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Well wishers "hug" Cabinet Peaks Medical Center

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | November 26, 2021 7:00 AM

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Supporters of Cabinet Peaks Medical Center staff line up outside of the building on Nov. 20 to give the center a "hug." (Will Langhorne/The Western News)

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Supporters of Cabinet Peaks Medical Center staff line up outside of the building on Nov. 20 to give the center a "hug." (Will Langhorne/The Western News)

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Supporters of Cabinet Peaks Medical Center staff line up outside of the building on Nov. 20 to give the center a "hug." (Will Langhorne/The Western News)

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Supporters of Cabinet Peaks Medical Center staff clap and cheer after lining up outside of the building on Nov. 20 to give the center a "hug." (Will Langhorne/The Western News)

Dozens of south Lincoln County residents encircled Cabinet Peaks Medical Center last weekend in a show of support for local health care providers.

Karen Disney, pastor at the Libby United Methodist Church, said she helped organize the event as a way to thank staff at the hospital and the Libby Care Center for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was just trying to think of something not expensive but fun that would bring the community together,” she said while directing community members around the Libby hospital on Nov. 20.

Disney decided to organize a gathering she termed “Hug the Hospital” where supporters would stand around the medical center with arms outstretched as if they were embracing the building. If enough community members showed up, she considered extending the chain of huggers around the Libby Care Center.

As supporters began filing around the hospital, Jim Seifert, a member of the Lincoln County Board of Health, said he had attended the gathering to show his recognition of the challenges facing local health care providers since the start of the pandemic.

“You just look at all the stuff they’ve been going through,” he said. “Working all the hours and catching all the grief.”

The day in, day out difficulties of frontline medical work in the face of public resentment was what drew Carol Parsons to the “Hug the Hospital” event. Having joined the Troy Public Schools board in May, Parsons said she knew firsthand how divisive the pandemic and public health measures have become over the past year and a half.

In recent months, discussions over whether or not to require face coverings on school grounds drew groups of parents and community members to board meetings in Troy.

“If we could all just come in the middle and listen respectfully to each other and … be civil,” said Parsons.

While supporters began spacing themselves out to cover more ground around the hospital, Kaylin Hilton and Peggy Sue Hovey, employees of the Libby Care Center, walked across the street to get a better look at the gathering.

Both acknowledged the challenges of working in the health care field during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Not many people have good things to say about hospitals anymore with COVID,” said Hilton.

While Hilton and Hovey both said they were vaccinated, Hovey said it felt like an injustice that health care employers were planning to fire staff that worked throughout the pandemic, but decided against COVID-19 vaccines.

Due to a federal mandate, health care facilities could risk losing funding through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services if staff members are not fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

After a coronavirus outbreak tore through the Libby Care Center in August, some family members of 10 residents who died argued the facility could have mitigated the spread of the virus had more staff members received shots. Amid the outbreak, company officials said just under 50 percent of employees were vaccinated.

Administrators noted that vaccinated employees experienced relatively mild symptoms and were able to care for residents infected with the virus in the facility's isolated ward.

While the line of huggers did not grow long enough to reach the care center, supporters at the “Hug the Hospital” event nevertheless posed with their arms outstretched around the medical center. A drone circled the crowd shooting video of the community embrace. After a couple minutes the supporters dropped their arms and scattered applause and cheering broke out along the line.

“This is a major part of our community,” said JoAnn Armstrong. “I just think we need to show support.”