2020 was the most unforgettable year that we want to forget.

“I think we're all just very anxious to put 2020 behind us,” Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital President Dr. Rebecca Starck said in December, adding that she believes 2021 will bring a positive vibe as we begin to put the pandemic behind us.

That is good news for everyone, especially hospital staff – and not just doctors and nurses – but others, such as respiratory therapists, lab technicians, housekeepers, patient transporters and security officers. They worked to exhaustion, placing themselves at risk of contracting a killer disease that had no cure at the outbreak late last winter.

Yet, in the midst of the biggest surge to date, with 351,000 American lives lost, more than 9,000 from Ohio, she's confident “the vaccine will get us through.”

A doctor since 1993, Starck said COVID-19 was different from anything imaginable.

“In a strange way, it brought us together,” she said. “It's universally acknowledged. The word 'COVID' has meaning regardless of what language we speak. The reality is everybody has been touched in some way or another.”

As a global society, we have all been required to address it, to adapt, she said.

“In many ways, I like to see this as a glass half full rather than half empty, she said. “I'd like to believe we have more empathy and community outreach than we had before.”

Certainly, that was evident as hundreds, if not thousands, delivered food, cookies, homemade cards and signs expressing love and support in front of locked doors at the hospital and adjacent Richard E. Jacobs Medical Center on Cleveland Clinic Boulevard in Avon, just off I-90 at Nagel Road.

Starck said that ongoing donations to the Clinic have allowed the Office of Caregiver Experience to continue purchasing meals for staff. It is also a way to support local restaurants that have suffered economic losses during the pandemic, she said.

The outpouring of support is deeply appreciated for a staff Starck says is “forever changed as to their view of the work and their patients.”

Staff members are being stretched beyond anything they have in the past as they care for patients with a barrier between them because of the PPE they must wear for their own safety. “But they are the ones providing compassionate care during such a scary time for the patient,” she said because many COVID patients are not allowed visitors.

She recalled a time that staff members helped a patient get to a window so he could see his family cheering him on from the hospital grounds below.

“Words cannot express my incredibile gratitude for what our caregivers have done to care for patients and each other,” she said. “They have adapted to new processes or new ways of thinking whether in technology or telehealth.”

Even the very basics of caring for individual patients and their immediate needs became magnified by COVID with caregivers providing “the extra touch” because family members could not be present. “It had a profound effect on improving patient care,” she said.

Looking ahead to 2021, Starck said, “Our goal is to get the vast majority of our population vaccinated. If we can achieve 75% vaccinated, that will go a long way in helping us manage the volume of patients who get seriously ill.”

“I personally feel very comfortable that the vaccine is safe,” she said. “It contains no active live particles that will give you COVID. It arms you to attack the virus.” She said studies that have been completed on the vaccine's efficacy have shown positive results with just minor reactions.

Until then people need to maintain safety practices,she said, also acknowledging the sacrifices people are making to keep themselves and others safe.

“It's a big sacrifice, I know, but it can truly save lives,” she said.

Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at avonlakemurphy@gmail.com.

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