Rooftop celebration for ANTHC nurses is a moment of joy after two difficult years

Healthcare workers were able to visit one of the many booths at the ANTHC Nurses Week carnival. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)

Nurses queued up for popcorn on a sunny Wednesday afternoon above a parking garage at the Alaska National Association of Tribal Health in Anchorage. It was one of nearly a dozen colorful booths at the carnival – part of the consortium’s week-long celebration of nursing staff for National Nurses Week. Picnic and pizza parties are also organized.

Mary Martin is ANTHC’s Chief Nursing Staff and lead organizer of the event. She said that after two years of having to wear masks and other protective gear around each other, seeing the smiles of her fellow nurses is a joy.

“Man, that’s amazing,” Martin said. “It’s just wonderful. People are laughing and having fun. Just… The energy is high. It’s a beautiful day. The sunshine makes everyone happy with all the sweets.”

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Near the popcorn, another stall filled with the buzz of a cotton candy maker that filled the rooftop with an air of faint sweetness.

A light carnival is a far cry from the intense days the nursing staff in Anchorage have had to endure over the past two years β€” wading through spikes in COVID-19 cases, severe illness and death. Sometimes, they were the only source of comfort for their patients.

A carnival throwing game is part of Nurses Week.
Throwing game at the ANTHC carnival that is part of Nurses Week. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)

Jacques Quantrell is the Director of Nursing for the Intensive Care Unit at ANTHC. When the CDC issued guidelines preventing people from visiting sick people, she said, some were left without family in their last moments.

“When you have someone who needs the end of life, and they want their family by them, we haven’t always been able to facilitate that, so putting nurses at the bedside during the end of life,” Quantrell said.

Healthcare workers paint the tiles at a carnival as part of Nurses Week.
ANTHC health care workers paint the tiles at a carnival as part of Nurses Week. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)

One of the ways ANTHC has attempted to keep nursing staff in high spirits has been to throw several ‘afternoon Craf’ sessions where nurses can leave their crowded workplaces, and focus their minds on meditative arts and crafts. At a carnival booth, Caitlin Lowen walked the nurses on how to make patterned tiles by painting and then adding rubbing alcohol to make distinctive patterns.

β€œIt really is meant to be a reflective moment for our employees to take out of their bed, or away from their units, to use their creative minds and be with other people in a different environment,” Loewen said. “And to have something beautiful to take away from this environment for themselves.”

In addition to the heavy workload, emergency nurses like Marcy Guest said it’s also disappointing to hear from people who haven’t taken the pandemic as seriously as health officials. She received indifference and insults at worst. It also didn’t help that the staff were stressed, she said.

“It was very difficult,” she said. “There was shortages everywhere, like nurses, doctors, CNAs, respiratory, housekeeping, everyone it takes to run a hospital.”

A health care worker prepares to throw a pie at a carnival as part of Nurses Week.
A healthcare worker prepares to throw a pie at emergency nurse Marcy Guest as part of the ANTHC Nurses Week carnival. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)

You wouldn’t know what it was like trying in the past two years of watching Gest smile and encouraging people to try hitting her in the face with a pie. Her booth was laughing and cheering as the contestants walked, aimed and sent a plate of whipped cream its way.

As the pandemic continues, and cases of COVID-19 continue to emerge in Alaska, it has come to a point where on a sunny day nurses can relax, meet colleagues, enjoy some rewards and, if they’re good at their target, they’re a hit. Boss with whipped cream pie.

Colorful tiles at the carnival celebrating Nurses Week.
Colorful tiles at ANTHC’s Carnival that celebrates Nurses’ Week. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)
Health care workers throw pancakes at the carnival for Nurses Week.
Health care workers throw pancakes at the ANTHC Carnival for Nurses Week. (Adam Nesley/Alaska Public Media)

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