Employees at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital gathered on a cool Friday morning in the Polytrauma Courtyard to reflect on the last year of the COVID pandemic and begin to bring about the healing as we recover.

Since receiving its first COVID patient on March 26, 2020, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System has experienced several losses, both Veterans and employees alike.

But on a morning like this one, as employees quietly gathered and warmly greeted each other before the ceremony began, a calming breeze brought in a heightened sense of renewal, with gently swaying trees overhead and softly chirping birds soothed even the most fragile of spirits.

Dr. Marcos Restrepo witnessed much of what transpired throughout the COVID units at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital and honored not only those who we’ve lost, but also saved.

Remember positive things done for our Veterans

“We pray and we remember all their loved ones who have suffered so much, but today we also remember those losses and those sad moments,” Restrepo said. “We also remember those positive things that all of you have done for their services, for our Veterans, for our nation and for our community.”

Employees reflected on the efforts of coworkers during the pandemic and how they never lost hope, even in the most difficult of times.

Valerie Rodriguez-Yu is the associate director for Patient Care Services. She saw employees demonstrate compassion and empathy for one another. Even with the burden of knowing that loved ones have been lost, they will not be forgotten.

“You have gone above and beyond to care for our Veterans in an environment that has been extremely turbulent over the last year,” Rodriguez-Yu said. “We asked so much of you. Listened to your concerns. We shifted priorities more than once but always in the best interest of our Veterans. We may not have gotten it right every time, but we were in your corner every step of the way.”

Not a dry eye in the crowd

Memories were shared by employees who reflected on the efforts of coworkers during the pandemic. They expressed hope never lost, even in the most difficult of times.

When employee Eli Nieves-Perez performed “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. Such powerful words reminded everyone of where we were, where we are and where we hope to be.

Christopher R. Sandles is the medical center director. He reflected on the hardships faced over the last year, telling the crowd he understood the importance of sharing his gratefulness for not only a vaccine that is now being offered to all Veterans but also knowing that we have each other to put the pieces back together again.

“But after all of this, I am thankful,” Sandles said. “I’m thankful for our incomparable soul. I’m thankful that because of our amazing staff, clinical and non-clinical alike, lives were saved that would have otherwise been lost. Tell your story, please tell your story and let’s begin to heal.”

Dr. Julianne Flynn is the chief of staff. She reminded everyone we have kept to our true north and continue to provide the best care possible in the face of many challenges.

“This is a day of reflection and remembrance, but do not forget our resilience,” Flynn said. “The path we have been on has demanded candor and humility from all of us. Many of us have shed tears and incredible support was the response.”

To learn more of South Texas Veterans Health Care System’s efforts throughout COVID-19, visit https://www.southtexas.va.gov/features/index.asp.


Justin Saucier is a public affairs intern for the South Texas VA Health Care System.

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