February 27, 2023
Early in the COVID-19 global pandemic, the nation and the world seemed to band together to face a common enemy. Certainly, that cohesion faded and, in some cases, disappeared.
It was gratifying, and remains so, to see most people still consider healthcare workers heroes. We might be quick to disparage one another, but we’re still pretty good at saying thanks to those who save lives. Military, law enforcement and healthcare professionals.
A year ago, before I started writing this blog and smack dab in the middle of the Omicron variant, The University of Kansas Health System created an effort called “Spread Joy,” a chance for employees to encourage each other as the COVID-19 patient numbers got uglier and long hospitalizations and deaths started to spike.
With nearly a thousand employees not able to report to work at one point, it felt overwhelming to many, not to mention the patients and their families. With the initiative, we spread joy through cards, notes and emails and invited the public to do the same.
An example: One Sally Lentz wrote, "I can't thank you enough for the medical updates online, the (radio) spots and the television spots that have made COVID understandable and preventable. We will always be grateful ... Please know how much you are appreciated and admired for your dedication and service."
Spreading this joy was the best part of a lousy situation.
Many students got in on the act, and several of us had the pleasure of delivering handwritten notes from entire classes thanking healthcare heroes.
Not at all of us finished our appointed rounds.
A delay in sharing the thanks
I’m embarrassed to say someone handed me a stack of 10 notes addressed to healthcare workers, thanking them for their service. And between working from home, working from an office and visiting the hospital on our campus in Kansas City, Kansas, the past year, they got, um, squirreled away somewhere.
I just found them. Here’s the kicker. They’re not 10 notes from 10 students. They’re all from the same student who used an actual pen (and this young lady has terrific handwriting).
You’ll be as amused to know as I am embarrassed that health system heroes have now read the notes written by Morgan Horn of Missouri State University. I delivered them last week. Only a year late. Nothing like those crazy stories you hear of letters mailed during World War II just delivered.
So what did Morgan write?
No 2 cards were alike. Each thank you card had its own sentiment:
“A huge thanks to the healthcare workers for your selflessness, hard work and compassion during these difficult times.”
Another: “I wanted to thank you for all the hard work you are doing to keep our community safe.”
Or: “Your dependability to the community does not go unnoticed!”
The University of Kansas Health System is a go-to place to work despite the challenges. Our leadership is not one, though, to sugarcoat. Things are not perfect in healthcare. We have burnout, people leaving the profession and even violence against healthcare providers. The access to and financial constraints of patients and systems alike make the future seem ominous some days.
I think that there were 7 or 8 of us in this group ... and we all got together in the basement of our dorm and spent hours making personalized, heartfelt thank-you cards to give out. Morgan Horn
It's never too late
The anecdote is like what you probably do in your busy life of work, family, school, not-enough sleep or leisure. That’s to put 1 foot in front of the other and focus on the task in front of you. For us, it’s the patient and nothing but the patient.
“I can’t imagine what this past year has been like for you, and I have so much admiration for your strength,” Morgan wrote on another notecard. “I appreciate you very much and all the good you put into this world!”
Maybe this blog would read better had Morgan remained a mystery. But I did track her down. She’s now a junior at Missouri State University in Springfield, having grown up in Mission, Kansas. As suspected, the notes were part of an assignment to “do something good” during the pandemic.
“My group of all girls decided that rather than go outside and do something, we would all stay inside and get together one day to spend a couple of hours writing thank-you notes to healthcare workers, since it wasn't too long after Covid restrictions had ended on campus,” Morgan told me in an email. “I think that there were 7 or 8 of us in this group, and we all got together in the basement of our dorm and spent hours making personalized, heartfelt thank-you cards to give out.”
She naturally thought of our health system, it turns out, because her aunt Julie Patterson (patient scheduler) and cousin Emily Patterson (bone marrow and cellular therapeutics nurse) both work here.
Oh, and this part made me feel a little better. Not knowing exactly what to do with them at first, Morgan held on to the notes for a year in her dorm. So these sentiments remained unopened for a good long time.
More than once, health system leadership has reminded staff that people on the frontlines of healthcare need encouragement now more than ever. I’d say Morgan has perfect timing.