came to Riverhead from South Shore University Hospital, said the COVID crisis reminded all health care workers of their mission.

“We were reminded of our purpose,” Zilberstein said. “What were we doing — we were taking care of people. And that’s our purpose. And that’s what we have to remember is that that that remains to this day. COVID or no COVID — today, tomorrow, forever. That’s our purpose. Our purpose is to take care of each person’s someone. And so, Thank you.”

Chief nursing officer Christine Kippley recalled a video she posted last spring to an internal chat tool used by hospital staff.

“When I sat down and I made that video, I think about what I asked of everyone that night, and I asked everyone that despite the fear, we need to come together,” Kippley said.

“We are all this community has and we have to do this and we will do it together. And that’s really what we did, and we got through it,” she said.

Last night, Kippley read something she’d read to the staff when she made that video a year ago.

“I didn’t even realize at the time that I read this, how poignant it would be, knowing how things unfolded over the next few weeks,” she said. Kippley read the verse: “‘And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on. And you cast your fears aside, and you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone. Look inside, and you’ll be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.’”

“Together, we all stood together in spite of the fear.”

Tara Anglim, senior director of patient and family-centered care services, agreed.

“We did stand together. We stood together to with our arms out, open wide for our community. We weren’t just caring for patients. We were caring for mothers, fathers, police officers, teachers, bank tellers,” Anglim said.

“We were caring for our community and our community was caring right back for us. I can remember, as I know many of you will never forget, in the darkest weeks, the outpouring of love that our community gave to us, it lifted us up when we thought we didn’t have anything else to give, whether it was children’s cards or drawings, drinks, desserts, food — we all gained so
much weight,” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“The money that was donated, I can remember schools donating PPE, dropping that off for us firehouses, police stations, we cared for our community and our community cared right back for all of us. We will never forget that. And for me, today is remembering that.”

Anglim unveiled a granite monument placed in what will become a garden of remembrance on the north side of the building. It reads, “It’s memory’s lovely garden that soothes the hurting heart.”

Hospital chaplain Rabbi Deborah Miller offered a prayer, followed by a powerful rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Jerome Foster Lewis, a front-desk worker at Peconic Bay.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.