The frightening realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly changed how we live our lives. Something important that we have learned here at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital (BRRH), as care demands grew so much during surges, is that showing our staff gratitude is key to preserving their resiliency. Even small gestures, like a thank-you note or a gift of food for a department, make such a difference. Now that we are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself thinking about the role that showing gratitude has played throughout the last 18 months.

The pandemic led to other challenges for our community. It caused people to put off preventive health screenings, worry about how they would keep themselves and their loved ones as safe as possible, and live significantly more isolated lives. These factors resulted in delayed diagnoses of health conditions, less-than-ideal management of chronic conditions, and a spike in the need for mental health services.

Still, in these incredibly challenging times, all one has to do is look around and it is possible to find so many reasons to be grateful — despite all we have been through. I know it is for me, as I consider the sacrifices made and kindnesses shown by the entire Blue Ridge Regional Hospital team and our community members.

COVID-19 has proven to be a very dynamic virus. Our BRRH care providers adapted quickly and often to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines and requirements. Thankfully, many community partners came together to ensure vaccine availability. BRRH was able to offer testing, care for acute COVID patients, and monoclonal antibody treatments.

We must also remember something else as we reflect on how grateful we are for our BRRH caregivers. They do not just provide care with an extraordinary level of technical expertise, they deliver it with sensitivity and an understanding that each patient is an individual who requires a customized approach to treatment. We all have different ways of accepting care, understanding information we receive from our providers, and making decisions about our treatment. Our providers know this and treat each patient accordingly.

This also includes communicating and working with their families on other protocols that have changed throughout the pandemic, such as how we now enable visitation, depending on the levels of COVID that we experience here. We turned to technology-assisted methods to help patients get support from their families throughout the pandemic. While we employed protocol workarounds like this, our providers have remained the warm and caring people that our patients need during stressful times when they are in the midst of health crises, and I am very thankful for them.

I would also like to express my deepest thanks to you, our community, for pulling together, getting vaccinated, and diligently practicing the 3 Ws — washing your hands frequently, wearing your mask when in public, and waiting six feet apart.

Everyone here has been touched by the ways individuals, church groups, local businesses, and nonprofits expressed their appreciation — often in the form of providing food — for our healthcare heroes and non-clinical team members, both at the hospital and in our clinics. We feel seen and appreciated by our community, and that great gift keeps us going.

I am also grateful for ALL of our team members — clinical and non-clinical, who were so stretched during the pandemic, and everyone who rallied to support our community, including our EMS department, fire department, local teachers, police department, our Health Department, local officials, and the list goes on.

I am also personally grateful for my family. Like yours, we have had to adjust to limited opportunities to get together in person and be creative about staying in touch, from FaceTiming as a family, using a Bible study app for my mother so she could stay connected, and participating in lots of outdoor activities in our beautiful mountains, from boating and hiking to sitting around the fire pit. It is true that the pandemic has given us the gift of prioritizing what is important in our lives, a reminder that spending time with one another doing simple things is very meaningful.

As we all get together with family and friends this Thanksgiving, we are in a better place regarding the pandemic, but we must still be careful and stay vigilant. My wish for our community is for everyone to stay well, fully enjoy togetherness with family and friends, and remember that we at BRRH remain ready to care for you. We are indeed thankful for this privilege.

Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Hale is a proven leader with more than 32 years of progressive healthcare experience. A native of East Tennessee, she holds an associate’s degree in nursing from Walters State Community College, a baccalaureate degree in nursing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University, and a doctor of nursing practice degree in executive leadership from East Tennessee State University. Ms. Hale is currently a resident of Burnsville.

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