County commissioner backs health workers amid COVID criticism
As Sedgwick County workers filled a conference room with treats donated by the public for workers at the Bob Dole Veterans Administration Hospital on Friday, nurse manager Julie Cotton was overwhelmed.
“I’m so humiliated, I think I could cry a little bit,” she told County Commissioner Sarah Lopez, who organized the collection of supplies.
On Friday, Lopez and a team of county employees delivered about the value of a pandemic moving truck to five Wichita area hospitals and two county health agencies, where employees are under stress from a year and a half on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lopez, a former Ascension Via Christi health system employee, launched a campaign several weeks ago to collect treats and thank you cards for hospital workers after hearing former colleagues and others talk about fatigue growing as the pandemic spreads and an organized resistance movement has grown opposing vaccinations and mask warrants.
“There’s a big difference between last year and this year,” said Lopez. “Last year they were made to be heroes and this year it’s a bit of the opposite. And it is not their fault. They put their health and safety on the line every day, even before [could] be vaccinated.
Lopez is one of two commissioners backing the county health officer’s recommendation that masks be mandatory in indoor public spaces, but she and Commissioner Lacey Cruse were outnumbered 3-2 according to parties in the within the five-member committee.
The political divide over COVID was visible as the truck full of goodies arrived at Via Christi St. Francis hospital on Friday morning.
In the patient parking lot, a short walk from the place of delivery, someone had parked a minivan covered in crude, hand-scribbled slogans such as “DR FAUCHI IS A CRIMINAL”. He also touted an anti-vaccination website that pushes hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug, and ivermectin, a dewormer drug, to treat COVID.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and key adviser to Presidents Trump and Biden, and many other medical experts have urgently warned against the use of these drugs for COVID as they are ineffective against the coronavirus that causes it and could be fatal.
Lopez’s sourcing campaign brought in dozens of boxes of snacks and shipping pallets of drinks. Approximately $ 4,500 in cash was donated and was used to purchase more.
Lopez also recruited local elementary school classes to make greeting cards thanking health workers and she delivered over 3,000 of those with the treats.
“We really owe our healthcare professionals a lot and that’s one way of saying thank you,” Lopez said. “I know it’s not much, but I hope they realize how much I appreciate them and how much our community appreciates them, because everything we give comes from the community.”
Lopez had initially hoped to assemble enough care packages for workers in the county health department and major hospitals in Wichita, the Wesley Medical Center, and the two Via Christi, St. Francis, and St. Joseph hospitals.
So many people donated that she was also able to welcome workers at VA Hospital, Rock Regional Hospital in Derby and Sedgwick County ComCare, which runs mental health services.
At the VA Hospital, Cotton said workers experienced fatigue during the pandemic like all health care providers.
But they have kept pace and their patients have been supportive and grateful throughout the COVID crisis, she said.
“We definitely feel committed to a very unique mission when it comes to serving veterans and I think that’s something that really keeps us going here,” Cotton said. “I think nurses do what we do because we love to do it. But it’s certainly very humbling to see the gratitude that the community has, just the people in general who say thank you. . . so it’s very, very nice to see.