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Healthcare Workers and Patients Saluted at Watauga Medical Center on Friday Morning

By Nathan Ham

Emotions ran high on Friday morning as law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments, and area rescue squads formed a procession of lights, sirens and horns in support of medical staff coming to work and leaving work, and for the patients under hospital care that may not have any family with them due to the COVID-19 visitor restrictions.

“The community response has been incredible. To me, it gives a sense of hope in our community and we, as a healthcare team, feel the love and support of the community and we could not do this without them. We’re really appreciative of the effort,” said Chuck Mantooth, President/CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System.

The event included a salute to workers and patients at both Watauga Medical Center and at Cannon Memorial Hospital in Avery County.

“This is really incredible that they are doing this for the employees here. This shows you Boone, and how much of a community we are. Everybody is in this together,” says JoLynn Mahoney, an executive assistant with ARHS.

Some of the groups that participated in the event include Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Police, Appalachian State University Police, Avery County Emergency Management, Beech Mountain Police Department, Blowing Rock Police Department, Boone Fire Department, Boone Police Department, North Carolina Highway Patrol, Watauga Medics, Watauga Rescue Squad, Watauga Sheriff’s Office, Watauga Emergency Management, Foscoe Fire Department and emergency personnel from Ashe County.

Rob Hudspeth, the Senior Vice President of System Advancement for ARHS, shared some emotional feelings as he arrived at Watauga Medical Center this morning.

“The emotion of the moment was overwhelming. When they drove through our parking lot, it was wonderful to see patients up and out of their beds, peering from the window of their hospital rooms.  This has been a difficult time for many of them, being sick and not able to see family. This gesture from our emergency responders gave all of us a few moments of hope and happiness,” said Hudspeth.

Healthcare workers all over the country have experienced similar salutes from their communities for the many hours of work put in during this global pandemic.

“This show of support from fire departments, law enforcement, and emergency services demonstrates that our community knows how to unify in times of crisis. Today they honored our healthcare professionals for the work that has been done over the last few months. We need to honor them too because they’ve been here with us from the start. At every level of our response, they’ve been there planning with us…preparing for what may happen next,” said Mantooth. “Watching our emergency responders drive by with their lights ablaze and their sirens sounding off was an emotional moment. From the beginning of the virus, our staff has done what needs to be done — without thinking about the emotional part of it. But today I saw several people with tears welled up in their eyes. The parade this morning was a point in time where they just let it out.”