Top Stories 2020: Health care workers rise to the challenge to confront COVID-19

On Sept. 9, a group of health care workers at Peconic Bay Medical Center gathered in front of the hospital as the northern portion of Roanoke Avenue was officially renamed 1 Heroes Way.

It was a fitting tribute to the health care workers who, for six months prior, were on the front lines of a pandemic that still rages on.

“We recognize … not just what was performed heroically in the four walls of this building by you and so many of your colleagues, but also all of our first responders and essential workers,” Andy Mitchell, president and CEO of PBMC, said during a ceremony that morning.

As COVID-19 arrived in the United States, health care workers in our local hospitals — PBMC, Stony Brook Eastern Long Island and Stony Brook Southampton — as well as the many first responders across the region, faced an unprecedented challenge. Early in the pandemic, hospitals dealt with limited supplies of personal protective equipment as they began to treat patients for a disease so little was known about.

In late March, Amy Loeb, deputy executive director of PBMC, described how two units had been dedicated to COVID-19 patients, which she called a “big change in routine.”

As the health care workers stepped up to the challenge, so did the community, by supporting those on the front lines. Whether it was meal trains to provide food for health care workers or parades of thankful community members driving past hospitals, honking their horns and holding signs out their windows, the support was nonstop.

The biggest message health care workers shared in response was for people to continue following the guidelines to stay safe.

Amid all the heartache that was felt, from COVID-19 patients who did not survive, or families unable to be with their loved ones in a hospital room, there were still moments of joy — particularly when a patient recovered and was greeted with cheers as they were discharged. At PBMC, music became a source of joy as “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles became the unofficial anthem that would play over the PA system each time a COVID-19 patient was discharged.