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UT Health East Texas commemorates COVID-19 anniversary

Install paper lanterns on the UT Health Tyler skywalk

Irma Saldana (from left), quality projects coordinator, and Paulette Franklin, risk management coordinator, help install paper lanterns on the UT Health Tyler skywalk to represent every patient treated at UT Health East Texas for COVID-19 in the past year.

Tyler, Texas (March 18, 2021) — An artistic installation on the UT Health Tyler skywalk commemorates the more than 3,600 COVID-19 patients treated at UT Health East Texas in the past year.

UT Health caregivers installed 3,654 paper lantern cutouts on the skywalk in advance of the one-year anniversary of the first patient who was admitted to the health system for COVID-19 on March 18, 2020. Each paper lantern contains the initials of a patient treated at hospitals across the division; larger lanterns symbolize those who passed away and smaller lanterns those who were saved.

"We wanted to commemorate the COVID-19 patients in a way that symbolized hope because it's been such a dark time for all of us through this," said Tracy O'Daniel, division vice president of quality. "We were trying to think of some way to illuminate their lives and celebrate those that we were able to save and honor those that we lost."

O'Daniel said as her team was installing the lanterns this week, several caregivers commented on how emotional it was to see the sheer number of people directly affected by the illness in the past year.

"I think it's impactful for people because if you're not dealing with it every day, you don't realize how many patients it is," O'Daniel said. "So as people are walking by, they're gaining perspective of how many patients have come through UT Health."

She noted that each lantern represents far more than just one person when you factor in all the friends and family members connected to each patient.

Dr. Tom Cummins, division chief medical officer, said despite the difficulties the past year has presented, caregivers have risen to the challenge and continued to provide exceptional care even in the most trying times.

"Working together, we managed this crisis," Cummins said. "We moved quickly as the pandemic started, and we learned to be flexible in our approach to a new disease."

Tracy O'Daniel, UT Health East Texas division vice president of quality, works on the art installation project commemorating the patients treated for COVID-19 at UT Health East Texas in the past year.

Nashelle Gonzales, patient advocate, affixes a lantern to the skywalk window at UT Health Tyler. Each paper lantern contains the initials of a patient treated for COVID-19 at hospitals across the division.

About UT Health East Texas

UT Health East Texas provides care to thousands of patients each year through an extensive regional network that includes 10 hospitals, more than 50 clinics, the Olympic Plaza Tower, 13 regional rehabilitation facilities, two freestanding emergency centers, regional home health services covering 41 counties, an EMS fleet of more than 50 ambulances and four helicopters, and a comprehensive seven-trauma center care network, including the region's only Level 1 trauma facility.

As a partner with The University of Texas System, UT Health East Texas is uniquely positioned to provide patients with access to leading-edge research and clinical therapies while training and educating the next generation of physicians and other health professionals. The nationally recognized UT System also includes UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, as well as three other major university medical centers located throughout the state.