Here comes the sun: Hospitals send recovered COVID patients home with a song

July 1, 2020


When the 100th patient to recover from COVID-19 left SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital earlier this month, she was sent off, like others who have overcome a severe bout with the virus, with cheers and applause from caregivers and Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!"

At Trinity Health's Nazareth Hospital, the music for farewell fetes for COVID patients is "Gonna Fly Now" the theme from Rocky. It's an appropriate choice based on geography and the arc of the script since the hospital is in Philadelphia and the movie about the underdog fighter who goes the distance against a mighty opponent was set there, too.

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Paula Harlan gives a thumbs-up to her caregivers as she leaves SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital on May 11. Harlan was the 100th patient with COVID-19 to be discharged. The hospital plays "Can't Stop the Feeling!" when COVID patients go home.

At Mercy hospitals in the St. Louis region, a "Code Sunshine" is called when a COVID patient is being discharged and the song selection, appropriately, is the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."

Staffers at Catholic hospitals across the nation are savoring the brief timeouts from their frontline role in the national emergency caused by the pandemic as they rejoice in the victories of patients who have survived serious or near-fatal complications of the virus and are going home. By mid-June, more than 2.2 million Americans had tested positive for the virus and more than 118,000 had died, according to tracking done by Johns Hopkins University.

"We've had patients here who haven't seen their family in over 30 days and so the first time that they get to do that, you can imagine the emotion that comes with that moment," said Jennifer Garnica, the administrative director of nursing operations at SSM Health's SLU Hospital. "It's emotional for the providers as well. It's a really exciting thing for us to see people getting better and getting out of here."

Up for a vote
Garnica, who is known among her colleagues as "the cheerleader," led the charge in arranging the sendoffs for COVID patients and selecting a theme song. She decided to get the whole staff involved in that selection by narrowing the choices to five and then putting the finalists up to a vote. Timberlake's catchy "Can't Stop the Feeling!" won in a landslide over rivals that included the Bee Gees' disco anthem "Stayin' Alive" and the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine."

"It's just an upbeat song," Garnica said. "When you hear it, you can't help but get excited and you want to get up and dance and clap your hands."

Other hospitals have also put the song decision for their farewell events up to a vote. At PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington, the popular choice was Journey's enduring smash "Don't Stop Believin.'"

As at Nazareth Hospital, "Gonna Fly Now" pours from the PA system at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when a COVID patient heads home. A "Code Rocky" is called for the occasion.

Tammi Aidt, manager supportive care services at the hospital, said the choice was meant to mark a milestone as it did in the movie when Rocky Balboa was finally fit enough to charge up all 72 steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "As with COVID-19 patients reaching the goal of being discharged, it represents a great show of triumph and overcoming barriers," Aidt said.

Going the distance
AMITA Health Resurrection Medical Center Chicago plays a Rocky theme, too, but the facility opted for "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor from the third installment of the movie franchise. The song's lyrics include "Went the distance, now I'm back on my feet. Just a man and his will to survive."

Holly Seletos, the hospital's director of patient experience, said the song "instills the feeling of building up of stamina. It makes our discharged COVID patients feel as though they have made it through the fight of their lifetime and come out strong and it gives the COVID inpatient hope and encouragement that they too will hear this song played for them one day soon."

Seletos said the hospital has dubbed its discharge celebrations Code Joy. "It makes our staff so happy each and every time we hear it played, it brightens our day with a sigh of gratefulness that we could send another one home," she added.

Lifting spirits
The Beatles classic "Here Comes the Sun" is a popular discharge choice for COVID patients at hospitals across the nation, including at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington. At the suggestion of Dr. Dayna Groskreutz, a pulmonary/critical care physician on the front lines of the COVID fight, it's also the parting serenade at several Avera Health hospitals.

"As we treat patients and prepare for an increase in cases, we need something to lift the spirits of staff and emphasize that people are getting better," Groskreutz said in a press release in late April when the selection was announced. "Hope is important right now. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)"

The song is also being played at Avera hospitals when babies are born.

At Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio, the hospital lets COVID patients pick which song they want to hear as they are heading out. Among the choices so far are "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Stayin' Alive." So far, no one has requested James Brown's "I Feel Good."

Hospital staffers wax lyrical in their pandemic response

Along with inspiring the selection of tribute songs for farewell celebrations for recovering COVID-19 patients, the pandemic has spurred staffers as some Catholic facilities to get in touch with their musicality.

SSM Health staffers recorded a socially distanced video for an inspirational tune dedicated to those on the pandemic's front lines called "We Rise." The refrain includes: "We are called to service. We stand together here."

The song was written by John Nguyen, the St. Louis-based system's chief marketing officer, and the video features him singing and playing guitar as well as the voices and instrumental skills of 15 system colleagues. It combines a mashup of separate recordings from their homes with dozens of poignant photos of staffers on the job during the pandemic. Brad Hood, an SSM Health executive assistant, collaborated with Nguyen on the arrangement. The video had gotten more than 14,000 views on YouTube by mid-June.

Benedictine is using social media to share a bouncy COVID-related video that features an original song. The song, "Stay Back," is a "social distancing groove" that was created for residents. Until those distancing precautions are eased, residents and others will only be seeing the recorded version.

It is performed on the video by songwriter Russ Britton, director of facilities at the senior living community Villa St. Benedict in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Illinois. Britton sings to an acoustic rock rhythm. The lyrics promote maintaining a six-foot distance from others and frequent hand washing. The backup dancers in surgical masks — Mario Monarrez, a general maintenance technician at the care center, and Raymundo "Ray" Guela, a janitor — incorporate some moves to demonstrate.

The lyrics include: "Keeping away is what we say and we're trying to keep you safe."



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