HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - The coronavirus has been affecting the United States for almost a year now. At Merit Health Wesley in Hattiesburg, the hospital is recognizing three hardworking employees for their efforts and contributions to their jobs this past year.
The hospital named Patty Cabana, Infection Control Coordinator and nurse, the 2020 employee of the year. Merit Health is also recognizing Angel Freeman, Surgical Services Director and nurse, the Clinical manager of the year and Steve Branton, Materials Management Director in the purchasing department, the non-clinical manager of the year.
The three winners shared some of their experiences working through the pandemic.
Cabana said in the beginning when the hospital was learning new information every day, she struggled to keep morale up.
“We didn’t know. Every day, sometimes it felt like every hour, something new came out, so the biggest challenge was I felt like I was letting the staff down because I didn’t have the correct answer” Cabana explained.
Freeman shares Cabana’s feelings.
“It was a challenge to educate ourselves about the virus so that we could take the best care of our patients while still protecting our staff,” said Freeman.
Through the year, the staff worked diligently to educate themselves about the virus and safety precautions. They say the surge of patients and long days reminded them of their passion for their work.
“Our purpose is to provide the tools, equipment, supplies, necessary for our health care heroes to stay safe and to provide the best care for our patients,” Branton said. “Continuing that purpose or that feeling of purpose is really what drove us to continue striving today.”
Freeman said seeing an influx of patients is challenging.
“We have continuously seen people as sick as they possibly could be, and I think a lot of us found our strength in knowing how badly they really needed our help, and we felt it was our duty to do everything in our power to help these people recover from this virus,” Freeman said.
Through the tough year, the winners did witness moments of hope. Cabana reflected on one of the hospital’s first COVID-19 patients.
“A specific patient that we had here at Merit Health Wesley that we had been caring for for several weeks, when they were able to go home, the excitement on everyone’s face, whether you worked in the environmental services department or administration, it was just a joy to see this patient go home,” said Cabana.
“We had so many churches that had people making cloth masks and providing the hospitals for our staff to use, and that was so helpful, but it was also just really incredible to see the community pull together the way that they did,” Branton remembered.
Freeman said it was those moments of joy that meant the most to the whole hospital last year.
“When we actually had patients that we had been taking care of for so many weeks and we finally had those patients recover and were going home, that was probably the biggest and the brightest star that we put back in to us and our staff. It gave us hope to continue fighting,” Freeman said.
Cabana, Freeman and Branton all thanked their coworkers and departments for the support and help this past year. Their hospital peers, administrators and patients nominated and selected the three for the yearly awards out of more than 1,000 employees.
Each healthcare worker encourages people to stay strong following guidelines to keep everyone safe and continue to move forward through the pandemic.