Hospitals in Action

Helping the community during COVID-19

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Since the pandemic first hit, daily life has changed in ways we never expected. Parents continue to juggle work and distance learning for their children, others have been laid off from their jobs, and many struggle to afford to pay for rent or put food on the table.

The early days of the pandemic were challenging to say the least – and many of those challenges remain today. But from the start, we’ve seen an outpouring of compassion and a commitment to caring for the most vulnerable among us.

Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS) is one of the many health care organizations who felt compelled to help those who needed it most – and not just by treating COVID-19 patients. They launched the Community and Staff Support Project (CSSP) in early April to help meet the needs of high-risk individuals, including underinsured or uninsured people, homeless people, and seniors.

The program also gave health care workers (who may have otherwise been laid off) a chance to continue doing what they do best: helping their community heal. Through the CSSP, redeployed SVMHS staff worked directly with nonprofits and partner organizations like Dorothy’s Kitchen, local agricultural groups, housing shelters, and more. It was a unique and compassionate solution to an unprecedented problem. 

Health care workers with masks

To date, more than 200 SVMHS employees have participated in the program, including Tiffany DiTullio, Chief Administrative Officer/Wellness. Tiffany coordinated and worked with SVMHS nonprofit partners including the Salvation Army, nonprofit housing developer CHISPA, and many others. 

Tiffany says she was motivated to channel her energy into helping the community in the wake of the pandemic, a natural response for many health care workers across the state, including SVMHS employees. Community service has always been one of the hospital’s guiding principles, and the CSSP became an extension of that. 

“The hospital is a place that gives back to the community. This isn’t just a place where you go when you’re sick,” Tiffany says. 

Tiffany’s commitment to giving back inspired others, including her own daughter, to get involved, too. When the Salvation Army was short-handed one Sunday, Tiffany’s daughter joined her in helping to prepare and distribute 400 meals, a significant increase from the 100 meals normally served at the location. There, they met people impacted by COVID-19, listened to their stories and challenges, and connected with them on a personal level. These interactions bonded Tiffany and her daughter closer to their community — a shared experience and common thread across all the CSSP’s partnerships and programs.

Although Tiffany and her family have been longtime community volunteers, for many redeployed staff members, it was their first experience working so closely with community organizations. These hospital workers have spent their careers helping people, so it was a much needed antidote to the feeling of helplessness brought on by the pandemic — a way to “fill their cup,” as Tiffany put it.

Nurse Lisa Paulo, Chief Administrative Officer/Experience had a similarly rewarding experience. She led the CSSP’s outreach program to 1,600 at-risk individuals, where participants personally delivered groceries, picked up prescriptions, and served as an emotional bridge to those who needed it most.

SVMHS CSSP delivering groceries

Lisa’s empathy and passion for helping others is tangible. To her, the CSSP wasn’t a job – it was a privilege to build meaningful relationships and commit to helping those in need: “When you go out there and interact with the individuals, there’s no greater gift than their utter gratitude and appreciation that you’re trying to help them.”

Lisa also supported the CSSP’s work with the Grower-Shipper Association (GSA), which represents the interests of local agricultural workers who grow and supply the food we rely on to feed our families. They partnered on a COVID housing project to provide housing, care, and resources to agricultural workers exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Since the Salinas Valley agricultural workforce includes many migrants and uninsured individuals, the CSSP became a vital lifeline for them. As part of the program, SVMHS nurses provided comprehensive care and checked in with patients twice a day, seven days a week, over the phone and in person at the hotels where they were quarantining. 

GSA president Christopher Valadez was heartened by the kindness and compassion the nurses showed their patients. They devoted time and attention to each patient, answering their questions, calming their fears, and providing much-needed emotional support at a time when workers were isolated from their families and loved ones.

Bilingual SVMHS nurses also led onsite education programs for more than 4,000 agricultural workers. During these in-depth trainings, nurses taught workers about the symptoms of COVID, what to do if they’re exposed, how to keep their family safe, when and how to seek treatment, and more. 

The GSA programs supported by the CSSP have been so successful at reducing COVID-19 transmission risk and educating workers that it’s become a model for other agricultural groups and communities. 

Valadez acknowledges, “We couldn’t have done it alone. That’s a fact. It kept us going knowing that we had an amazing partner in the hospital there with us to make sure we didn’t fail.”

The gratitude goes both ways. Just as the partner groups are grateful to SVMHS, the CSSP participants are thankful they could continue working at a time when others weren’t so lucky. But more than that, the experience of helping people navigate an unprecedented crisis has given the CSSP members a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to their community. 

The 212 redeployed workers at SVMHS devoted more than a total of 10,532 hours as part of the CSSP. In addition to the initiatives mentioned here, the CSSP participants staffed a COVID-19 phone hotline, distributed masks on the hospital campus, screened visitors, and supported a wide variety of hospital departments.

The CSSP is an inspiring example of Our Health California values at work, and a reminder of the power of community during difficult times.

Today and every day, health care workers remain dedicated to delivering quality care to those who need it, both within hospital walls and out in the community. Through it all, Our Health California will continue to be a partner to hospitals and an advocate for patients, as we work to build healthier, more compassionate communities across the state. 

During this unprecedented virus, SVMHS brought both leadership and compassionate problem-solving to a situation putting more lives at risk than those infected with the virus. To learn more about SVMHS and the CSSP, visit: