River Grove thanks 'Enduring Heroes'

Jason Werden, River Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center administrator, thanks nurse Aurora Thompson for her work during the pandemic.

River Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center in Loudon wanted to thank employees who made a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center hosted an “Enduring Heroes” gratitude party Nov. 16 when 68 full-time employees were thanked for serving in health care during a difficult time.

“We’re all looking for a way to show appreciation for our enduring heroes and our core staff that’s stayed with us since March 2020, and it came down corporate had the idea to do this in every building in the company today,” Jason Werden, River Grove Health and Rehabilitation Center administrator, said. “So everybody is throwing their appreciation party right now and it’s just a big way to say ‘thanks.’ ... There was a large percentage of people that dropped out in the medical community when COVID came around. For whatever reason, they left the field and we’re just showing appreciation for those that stuck with us.”

Between Tennessee and Kentucky, which is ClearView Healthcare Management’s reach, 37 facilities held a party. ClearView is the management company for River Grove.

As part of the celebration, each staff member received an “Enduring Hero Award” plaque, certificate and T-shirt. Food, live music and raffled prizes were given away.

“Our staff really became our residents’ main family source,” Alissa Weeks, River Grove activity director, said. “They took care of them when their families couldn’t. Through the holidays we held their hands, we did all that and we are recognizing our staff that remained here with us and gave us so much time and dedication at such a hard time in the world. They just pulled extra hours.”

Licensed Practical Nurse Jenny Ridge, who at one point during the pandemic worked 13 hours a day, seven days a week for six weeks, admitted the long days took a toll.

“It was very emotional — very, very emotional,” Ridge said. “I cried a lot. But I’m used to the hours, I do this a lot, I do that a lot.”

She said she kept working because “somebody has to take care of these patients.”

“Just being there for them,” Ridge said. “It’s very emotional. You see them fine one minute and drop the next. They’d seen their roommates fine one minute and drop the next. Their nurses were going home sick because they were coming down with COVID. You just had to do it, you had to be there.”

Although she still works 13-hour shifts, Ridge said they aren’t as often.

Werden admitted there have been plenty of challenges throughout the pandemic, but he said he doesn’t worry about staff doing what is needed.

“You can see all across the country there’s staffing shortages everywhere and health care has been hit extra hard,” Werden said. “Staffing challenges are always just another thing to overcome, and I think we did a great job providing great service for our residents and we’ve not been understaffed.”