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Portraits of hospital workers on front line of coronavirus fight

The Press Democrat’s Kent Porter set out this year to capture images of some of legions of physicians, nurses, therapists, technicians and custodians staffing our medical facilities amid a historic pandemic.|

Gratitude

See our special coverage of heartwarming stories during the pandemic and recent wildfires here.

Tori Bruno, a nurse in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital’s medical-surgical unit, cared for the facility’s first coronavirus patient in March when the pandemic reached Sonoma County.

It was an experience like no other for the 27-year-old Santa Rosa native, who is less than two years into her chosen profession.

The patient missed their family, due to the hospital’s ban on visitors, and was frightened by the diagnosis of a potentially deadly viral infection, Bruno said.

“It became intensely personal,” she said, recalling the patient “felt bad for putting me in danger,” while Bruno was touched in return by that raw emotion.

The patient recovered and went home. Bruno, who recently transferred to the emergency department at Petaluma Valley Hospital, is still in the trenches of a potentially hazardous job, one of hundreds of local medical workers on the front line of a pandemic that is claiming about 1,000 lives a day in the United States.

“I definitely feel at risk now more than ever,” said Bruno, a Santa Rosa High School graduate who earned nursing degrees at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.

Bruno is one of a group of local health care workers whose work was documented earlier this year by Press Democrat staff photographer Kent Porter, who set out to capture images of some of legions of physicians, nurses, therapists, technicians and custodians staffing our medical facilities amid a historic pandemic.

Other individuals photographed by Porter include Kim Peckham, respiratory therapist at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; Angelica Lopez, environmental services, Petaluma Valley Hospital; and Dr. Alexander Lam, emergency department, Nechia Clarkson, supply technician, and Loren Lafon, dietary aide, all at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.

Frontline health care workers had a nearly 12-times higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 compared with members of the general public, according to a study reported in May by Massachusetts General Hospital.

Workers not only risk getting sick and dying, but also bringing the infection home to their families and contributing to its spread in their communities, the study said, based on data from the United Kingdom and United States.

In Sonoma County, 564 health care workers had contracted coronavirus, accounting for 10% of all cases since Oct. 31, according to a Public Health report.

Workers in services and sales accounted for 1,016 cases (18%), 974 cases of people identified as not working (17%), unemployed 599 cases (11%), with all other employment categories at less than 10%.

Porter, an award-winning photographer with The Press Democrat for 33 years, said the anxiety accompanying the pandemic’s arrival — prompting hospitals to curtail services to preserve patient capacity — called for recognition of the workers closest to the threat.

He snapped all of the photos outside the hospitals, taking precautions to wear a mask and maintain a safe physical distance.

“Even the thought of going to a hospital kind of frightened me,” he said.

Best known for his dramatic photos of wildfire and other calamities, Porter said the virus posed a more unsettling threat.

“I can face down a fire,” he said. “That’s nothing compared to what these people do.”

Coronavirus has affected the way all hospital workers go about their jobs, from surgical suites to laundry rooms, Bruno and Porter said.

Housekeepers like Lopez deserve credit for chores that include sanitizing “every square inch” of patient rooms, she said.

Hospital workers are “people who are cut from a different cloth,” Porter said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

Gratitude

See our special coverage of heartwarming stories during the pandemic and recent wildfires here.

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