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Mercy hospital creates memorial for 711 COVID-19 patients who died there during the pandemic

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:21 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 6:34 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Mercy hospital took a moment on Thursday to remember the souls lost within its walls to COVID-19 and the toll it took on the staff.

Employees gathered in the main lobby mid-morning to dedicate a memorial to the victims.

”Every one of the yellow hearts that you see here represents 711 lives lost at Mercy Springfield hospital during this pandemic,” said Craig McCoy, the President of Mercy Springfield Communities, as he gestured to a host of heart-shaped stickers on the lobby windows overlooking the courtyard.

“This memorial is a reminder of the presence and absence of family and the many who still grieve,” added Mercy Chaplain Dani Helm. “It also represents a sacred moment in time when a new normal began for each family who has lost a loved one.”

The COVID Memorial is certainly not ostentatious with just a single sign explaining why the hearts are on the windows. Some people passing through might not even notice them. But to a staff that worked so far hard to try and keep those 711 COVID patients alive, those hearts tug at their hearts.

“I see faces,” said Mercy ICU nurse Jessica Arnold when asked what she thought of when she looked at the memorial hearts. “I see names. I see exact moments.”

“Each heart has a name and each heart has a story,” Helm repeated several times during her comments to the crowd.

And those stories are heartbreaking to the close-knit staff who were the only ones allowed to be with the quarantined COVID patients while the patient’s families were kept away from their contagious loved ones.

“People will never be able to understand fully the extent of what we went through,” said Mercy ICU nurse Lacey Gates.

“This is so much more mentally draining than taking care of other patients,” Arnold said.

“This experience is about as close as I’ve seen to being in a combat environment since I left the military,” said Mercy Chief Administrative Officer Erik Frederick. “Just the prolonged engagement, the energy that it took and the scars we all collected along the way.”

“One of the biggest scars is that you see those family members not being able to be there with their loved ones when they pass and that’s the worst,” Arnold added.

“But I will say that no patient ever passed away alone,” Gates pointed out. “Each nurse was sitting by each patient and held their hand as they passed away. Even though the family was not there we tried to be the family to that patient.”

“I remember one patient specifically who held my hand before she got intubated and just said, ‘Please don’t let me die,’” recalled Mercy ICU nurse Amber Fann. “And that’s something I’ve taken with me every day. It’s hard to deal with.”

Another thing that made it hard to deal with was the nature of COVID. The staff had to deal with the ebbs-and-flows of an ever changing disease that literally takes your breath away. It’s an illness that steals your air until you end up on a ventilator that has to breathe for you, decreasing your chances of survival.

“You’d watch those patients slowly give up because they just could not handle it anymore,” Gates said. “We really got to know those patients during that time when they were close to taking their last breath on their own and I think that’s what has made it the hardest because these ‘patients’ became ‘people’ to us.”

“We go into medicine to try and make people better,” Arnold added. “And when you do everything you can and you can’t improve someone, and we can’t even understand why, it can really get to you as a person. There were those days when I wondered if I was ever going to make it through, when you just go home and cry. But one of the big things that encouraged me to come to work each day was how the community supported us. When restaurants were closed they would still come and feed healthcare workers. Families would make goody-bags for us bringing snacks. The hospital would bring around food trays just to help keep us going. It’s just encouraging to know that our community was behind us.”

Cox does not currently have a memorial but had 979 patients die there during the pandemic.

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