Remembrances, Recognition and Milestones During the Pandemic Year

By The SHSMD Team posted 03-24-2021 10:43 AM


In the year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, health care organizations have faced innumerable challenges and navigated through uncharted territory. Internal and external communications have never been more important, and organizations have used a variety of strategies to acknowledge both the victories and the losses during these difficult times.

The following are examples from SHSMD member organizations and the AHA — remembrance events, public recognition of milestones and stories from the front lines. They highlight an array of creative approaches for acknowledging the impacts of the pandemic on staff and communities and supporting health care workers through challenging times. For health care communications and marketing staff, these examples provide both inspiration and guidance about strategies they might adopt in the coming months at their organizations.

Tidelands Health: Luminary Observance

Tidelands Health in South Carolina marked the first anniversary of the health system’s initial COVID-19 case with a “Lights to Remember, Hope for Tomorrow” luminary ceremony. Last week’s event was a way to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to the virus, offer thanks for those who recovered, honor the region’s health care heroes and celebrate the promise of the COVID-19 vaccine.image002.jpg

Tidelands Health placed more than 700 luminaries, representing the lives lost to COVID-19 in the region, at each of four different campuses. Instead of hosting a public gathering, it asked community residents, businesses, schools, churches and other organizations to participate in the observance by turning on exterior lights and submitting messages to display on the luminary bags. A “Lights to Remember, Hope for Tomorrow” sign was also available to download, print and post in windows or to hold up for photos that could be shared on social media.

“We wanted the observance to be not only a time of remembrance but also a celebration of the hope we all now have thanks to the vaccine,” says Amy Stevens, vice president of marketing and communications at Tidelands Health. “By lighting thousands of luminaries on our campuses and encouraging residents and businesses across the region to turn on their exterior lights, we were able to create a safe but powerful commemoration.”

UNC Health: Days of Remembrance and Reflection

UNC Health held two COVID-19 commemoration events. The Day of Remembrance was held on February 23 to remember the 500,000 Americans who have passed from COVID-19. The event included simultaneous moments of silence, ringing of the bell tower on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and the reading of a poem by UNC Health chaplains. Well-being webinars and sacred spaces for reflection and prayer were also available throughout the day. In addition to the events held at locations across the state, UNC Health became an Arbor Day Foundation “A Friend of the Forest” by planting 500 trees in memory of those lost to COVID-19 in multiple national forests across the country.

The Day of Reflection on March 3 marked the anniversary of the first diagnosis of a COVID-19 patient in North Carolina. A reflections video captured the events of the last year, from the first diagnosed patient to the first vaccination. Employees wore yellow ribbons, and social media and an online “reflections” platform provided an opportunity for staff to share stores, photos and memories of the past year.

“The Day of Reflection was very emotional for many people in our organization. It was an important milestone to mark in order for people to move forward with hope for the future,” says Lisa Schiller, chief communications and marketing officer at UNC Health.

In February, UNC Health also participated in the Share the Love campaign, a joint effort with a local television station, the county government and the regional chamber of commerce to honor frontline health care workers. The campaign asked people to submit photos and videos, send letters and print out “Share the Love — Support NC Healthcare Workers” posters.

CoxHealth: Milestones and Morale

Throughout the pandemic, CoxHealth, based in Springfield, Missouri, has used social media and its newsroom page to acknowledge notable milestones. Last December, metal tulips were “planted” in recognition of the 1,500 COVID-19 patients who had been discharged from the Cox South campus. In February, CoxHealth celebrated the closure of the COVID-19 ICU wing at a news conference and on social media.

In addition, the CoxHealth Morale Team has pursued a series of projects to support and honor health care workers, including “Thank You, Health Care Heroes” signs and the “Heroes Work Here” artwork campaign. A 26-foot-long “Thank You, Heroes” banner was placed on the roof of the Cox South facility, where it could be seen from the breakrooms of the COVID-19 units.

“Throughout this journey, we felt that transparency was incredibly important,” says Steve Edwards, president and CEO at CoxHealth. “This is true of sharing data, but it also relates to making a conscious effort to recognize key moments and milestones that mark our progress. There has been much pain and devastation through this pandemic but also events that bring cause for celebration — such as when patients get to go home, which is our ultimate goal. Sharing those moments brings us great joy and helps remind us that an end is in sight.”

AHA: Stories from the Front Lines

Throughout the pandemic, the AHA has gathered stories of health workers saving lives, collaborating with colleagues, supporting their communities and facing extraordinary challenges. The “Stories from the Front Lines” series has included efforts by health care organizations to highlight the heroic work of health care workers fighting COVID-19.

In addition, the AHA’s “Forever Grateful” campaign recognizes the nurses, physicians, and frontline caregivers and staff who have persevered during the pandemic. The page compiles messages with the #ForeverGrateful hashtag and offers a wealth of graphics, messaging and social media tools for developing communications campaigns and outreach programs.

A Look Ahead to Post-Pandemic Planning

In a year filled with unprecedented challenges, health care organizations have developed a multitude of strategies to connect with their staff and communities and acknowledge losses, recognize heroism and boost morale. More recent vaccination efforts and the decline in COVID-19 cases have provided much-needed hope and optimism. However, it remains uncertain when a truly post-pandemic world will emerge. As a result, longer-term messaging and communications plans will be likely be difficult to develop.

As hospitals and health systems work to bolster the morale of their heroic teams, staff burnout and overload are also of concern. Assessing and understanding the resiliency, mood and sentiment of staff and within organizations will be important in identifying the most appropriate strategies. As one SHSMD member put it, “Small, personal gestures and acts of gratitude may go a lot further than expansive campaigns. Show you appreciate them by showing you understand how their world has been turned upside down and sideways.”

Learning More

SHSMD members can share resources, ideas and questions with peers in the MySHSMD community. Nonmembers, learn more about SHSMD and join.

Leadership in the Time of Coronavirus is a three-part SHSMD Education Workshop Series starting on April 15 that will explore recent research around the changing workplace climate and specific leadership practices that can combat disengagement and burnout at all levels of the organization.

Download the Vaccine Communications Toolkit and other Vaccine Resources available to SHSMD and American Hospital Association members.