‘You truly are heroes’: Artist unveils new painting to honor Utah’s COVID-19 front-line workers

MURRAY – Heather Olsen said she grew up with her older sister, who has worked as a nurse for over a decade.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Utah and the rest of the country last year, she couldn’t lose sight of her sister’s image as she came across updates on the coronavirus.

“When I saw the news, I was basically seeing all of the health care workers. I saw them,” Olsen said, reflecting on the earliest days of the pandemic. “How tired you were, exhausted. And I remembered all the times when she came home exhausted.”

While the pandemic continued, Olsen, a Utah artist, wanted to do everything possible to honor the many health care workers who helped patients, especially at a time when little was known about COVID-19. She also spoke to her sister, who suggested that she paint health care workers.

A year after the serious Utah pandemic, Olsen helped unveil her latest work of art, which honors the many frontline carers in the state. The artwork combines multiple images of nurses, doctors, technicians, and other caregivers. They are portraits of men and women in their personal protective gear as they handled the toughest COVID-19 cases.

In honor of the healthcare workers who saved countless lives during the pandemic, Utah artist Heather Olsen contributed a special painting entitled “Together We Can Do It” in her honor. Watch how this came to life and how the caregivers react when they first see it. pic.twitter.com/hjzBY43A36

– Intermountain (@Intermountain) April 5, 2021

Intermountain Healthcare officials said copies of the artwork will be on display in Intermountain hospitals and other facilities across the state in the coming weeks. A handful of caregivers were in attendance as Olsen and Amy Christensen, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, Specialist Care at Intermountain Healthcare, pulled down a towel during a warm ceremony Monday to reveal the piece.

Elizabeth Hyde, an ICU nurse, found meaning in the various images depicted in the painting. For them, it was a reminder of the frontline teamwork in hospitals to help the sickest patients.

Heather’s painting helped me see my own strengths and the things I can do for myself, as a nurse, and for the patients and the people in this community.

–Elizabeth Hyde, Intermountain Healthcare intensive care nurse

More than 15,000 Utahns have been hospitalized for COVID-19 since March 2020, according to the Utah Health Department. While there are still over 100 coronavirus-related hospitalizations nationwide, that number is significantly lower than the 606 coronavirus-related hospitalizations that Utah saw in Utah a day through the end of 2020.

“We had to work together as a team throughout the hospital,” said Hyde. “The (emergency room) to the shock trauma intensive care unit to the respiratory therapist: We were all there to support one another and to help each other in such a difficult time.”

This teamwork went beyond a specific hospital. Hyde was one of Intermountain Healthcare’s 100 or so caregivers who traveled to New York City in the spring of 2020 to help when the hospitals there were overcrowded.

On her return she received a painting by Olsen. Hyde fought back tears as she thought about the moment she saw herself in this painting.

“It just gave me the boost I needed,” she said. “Heather’s painting has helped me see my own strengths and the things I can do for myself, as a nurse, and for the patients and the people in this community.”

Nurses in New York returned the favor later in 2020 when Utah hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients.

Maria Black, a nurse administrator at Utah Valley Hospital, was surprised at the teamwork captured in Olsen’s painting. She said she hesitated to speak on Monday because it was an “emotional day” after a long year for frontline workers.

Nevertheless, she took care of the support of the Spanish language.

“This painting – this work of art – recognizes all of those people, all of the nurses, and everyone who has cared for patients in a year who we didn’t know what to expect or what not to help our patients,” said she in a speech translated by KSL.com.

“As nurses, as part of a medical team, we worked together. We cried together. We enjoyed ourselves together. We took care of patients, families and even our own (medical staff) who infected the disease,” continued she went away, holding back tears as she spoke. “It’s part of who we are and it’s part of who we will be in the future.”

Jay Larsen, an emergency room nurse at Intermountain Healthcare, was intrigued by Olsen’s choice of rich colors in the painting. For him, this symbolized the resilience of the employees when working together.

He took it as a reminder of what he and his colleagues are capable of in times of need.

“Another thing I noticed in this painting today is the look of all the faces of the staff. (It) shows strength that has never been seen before,” he added. “Our employees, our teams can take care of what we have to do.”

Jay Larsen, an Intermountain Healthcare emergency room nurse, looks at the painting by Utah artist Heather Olsen Jay Larsen, an Intermountain Healthcare emergency room nurse, looks at the Utah-based artist Heather Olsen’s painting “Together We Can Do This” after it was presented to carers at the Intermountain Transformation Center in Murray on Monday, April 5, 2021. Olsen painted the work on honoring the Utah caregivers for their dedication, dedication and heroism in saving countless lives during the pandemic. Copies of the painting are on display in Intermountain hospitals across the state. (Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

Olsen stated that she is trying to get into the mindset of the subject of her work. Through her sister, she was also able to get to know people in other areas of frontline medicine.

Much like in the early days of the pandemic, she tried to imagine her sister and the other health care workers she’d met while painting.

“I imagined actual people and what they might go through,” she said.

The supervisors who attended the ceremony on Monday said the past year has been quite difficult for them and their colleagues. They celebrated the achievements of their patients and mourned those who died of COVID-19.

Hyde said the past year has seen many moments when she asked if she wanted to become a nurse. Throughout it all, she said she was grateful that she continued.

“Regardless of the ups and downs, these touching moments are sure to rule us forever,” added Christensen. “We hope that all caregivers, whether they are bedside workers or support those who do, will see this gesture from Heather as recognition of her efforts through a very serious pandemic and give hope for the future.”

As for Olsen, she hopes people will see her painting as a reminder of the sacrifices the frontline workers made, especially in times of unknown and uncertain times during the pandemic.

“I hope when health care workers look at this painting – and everyone looks at this painting – they will be reminded of all that you have accomplished. How you got us through the troubled times of COVID-19 and all of the people, whom you’ve helped. ” She said. “People live because of you.”

Contributors: Xoel Cardenas, KSL.com

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