PBMC executive director Amy Loeb speaking at a remembrance ceremony outside the hospital March 8. Photo: Jim Lennon

March 14 marks a year to the day when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency in the United States. It has been a year we may be glad to put behind us, but it is a year we must all remember.

When I arrived at Peconic Bay Medical Center a few years ago, the leadership team held a retreat to discuss our collective “why.” At the retreat, we decided we were going to do everything we could to raise the bar on bringing world-class care to every person in our community because everyone is “someone’s someone.”

Today, as I reflect on the last year—because this is a time for reflection for all of humanity—I can’t help thinking about that day. For most of us, these last 12 months have been hard in ways that were previously unimaginable. We had many more questions than answers and fear that often consumed our minds. That is how I felt anyway. I was uncertain and afraid, particularly in April, as patients suffering with COVID-19 kept arriving and as a leader, I did not have the answers to so many questions.- How many patients would come?? Would our people get sick? Would we have what we needed? When would this all just go away?

But I kept coming back to our collective “why”: everyone is someone’s someone. And what I realized was that “why” was not just about our patients. It was about our staff, as well.

What kept me going every day was being and feeling part of a team that was greater than myself. It was working alongside and for my fellow caregivers. Everyone stepped up and did what they could do, what they had been called to do, every day, beyond what anyone could expect. I realized perhaps for the first time that I worked with heroes. And it took a pandemic to realize they had always been heroes. Heroes step up when called upon.

They stepped up when the need was greatest, and as an organization, we fulfilled our mission. We overcame our exhaustion and fears and came to our hospital every day and provided high-quality, compassionate care. We took care of our patients as if they were our own loved ones.

I think about some of the moments that vividly remain in my memory, like watching the ICU team transfer patients to the brand new, expanded ICU that we opened on March 17. I smile thinking about how our nursing team, with the support of many, invented and reinvented “COVID-units” as often as was necessary to best take care of patients. And as this happened, many had to adjust—creating new supply rooms, or changing assignments, or just doing what was needed regardless of whose “job” it was… because everything was everybody’s job.

I remain in absolute awe of the nurses, unable to escape their bedside posts for 12+ hours at a stretch in full PPE. Fulfilling their duty to care for all patients with pride, ingenuity, skill, and empathy. I watched as the respiratory therapy and anesthesia team figured out how to turn an anesthesia machine into a ventilator—because we thought that we might need it.

There are so many memories… Watching the skilled nursing facility transform and expertly care for patients with COVID. Watching the command center receive, plate out, and deliver food generously donated to us by the community. The overwhelming joy I felt when I saw that a new ventilator had been delivered. Watching a limping physician walking into the building who said, “No matter how bad I may be, the patients in there are worse.” Watching a group of people from various departments come together to form a “proning” team to help position patients so they could breathe. Our environmental services team working around the clock to keep this building safe and clean, even when they were afraid.

I remembered the story of the “willing horse,” as we decided to accept transfers from other hospitals that were in far worse shape than we were. We received over 100 transfers. Our medical group pivoted quickly and never stopped caring for the patients who, thankfully, didn’t need hospital care. When others closed their doors, we remained open to care for those that needed us.

I have deeply etched memories of our staff members forming teams to roll out FaceTime visits so that patients and their loved ones could be connected. And in many cases, so dying patients could have a last call with their loved ones. The losses were staggering.

But sometimes we won. We won a lot. More than 900 of our neighbors and friends recovered from COVID-19 and were able to return home to their loved ones.

There are countless moments that I witnessed that are tattooed in my memory forever. And it comes back to the “why” we all share: that everyone is someone’s someone. That every role matters. Every person matters. Every moment matters. Everyone is someone’s most important person.

Like so many who have survived disasters, many of us feel as though despite all the hardships that we were lucky. We had the supplies and equipment that we needed, and we were safe. The census came down. We had, and will forever have, the Northwell Health System to help us get the supplies that we need, transfer patients, bring in staff, and support us in any way necessary. That’s very fortunate.

Now, we have vaccinations, antibodies, and treatment plans that on a global scale should change things dramatically. While our staff members at Peconic Bay Medical Center are healthcare heroes, they also have experienced trauma, so we have initiated a Wellbeing and Resiliency Program. We need to support each other so we can heal.

A year has passed. We are living in a different world. Let’s be hopeful that it is a better world. We have many reasons to be optimistic. Heroes live and work among us. As a hospital and a community, we came together like never before and were powerful against a deadly pandemic.

WE did that. Let’s keep doing it, let’s continue to stick together and raise health. At Peconic Bay Medical Center, we are grateful for the privilege of being the resource you turn to in need and thank you deeply for your support when we needed it.

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