In early March, with the coronavirus COVID-19’s pandemic trespass into the United States well under way, the administrator of Veterans Home of California-Yountville (VHC-Yountville), Lisa Peake met with groups of the employees. She wanted to address their fears, and to tell them how vital they are to the existence of the Home and its veterans.
It is absolutely crucial that they keep the virus out, which they have done. To date, no residents or employees have tested positive at Yountville.
“During those meetings, I explained that it didn’t matter if they are a nurse, doctor, work in the dining facility, plant ops, or whatever, each one was important to keeping our home open and our residents safe and healthy,” Peake said. “I pointed to each one and said, ‘You are important.’ ”
Echo Connell, the Home’s quality assurance performance improvement coordinator, took Peake’s words to heart. A 35-year employee at the Home, Connell recognized that the staff would be facing uncharted and dangerous waters in trying to keep the coronavirus out of the Home – protecting the veterans and residents who live there, and themselves. She’d already been thinking about ways to bolster the camaraderie and morale. The “You Are Important” message also was in the subject line of an e-mail she received from Peake.
“I saw Lisa’s e-mail, and I thought it was the perfect message everyone needed to hear,” Connell said. “You are essential. You are the arms, fingers, and toes – all a part of one body. It was clear and direct.”
And from her own standpoint, “I wanted them to know I have their backs just as they have mine,” Connell said. But how? Post fliers around the campus? “I came up with a button,” Connell said.
She went online and found a company that produces a variety of message-bearing pins and buttons. She created one that read, “You Are Important-Yountville Veterans Home” and ordered 200 out of her own pocket.
When Connell began handing them out, other employees wanted them as well. The 200 went quickly. She needed more. But the California company that produced the first batch had since shut down when Governor Newsom issued the “stay-at-home” order because that business isn’t considered essential.
So Connell searched for another pin maker and found one in Arizona called “Everyone Loves Buttons.” Because the company contracts with government agencies, it is considered an essential business and remains open. Connell found a kindred spirit in company president Maura Statman.
When Connell called to explain what she needed, she learned that Statman’s company strongly supports military and veteran causes. And like many family members of the veterans in Yountville and other senior facilities, Statman is unable to visit her own 92-year-old mother who is sheltering in place in a Phoenix-area elder care home. Also, Statman spent years as a social worker specializing in gerontology before starting her company. She has a special place in her heart for the elderly and those who care for them.
Statman charged Connell only for the shipping and equipment set-up fee, donating the cost of the pins to the cause.
“We shipped them out on the (April) 13th and she got them on the 16th,” Statman said. “We are glad we could, in some small way, help give them a morale boost.”
And Statman has now offered to donate 500 buttons to each of the seven other Veterans Home of California as well.
“It’s an incredibly generous offer,” Connell said.
“It would be our pleasure,” said Statman. “I know how valuable and vulnerable staff are in (long-term) care facilities. I want to do my part to try to lift their spirits.”
Good things from good people, and for a great cause.
“My words, ‘You are important’ resonated with (Connell),” Peake said. “Then she took it upon herself to have the buttons made. She is such a positive force and wonderful person. I appreciate everything, she does.”
“The buttons succinctly tell our employees, and residents alike, how important each and every employee is too keeping this facility running and COVID free,” Peake said.
And that includes boosting morale to button down COVID-19 and keep it out of the Veterans Home of California-Yountville.