Anaheim PD Sgt. Mark Lillemoen inched his patrol car past the cheering nurses, doctors, and other health care workers at UCI Medical Center in Orange, their beaming faces vivid despite the masks covering their mouths and noses.
“It was really cool,” says Lillemoen, who with a half-dozen other officers from the APD’s Community Policing Team joined dozens of Orange County first responders in a noon procession Tuesday, April 14, 2020, outside the main entrance of UC Irvine Douglas Hospital to salute front-line health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With lights flashing and sirens blaring, the first responders tipped their collective caps to the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and other health care providers.
They shouted “thank you!” over loudspeakers as they slowly drove by, some of them with encouraging signs affixed to their vehicles.
“I couldn’t believe how many doctors and nurses were outside, and other (health care workers) in scrubs looking out the windows of the hospital,” Lillemoen said. “In this coronavirus situation, they’re on the front line. They’re the ones most likely to be exposed. I think I would be a little nervous being in their shoes.”
Sgt. Rob Thorsen of the Orange PD was in a patrol car near the front of the procession.
“They were extremely grateful we were there,” said Thorsen, who had his window rolled down and shouted out repeatedly, “Thank you for your hard work!” and “We appreciate you!”
Although the procession was about law enforcement and other first responders thanking health care workers, the respect – and love – flowed both ways.
“We showed up to support them, but it turned into us supporting each other,” Thorsen said.
Theresa Valverde, an administrator who works in guest services for UCI Health, became emotional when asked about the show of appreciation from the first responders.
“I just had to thank them with a little bit of sign language I know,” said Valverde, who has a grandson who is deaf. She used her right hand to say thank you in American Sign Language, extending her hand away from her mouth.
Valverde works with Carol Lynn as a frontline greeter in the lobby of a building on the UCI Medical Center campus known as The Tower, which houses such departments as radiology, labor and delivery, and surgery. The two assess patients and help visitors who enter the lobby – many of whom mistake it for the entrance to the ER, which is next door.
“It’s scary because you don’t know what’s coming in the front door,” Valverde said. “You don’t know what (disease) you can possibly take home to your family. Some of the nurses are fearful themselves, but they’re still doing their jobs.”
Said Lynn: “I’m very patriotic, and anytime anything like this happens, it’s very emotional. I really appreciate it, but I appreciate them (first responders) more. They have to confront people that might not want to follow the rules.”
Public safety agencies that participated in the 15-minute procession included UCI Health Public Safety, UC Irvine Police, the Orange PD, the Anaheim PD, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Anaheim Fire & Rescue, the California Highway Patrol, and the Orange Fire Department, and Doctors Ambulance.
Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Engine 7 was on hand to show its support.
“Obviously at this time,” said AF&R Deputy Chief Mike Molloy, “a lot of people are really stepping up and showing extra support for each other. (Health care workers) help us do our job. We have a longstanding relationship with them, and we wanted them to know we are there for them.”
Tuesday’s procession followed a more impromptu evening procession Saturday, April 11, outside UCI Medical Center that was organized by Forever Footprints, an organization that provides opportunities for remembrance for families who have lost a baby.
Johanan Carrera, a UCI Health nurse of 20 years assigned to nursing quality and education on the maternal-fetal unit, said she got goose bumps watching Tuesday’s procession.
“It’s just amazing that during this challenging time that love and appreciation prevail,” Carrera said. “Watching this, my heart was full.”