If the fight against Covid-19 has been a battlefield, NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst made up the trenches where the fight was fought room by room, patient by patient and hour by hour.
On Monday, organizers of the Queens International Film Festival, which kicks of its 11-day event next month, chose National Nurses Week to stop by the hospital and pay tribute to the infantry that held the line in Queens during those first dire months.
The hospital’s staff was the winner of the festival’s annual Spirit of Queens Award.
Katha and Preston Cato, the executive director and artistic director of the festival, respectively, presented hospital officials with a plaque that this year was designed to resemble an EKG readout.
Hospital employees and volunteers in their scrubs posed for photos on a red carpet. And they received accolades from hospital brass and elected officials for their work to save countess patients.
Helen Arteaga Landaverde, CEO at the hospital, accepted the award on her staff’s behalf with pride.
“You were the caregivers, the hand-holders, the substitute family and the healers,” she said to those gathered outside for the ceremony.
Visiting dignitaries included Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Assemblymembers Jessica González-Rojas (D-East Elmhurst) and Catalina Cruz (D-Corona).
Van Bramer said as bad as the warnings were in advance of the pandemic, he had been out walking with his mother a few times in those early, terrible days when he came to a horrifying realization.
The ambulances didn’t stop.
“We all heard the sirens,” Van Bramer said. “We heard them all night. It took me some time to realize this wasn’t just the one lone ambulance siren you sometimes hear.”
He said the hospital workers are rightly called heroes.
“We weren’t in the wards and walking the halls. We weren’t receiving patients in the emergency room on Baxter Avenue.”
Special guests included the family of Edgar Calvache, who thanked the staff for their struggle and their caring over nearly six months before Calvache lost his fight last October.
His son, Richard, and wife, Lina, were on hand to express their gratitude for the treatment — and the kindness — exhibited by the staff after Edgar Calvache was admitted to the hospital in April 2020.
He was eventually placed in a medically induced coma and had a machine breathing for him. But he would eventually fight back, sometimes connected with his family only by video. Calvache would leave the intensive care unit and move on to three other facilities before passing away.
“You gave us those six months,” Richard Calvache said to the gathered staff.
This year’s film festival runs from June 23 to July 3, and features nearly 200 films from 33 countries — including 28 from Queens.
Katha Cato announced that Elmhurst staffers will be provided with steeply discounted all-access passes for the festival, and that one-third of the money raised from the passes will go directly back to the hospital.