Signs thanking health care workers can be found all over Fernie. Soranne Floarea/ The Free Press

Celebrating hidden heroes of the Elk Valley

While many of us self isolate, essential workers still go into work day in and day out

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear scrubs, others scan groceries. Some drive snow plows, others drive garbage trucks. Some wear tool belts, carry handcuffs, harvest vegetables, deliver mail, or supervise children. Those are the heroes of today.

While most people wait out the virus outbreak from the safety of their homes, essential service workers continue to clock in every day to keep our communities running smoothly.

At prominent risk for exposure are all grocery, pharmacy and liquor store workers. Seeing hundreds of customers daily, they continue to show up to work despite the evident danger associated with ample public contact.

Also palpably exposing themselves to the virus are healthcare workers, all of whom continue to serve our community. They are the ones that treat COVID-19 patients. They are the ones saving lives. They are the ones on the front lines, directly fighting the battle against the novel coronavirus.

“Those are the true heroes. The doctors, the nurses, the care aids, and our health workers. The people providing those essential services. You don’t realize what you have until it is no longer there. So for me, those are the heroes. Those who are stepping up, and not taking the easy way out. Those who still do what is needed to be done,” said Michelle Malan, administrator for Lilac Terrace, a seniors housing complex in Sparwood.

Retirement home workers are among those still donning their uniforms to continue to care for the elderly. Seeing that seniors are considered high risk in the face of the novel coronavirus, coupled with the fact that several outbreaks have occurred at care homes throughout the province, the nature of their job is unmistakably perilous.

“I love my job, and I love the residents in this building. I know my family is paying the price right now, but at the end of the day, we have to take care of our seniors. I will do everything in my power to make sure that they are safe and taken care of, because somebody has to do it. In a way, I feel blessed that I am in a situation to be able to assist them,” said Malan. “Some of them have no one, and that’s why we are there. And I’m not just talking about myself, I’m talking about my staff as well. They have families, they have husbands, they have children, but still they come to work knowing the risks. They still give 100 per cent. I even have a few young workers here, and I am at a complete loss for words as to how proud I am of them, because they are truly stepping up.”

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Another sector of the workforce not to be overlooked are all critical infrastructure service providers. That includes those providing daily electrical needs, fuel suppliers, transportation workers, wastewater treatment facility employees, and many more.

Yet another division of employees that are not taking a break are all emergency service workers. This involves fire fighters, police officers, paramedics and the Fernie Search and Rescue team. They are the men and women that continue to ensure our communities are safe, even if it means placing themselves in a position of potential danger both in terms of exposure to the virus, as well as in the face of the emergencies they respond to.

Currently, child care service workers supervising the children of other working personnel are also deemed essential workers. Among local child care services still operating is Fernie School Aged Care. Watching over three children, Jamie Chisholm, manager of Fernie School Aged Care, demonstrates that the willingness of such workers to show up and work every day means that others can fulfil their employment obligations as well.

“There are other parents that still need to go to work as well. If we can make it possible for them to still do their job, to offer them somewhere for their kids to go, we will do that for them,” said Chisholm. It is not just essential services that continue to step forward and boost morale in this time of need. Many other businesses throughout town have set up various programs to help the community cope with disruptions to regular life. For instance, Fernie Distillers used its alcohol to offer free hand sanitizer to those in need. The Legion also accepted donations in replacement of the Salvation Army, and The Cottonwood Tree initiated an Adopt a Grandparent program to offer support to local seniors.

A myriad of other unofficial appreciative initiatives have also sprung up throughout the Elk Valley to thank those continuing to serve our community. For instance, speared into the ground throughout Fernie are signs that say “Thank you healthcare heroes”. Also, at 7 p.m. every night, many households partake in the banging of pots and pans to thank the doctors and nurses that continue to fight the COVID-19 battle around the world.

“Ultimately, we have to leave a legacy behind. We have to set an example for our children, to show them that even when things get really tough, we have to stand together. That’s why I will come to work every single day of my life if I have to,” said Malan.


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