The autumn leaves outside Providence St. Vincent Medical Center on Southwest Barnes Road weren't the only splash of color greeting healthcare workers on Monday afternoon, Oct. 18.
Supporters and well-wishers held up colored "thank you" signs. They had one message for the hospital workers inside: "We Care."
At the start of the pandemic, there was a prevailing sentiment that doctors, nurses and all other healthcare workers responding to COVID-19 patients were heroes and needed all the support the community could offer. Local restaurants and food carts donated meals. Citizens in lockdown banged pots and pans outside their windows each night in collective gratitude.
Almost two years later, as people adjust to life with COVID-19, healthcare workers are still in the trenches as coronavirus patients continue to fill intensive care units.
On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the Oregon Health Authority reported there are 568 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon. Of those patients, 126 are in the intensive care unit. There are currently just 63 ICU beds available in the state.
Understanding that Oregon's latest surge of cases have put an enormous strain on hospitals, a coalition of groups came together to show their support at St. Vincent, just outside Beaverton on the north side of U.S. Highway 26.
The Consolidated Oregon Indivisible Network — including, locally, Act for Democracy and Indivisible Cedar Mill in conjunction with the Oregon Nurses Association — teamed up to form the "We Care" campaign in August. Volunteers have delivered gift baskets of snacks, drinks, gift cards, flowers and messages to show their support for nurses and essential workers in hospitals across the Beaver State.
We Care was initially launched by ORD2 Indivisible in Jackson County to deliver emergency kits to healthcare workers and encourage others to be COVID cautious, organizers said.
We Care efforts have since spread to The Dalles, Salem, Astoria, Seaside and now Portland.
"COIN organizations across the state are having these events to show our thanks to our healthcare workers, and to show our support for all of the sacrifices that they've made," said organizer Mary Chaffin.
Chaffin also worries for healthcare workers who are confronted outside the hospital by people protesting masks and vaccine mandates.
"Healthcare workers are having to contend with so much death, so much so much stress," she said. "And it's been going on for a very long time, and we want to make sure that they know that we care about what they're going through."
About 50 gift baskets were given out Monday night, Chaffin said.
John Smeltzer, president of the local Oregon Nurses Association bargaining unit at St. Vincent Medical Center, has been a nurse for 13 years. He said the pandemic continues to exasperate staff members, and Oregon hospitals are continuing to deal with staff shortages.
"I try to have understanding for people who don't have this experience seeing people in the hospital," he said. "It is really difficult for me to make sense of it."
Chaffin luckily hasn't had a friend or family member catch a serious case of COVID-19, but one of her friends did experience the strain the coronavirus has had on hospitals firsthand.
"I have a friend who had acute appendicitis, and there was a scramble to find a hospital bed for her because of the fact that there were so many hospital beds occupied by people who hadn't gotten vaccinated," she said.
Smeltzer said any effort from people on the outside to show their support is greatly appreciated.
"These kinds of public displays and gestures are well-received," he said. "We really do really appreciate it."
To learn more about the We Care initiative and how to get involved, visit www.coinoregon.com/wecare.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.