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Luminary Event Honors Mount Nittany Health Employees’ Resilience Throughout COVID-19 Pandemic

Mount Nittany Health honored their healthcare workers who braved the daily challenges of COVID-19 for the last two years with a special event called “Luminary Reflection: An Evening of Recognition, Remembrance, Gratitude and Hope” held on Monday at the medical center’s healing garden.

More than 1,000 paper luminaries were lit throughout the leaf-shaped garden as the sun set. Messages of recognition, remembrance, gratitude and hope shared by staff and the community were written on the bags. 

Mount Nittany Health has cared for more than 2,000 patients with COVID-19 since the first admission on March 31, 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the health system has administered more than 80,000 COVID-19 tests and 50,000 vaccines. 

“It’s important for us to take this moment to collectively reflect on the magnitude of the last two years,” Kathleen Rhine, Mount Nittany Health CEO and President, said. “Whether it was setting up a dedicated inpatient unit for COVID-19 patients, virtual ER visits, virtual televisits or drive-through testing clinics, every day there was something new and our team was just remarkable in terms of the way we sprang into action to make that happen.”

The event was scheduled during a shift change at the medical center so as many staff as possible could witness the luminary display. Soft music by local musician Eric Ian Farmer played as employees walked through and read the luminaries. At 8 p.m., remarks were made by Rhine; Dr. Thomas Covaleski, chief of Mount Nittany medical staff and hospitalist; David Doll, a 30-year employee; and Susan Alters, a patient treated for COVID-19 at the Medical Center when she was 34 weeks pregnant. 

Messages for the luminary bags were collected through generous support from many local organizations. These included Centre Foundation, Downtown Bellefonte, Inc., Philipsburg Revitalization Corporation, State College Downtown Improvement District, Centre County Libraries (Bellefonte, Penns Valley/Centre Hall, Philipsburg and Bookmobile), YMCA of Centre County (Bellefonte & Penns Valley), Jana Marie Foundation, Strawberry Fields (Good Day Cafe), Mid State Literacy, Centre Helps and Schlow Centre Region Library.

More than 1,000 paper luminaries were lit throughout the leaf-shaped garden as the sun set. Photo provided

Rhine expressed immense gratitude to all the staff for their unwavering dedication to providing clinical excellence during a pandemic. She also shared her memories of the early days of the pandemic. 

More than 2,400 employees work at Mount Nittany Health, all of whom have their own stories of the challenges faced, including, Covaleski, who shared his personal experience of walking through the COVID-19 unit doors each day and his fear of bringing COVID-19 to his co-workers and family. 

“And I thought of all the people that open the same door during the day. All nurses that open that door, the people delivering the food, people cleaning rooms, laboratory, X-ray, and how many people here at Mount Nittany entered into danger,” Covaleski said. “Those people not only did their job but…they were the physical contact of many people who were isolated from family and friends. Never in my life had we had so many people with no visitors and doors closed and in a room by themselves. But I saw over and over again how our staff would make conversation, talk about the weather, talk about what’s on television, share personal stories. They became the family for the people that were in these rooms.”

Doll, a psychiatric counselor, shared the story of how he lost his wife, Tina, to COVID-19. Tina was also a Mount Nittany Health employee.

“The love and support from the staff for myself and my son, Jason, was just incredible,” Doll said. 

Alters battled COVID-19 at Mount Nittany Health when she was 34 weeks pregnant with her first daughter, Lily. She spent 12 days in the COVID-19 unit and due to needing extra care, Lily was life-flighted to Danville.  Susan was treated by Dr. Jonathan Siuta, a hospitalist at Mount Nittany Health. 

“Now I’m a mother of an 11-month-old. I look back on so many articles and I read even what’s currently happening and I see so many stories about mothers and their children, and just how different our family could have been had it not been for the excellent care,” Susan said.

To close the Luminary Reflection program, members of the bell choir from Grace Lutheran Church rang bells in honor of those lost to COVID-19. 

The paper luminaries were installed by employee volunteers from throughout the health system and they will be kept for possible future luminary events. The luminary display remains open through Thursday.