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‘A New Beginning After a Very Dark Year’:

Vaccinated and Ready to Work, SNMH Auxiliary Returns to Hospital

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Special to The Union
SNMH Auxiliary member Adrienne Perreault and Auxiliary President Fran Thompson return to work in the hospital’s Pine Tree Gift Shop. The Gift Shop was closed for a year due to the pandemic.

When Fran Thompson got word last March 13 that the Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Auxiliary wouldn’t be allowed in the hospital due to the risk of a new virus sweeping across the globe, she thought her volunteers would be back on the units and in their Gift Shop within a few weeks.

“None of us had any idea,” Thompson, President of the SNMH Auxiliary, says with a laugh. “We thought it would be a month, maybe. Nobody knew – it was truly uncharted waters.”

Those uncharted waters were the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, the Auxiliary members found their lives, and their service to the hospital, completely shut down.



In normal times, the Auxiliary members provide support to both patients and employees, working at the information desks in the hospital’s main lobby, outpatient surgery, cancer center, nursing floors and ER. In addition, the Auxiliary manages and staffs the hospital’s Pine Tree Gift Shop.

The Auxiliary uses revenue from gift shop sales to donate to the hospital. That donation can add up to as much as $40,000 some years. In 2019, the Auxiliary donated $35,000 to the Emergency Room update campaign, led by the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation.



However, in 2020, the Auxiliary’s Gift Shop was shuttered for the year. Like many of us, the volunteers found themselves isolated at home.

“We are predominantly in the high-risk, 60-plus age group,” Thompson says. “We spent the year at home. We did minimal grocery shopping, had food delivered or picked up… Our service chairs stayed in touch with their members, but really, we spent the year just waiting for updates.”

Those updates came from Brian Evans, MD, SNMH President and CEO. For Thompson and her team of 60 volunteers, Dr. Evans became not only their main source of information during the pandemic but also a trusted advisor.

“Dr. Evans was really our Dr. Fauci,” Thompson shares. “He was our trusted source of information and we — and the community — were so lucky to get guidance from him.”

For months, Dr. Evans advised the Auxiliary team to stay home. Like many hoping to return to normal life, there were stops and starts.

“In November we thought we were going to reopen,” Thompson says. “We decorated the Gift Shop for Christmas and got all of our Christmas stock ready to sell – and then we got shut down again, due to the post-Halloween spike in cases. It was disappointing, but we understood.”

At that point, Thompson knew that the Auxiliary’s only path to returning to the hospital was through vaccination.

“We received word on Jan. 2 that our volunteers could get vaccinated at the hospital on Jan. 4,” Thompson recalls. “And on Jan. 4, nearly every Auxiliary member was there, ready to get vaccinated! We were so excited.”

Since that monumental day, the Auxiliary members have been busy checking off all the boxes needed to return to work in the hospital, including their second vaccine dose and their annual reorientation, which covers hospital and auxiliary policies and procedures.

Then, almost exactly one year to the day since being shut down, the SNMH Auxiliary returned to the hospital on Monday, March 15.

“It is really such a spirit lifter to be back,” Thompson says. “One of our members was walking through the hospital last week and she was stopped numerous times, people telling her how happy they are to see us and to have us back. It is just uplifting for everyone – volunteers, employees, and patients.”

For now, the Auxiliary is limited to just three of their six service areas – the main lobby desk, the outpatient lobby desk, and the Gift Shop.

Thompson says what she missed most during the shutdown was the opportunity to be of service to others.

“The pandemic has taught us all tremendous patience,” she says. “Many of the Auxiliary members live alone and being isolated was really a test. So now, the idea that we can get up in the morning and have somewhere to go and can give and be appreciated – it is definitely a new beginning after a very dark year.”

Looking to the future, Thompson and the Auxiliary will be interviewing for new members in June [see details below].

Thompson says while there are many volunteer opportunities available in Nevada County, the Auxiliary provides unique and rewarding opportunities.

“When I moved here from the Bay Area, I tried three different volunteer areas and nothing felt right,” Thompson recalls. “And then I saw a little ad for Auxiliary volunteers in

The Union – and I never looked back! I’ve built friendships that will last forever. It is really such a gratifying experience – meeting the public, helping the employees, supporting our local community hospital – it’s great.”

Thompson says the being part of the Auxiliary is even more impactful now, after living through a yearlong pandemic.

“It is important for all of us right now to find somewhere where we are needed and where we feel safe,” she says. “I feel safer at the hospital than I do in the grocery store or at the gas station! And throughout all of this, I have been so impressed by our hospital and Dr. Evans and his incredible team. I am proud to be a part of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital!”


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