In this together—a year of COVID-19


A year like no other.

When the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in Michigan in March 2020, no one knew how this contagious virus would upend our lives.

The virus delivered unprecedented challenges as it spread and sickened millions, claiming more than 500,000 lives in the U.S., including nearly 17,000 in Michigan.

But amid those struggles, the pandemic also laid bare a beating core of compassion in West Michigan.

Spectrum Health team members, with tireless dedication and ingenuity, collaborated to find the best ways to test, treat—and eventually—vaccinate patients.

In the community, gratitude flourished, as people and organizations donated equipment and showered health care team members with heartfelt messages of thanks.

The COVID-19 pandemic became a shared mission in so many ways.

We were in it together, helping and supporting one another.

One person at a time.

One breath at a time.

Here are seven highlights of community spirit from this past, whirlwind year.

Sharing stockpiles

As hospitals across the country prepared for a surge in cases, basic personal protective equipment became almost as scarce as toilet paper on store shelves.

Spectrum Health reached out for help finding supplies for health care providers on the front lines—and the response came roaring back.

People donated face masks and gloves at drop-off sites. They fired up sewing machines to make cloth masks. Universities and dentists sent equipment from their offices and labs.

Local manufacturers combined forces and ingenuity to create new products to meet front-line needs—everything from hand sanitizer to medical masks and shields.

“It has seriously brought me to tears how amazing our community is,” said Sarah Chartier, senior sustainability project manager for Spectrum Health.

Outdoor outreach

To help people get COVID-19 tests, a drive-up specimen collection site opened.

Nurses and respiratory therapists worked in tents, greeting patients at their cars to perform nasal swabs for their COVID-19 tests. In the chilly and sometimes snowy days of early spring, heaters helped keep team members warm.

And when summer weather arrived, air conditioners provided relief.

Other outdoor options emerged, as well. The emergency department set up an outdoor tent for patient triage.

A drive-up infusion service at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion allowed patients to receive care in their cars.

And primary care and outpatient facilities began offering a host of curbside services, including many immunizations, injections and tests.

Celebrating victories

In emergency departments, medical units and intensive care units throughout the health system, the battle against COVID-19 became personal.

Team members adapted quickly, putting into practice the latest developments in treatment.

And for each encounter with a patient, they donned gear to protect themselves and others from the virus—layers of personal protective equipment so complex that specially designated “PPE coaches” monitored the donning and doffing of each piece.

When patients emerged safely from the battle, the team celebrated with them. As a recovered patient was wheeled down the hall, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and nurse techs cheered and played a victory song.

“When we have these COVID-19 wins, you can see them beaming with pride,” said Patti DeLine, a nurse manager at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital. “They were able to make that happen.”

‘The best medicine’

Because of visitor restrictions aimed at curbing transmission of the COVID-19 virus, hospitalized patients could not have loved ones by their side during much of the past year.

Mindful of the healing power of human connection, Spectrum Health team members worked to keep lines of communication open.

Local companies and individuals donated iPads. Spectrum Health Information Services provided technical assistance to families. And nurses and bedside team members arranged virtual visits, allowing patients and their loved ones to see and speak to each other.

“It is super touching to see patients able to talk with their families again,” said Maggie Simons, RN, BSN, nursing supervisor for cardiothoracic critical care at the Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.

“It is the best medicine to hear them laughing in there.”

Aglow with gratitude

How do we say thank you?

Let us count the ways.

A neighborhood lined the streets with luminaries.

Residents held thank-you signs and cheered as a bus shuttled health care team members to work.

On a high-rise condominium downtown, banners and American flags hung from balconies, honoring those working on the front lines.

Thousands of donated meals, sweets and treats nourished health care team members in body and spirit. Texts of gratitude poured into a Spectrum Health “thank you” page.

The outpouring of love gave a much-appreciated boost to health care team members.

“Health care workers by nature don’t expect applause, by any means,” said Shawn Ulreich, DSc, RN, chief nurse executive and senior vice president of clinical operations for Spectrum Health. “The fact that people are reaching out is just heartwarming.”

Behind the scenes

In the battle against COVID-19, a quick and accurate test is crucial.

Making that happen—for thousands of people every day—required dedication and innovation from the laboratory services team.

The team ramped up staffing and marshalled its forces to process up to 4,800 tests a day.

Their work occurred out of the spotlight, and most team members did not meet the patients they helped. But they treated each test result as if it belonged to a family member.

“For me and my team, I believe it’s an amazing feeling to be part of something so much bigger than we are,” said Joyce VanderMey, supervisor of lab support services.

Shots in arms

When the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccines arrived, Spectrum Health administrators quickly put in place community clinics with the goal to get as many shots into arms as quickly as possible.

They hosted large-scale clinics, including the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at DeVos Place, created in collaboration with the Kent County Health Department and Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. The downtown Grand Rapids clinic has the capacity to vaccinate tens of thousands of people in a day.

Community-based clinics also opened to address racial and ethnic health inequities.

Community partners such as New Hope Baptist Church, the Wyoming Senior Center and Cesar Chavez Elementary School hosted clinics and provided outreach to Black and Brown communities in areas that were especially hard hit by COVID-19.

In partnership with the Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health nurses also delivered vaccines to homebound patients.

The assistance of community organizations was invaluable in making vaccines accessible, said Valissa Armstead, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Spectrum Health.

“To have the opportunity to meet people in a place that is trusted, where they feel comfortable, is fantastic,” she said.

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