Farmers honor health care workers at PBMC

A caravan of thank yous have become a popular way for the community, fire departments and EMS volunteers to show support for health care workers since the outbreak of COVID-19 began.

Farmers on the East End put a twist on the blossoming tradition in a salute by farmers to front line workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead Tuesday.

Horns blared from tractors, pickup trucks and even a grape harvester as dozens of farm vehicles joined the convoy, which made its way down Route 58 and turned north of Roanoke Avenue around 6:30 p.m.

The parade was orchestrated by members of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“There’s no question that hospital workers are on the front lines,” said farm bureau director Rob Carpenter. “The farming community felt it was very important to show their support for [hospital workers’] hard work and dedication in these unique times.”

A group of hospital employees waved them on, as farmers gave a thumbs up and round of applause.

Standing in the crowd of employees was PBMC President and CEO Andy Mitchell.

“This has been very hard on the staff both in terms of the quantity of patients that came in so quickly and the severity of the illness,” he said in an interview. “The support that we’ve seen from the community has been nothing short of just extraordinary.”

Since the outbreak began, the community quickly mobilized to provide donations of food, water and personal protective equipment, as well as an anonymous nearly $1 million donation to directly support hospital staff and several tribute and thank-you parades.

Mr. Mitchell said Monday night’s parade would be the final — yet a fitting one.

“Tonight, being the farming community, really speaks to the heritage of the hospital,” he said.

Many tractors were adorned with signs to recognize a son, daughter or extended family member that works at PBMC. 

Mr. Carpenter noted that many local farmers double as volunteer firefighters and played a crucial role in opening the hospital, then Central Suffolk, in Riverhead.

Farmer Henry Talmage was instrumental in establishing the hospital nearly 60 years ago, according to Mr. Mitchell.

“He never lived to see the hospital open, but it was his mission along with several others to build a hospital in Riverhead to care for the community,” he said. “Sixty years later, we are in a different place physically, but spiritually, emotionaly? We haven’t changed at all.”

Mr. Carpenter added that there’s a “long, rich tradition” of farmers participating in the community.

“And [there is] a need for something positive, amidst all the sadness and stress that’s going on,” he said.