BENSON — Benson Community Hospital employees are being celebrated as “healthcare heroes” through a community-wide project spearheaded by Benson Unified School District Superintendent Micah Mortensen.

The hospital employees were treated to a special lunch last Thursday with food provided by the Silver Saddle Steakhouse out of Tucson. Recognition will continue through the next few weeks with artwork created by primary and middle school students. Posters, cards and letters filled with positive messages honoring COVID-weary healthcare workers will be adorning the hospital.

The project ties in with National Nurses Week, celebrated from May 6 through 12, as well as National Hospital Week, which runs from May 10 to 16.

“When the Silver Saddle Steakhouse was forced to close the restaurant because of COVID-19, the owners partnered with different businesses in Tucson to provide meals for frontline employees,” said Mortensen, who has family ties with the Silver Saddle owners. “When they shut their restaurant down, they had food inventory that they gave out to the community, which is how this got started. It was so popular that private donations started coming in from people asking them to continue serving frontline employees throughout Tucson. I asked them about doing the same for our hospital staff, and they agreed to help out.”

About 45 Benson Hospital staff members were treated to barbecue beef and chicken with an assortment of side dishes on Thursday, while 25 nighttime employees were recognized with a meal Saturday evening.

“The food is delicious,” said ultrasound technician Annette David. “All of us truly appreciate being appreciated. This is a wonderful morale boost for our entire staff.”

The food, which was served buffet-style in the hospital cafeteria, started the “healthcare hero” idea.

Benson Primary School Principal Jomel Jansson reached out to children in the school district through social media and invited them to create artwork which will be displayed throughout the hospital in following weeks.

“This has been a collaborative effort that involves different community partners as a show of appreciation to healthcare workers,” said Sepp Sprietsma of the UArizona Cochise County Cooperative Extension. “Part of my role with the cooperative extension is to partner with different organizations to help build healthy communities. When I learned that the Benson Hospital was initiating a type of ‘Healthcare Heroes’ appreciation week, I got involved with this project.”

Hospital Public Information Officer Ashley Dickey said the lunch and school district’s positive messages are “wonderful mood lifters” for the staff.

“This has been fantastic,” she said during Thursday’s lunch. “Everyone is getting worn down by this COVID-19. We’re so grateful by all the partnerships that came together to make this work for our employees.”

As the hospital’s community development specialist, Jason Zibart described the staff as “awestruck” by the community’s support.

“Our staff puts their heart into serving the people that need us every day and that takes a lot of emotional energy,” he said. “When the community goes out of its way to say ‘thank you,’ it’s a huge boost to that emotional energy.”

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