Community

Flying Together: Mural at Strong Memorial Honors Ongoing Pandemic Teamwork and Perseverance

Mar. 13, 2024
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Strong Memorial Infection Prevention team members stand in front of a new mural by artist Christine Knoblauch. From left: Ann Ottman, Tim Flerlage, Paul Graman, Brenda Tesini, Lynne Brown, Lynn Fine, Hillary Schlosser, Vicki Sage, Karen Dugan, Kate Embry. Not present: Michael VanRoo, Mary Kay Moore, and Maggie Gowin.

 

The Infection Prevention team at Strong Memorial was center stage in the early days of the pandemic, developing policies and procedures for health care workers and patients in a rapidly changing health crisis. Their efforts earned them the University’s Meliora Award in 2022, which included a monetary prize. The team then faced the question: What to do with that reward?

Spending it on a celebration or dinner just didn’t feel right—especially since COVID remained an enormous challenge across our health care system.   

“We had been through so much together and the hospital staff had been so traumatized by the experience,” said infection preventionist, Mary Kay Moore. “It felt like we needed to do something larger to represent the experience that we all shared.”

The team unanimously decided to use the award to commemorate the extraordinary teamwork and sacrifice of our health care workers who came together when it mattered most, in the darkest days of the pandemic. They commissioned Rochester-based artist, Christine Knoblauch, to create a stunning new mural in Café 601 at Strong Memorial Hospital.

The mural, tall and striking from across the room, shows a flock of reflective birds in motion. As they move through dark clouds, sunlight can be seen breaking through the darkness. Knoblauch works primarily with metal but used lightweight material for the panels and mirrored plastic to create the birds.

Why birds? For starters, they symbolize teamwork, selflessness, and resilience. They fly in unison and communicate through murmuration, or using flight patterns to warn of danger or lead the flock to safety.

“There was a light at the end of the tunnel because this group of people came together to care for the sick of our community,” said Knoblauch.

Since the birds in the mural are made of reflective material by design, viewers can see themselves as part of the narrative. Birds will also be mounted on the wall beyond the edge of the frame to illustrate how our work is ongoing. Strong’s Hospital Epidemiologist Paul Graman, MD, said it was important for the mural to convey a sense of continuity rather than a past event:

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The mural has birds made of reflective material to represent health care workers working together to protect the community.

“Part of the message is that COVID remains with us, and there may well be future pandemics. Nevertheless, we can meet these challenges with the extraordinary commitment and teamwork of our people”

Lynne Brown, Director of Infection Prevention, will never forget the way her team was thrust into action in 2020. From keeping on top of the latest COVID guidance to tracking infections and helping UR Medicine manage its PPE, they found themselves at the center of the Medical Center’s response.

Brown remembers sitting with staff who learned about using PPE to protect themselves when caring for COVID patients. They were understandably afraid for their own safety, and possibly the safety of their children and families waiting at home.

“We remember that darkness, that fear, that trauma, and the sacrifices made to care for our patients suffering from COVID,” Brown said. “Now we are in a brighter place because we supported each other and worked together to navigate the constant changes as we learned more about COVID. We, the entire organization, did amazing things. We did hard things. And we not only survived, we learned to fly in unison with our teams."