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Sturgeon Hospital sidewalk chalk spreads positivity

Orissa Shima, the nurses’ union representative for the Sturgeon, described the atmosphere in the hospital as one of "exhaustion," highlighting the Alberta government's lack of adequate response.
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De Sousa and Williamson's children decorating the sidewalk outside of the Sturgeon Community Hospital with caring chalk messages. SUPPLIED

Sometimes a little chalk might be all you need to brighten someone’s day. 

That’s what Jessica de Sousa thought when brainstorming ways to make a positive impact for health-care workers at St. Albert’s Sturgeon Community Hospital. The mom of two said a couple of months prior, her son had been hospitalized with an auto-immune disease, and the kind-heartedness of doctors and nurses had eased a stressful situation. 

“With these recent protests that have been going on, it’s really been bugging me that any human could be treated that way, especially people that have been the backbone of this pandemic,” De Sousa said. “They work overtime to try and save us, and now they’re having to be escorted out of the hospital by police.”

Although protests have not occurred outside the Sturgeon Community Hospital — aside from pickets by the nurses’ union responding to the province’s proposal to roll back wages by three per cent in July — De Sousa thought a positive message might still be welcome. 

“One night I wrote on a local mom’s group to see if anyone had ideas about what we could do,” De Sousa said. “Another mom on the group said, ‘Why don’t we go to the Sturgeon and do some chalk today?’ and I thought that was a great idea.”

Together, De Sousa and Natasha Williamson brought their children to the hospital’s entrance with chalk in hand. 

The end result was an array of colour, with messages including: “Hardest workers work here,” “We love you!” and “You are brave, you are selfless, you are appreciated."

“It was a great learning opportunity for our kids, too,” De Sousa said. “I could give them a summary of what’s going on, and how it’s important to share kindness and pay it forward … my six-year-old wrote something along the lines of, ‘Please don’t quit,’ which was heartbreaking.”

A health-care worker at the hospital shared photos of the chalk drawings in a Facebook post, saying the art had made the staff happy. 

“Thank you to whoever left these thoughtful messages,” the post read. 

Orissa Shima, the nurses’ union representative for the Sturgeon, said she missed the chalk drawings due having spent the past week in bargaining talks, but noted she heard about the drawings from other nurses. 

“They thought it was really sweet,” Shima said. “Kind little things like that certainly warm the hearts of tired nurses going into work right now.”

She described the atmosphere in the hospital as one of “exhaustion,” with many workers doing mandatory overtime, and nursing staff redeployed multiple times to the intensive care unit (ICU). 

“People are just powering through the best they can, but certainly we’re worried about how everyone is going to cope at the end of this wave,” Shima said. 

On Sunday, Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health co-wrote a letter urgently requesting the government initiate a fire-break lockdown. A letter released a day later, signed by 58 Albert ICU doctors, details that Alberta remains dangerously close to a health system collapse. 

Shima said she would have to defer to experts when considering what actions the government should take, but noted inaction can only exacerbate things. 

“It doesn’t feel like the government acted soon enough, for sure,” Shima said. “That’s why we’re in this situation; the cases have been in the thousands for several weeks now … we know we’re going to keep seeing admission, so it’s extremely worrisome as we run out of ICU space.”

Ultimately, Shima noted acts such as De Sousa’s can go a long way as the fourth wave continues. 

“It’s really kind of people to think about us at the hospital right now,” Shima said. “With all the negativity around … any positivity that people can send to health-care workers, whether kind words or anything like that, it just helps to fill the tank a little bit to help people keep going.”

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