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‘Operation SMILE’ cheering up COVID-19 patients at LewisGale Medical Center

Other patients are the ones creating cards to inspire and uplift

SALEM, Va. – Words of encouragement are scribbled across cards for COVID-19 patients at LewisGale Medical Center.

Messages read: “Wishing you more strength with each coming day,” and “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

Linda Ellis is the patient safety coordinator at LewisGale and says the pandemic has taken its toll mentally, emotionally and physically. Not just on those with the virus, but on their families and the health care workers who look after them.

“Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming,” said Ellis.

She wanted to lift some spirits and got the idea to write cards to the patients, calling the project “Operation SMILE,” which stands for ‘Sharing Messages of Inspiration to Lift and Encourage.’

Cards designed by patients at LewisGale Medical Center wait to be delivered to patients battling COVID-19. It's all through a new initiative called 'Operation SMILE.'
Cards designed by patients at LewisGale Medical Center wait to be delivered to patients battling COVID-19. It's all through a new initiative called 'Operation SMILE.' (WSLS)

“We want to bring smiles and hope to these patients because they aren’t able to be with their families right now,” said Ellis.

Rather than just have staff members write the cards, she thought, ‘Why not help other patients in the process?’ So she teamed up with Amanda Radford, the group therapist lead for the Center for Behavioral Health at LewisGale, to get her patients on board.

“[The COVID-19 patients] are isolated and some of our patients are isolated. And it’s helpful on both ends,” said Radford.

Kids and adults at the center struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or substance abuse use ‘expressive therapy’ as a coping strategy. Radford thought making these cards would be a great addition to their therapy.

“When our patients can do a hands-on activity, whether it’s a clay project, whether it’s painting, whether it’s drawing,” said Radford. “It’s just something out of the box, out of the ordinary for them and they just get excited.”

Staff working on the COVID-19 unit then pick the best cards that fit each patient, sign them, and hand deliver them.

“It’s kind of fun because the patients themselves don’t wear masks, so the staff are getting to see those smiles,” said Ellis.

Thirty-five cards have been made so far and they plan to keep making more, filled with simple messages to think positive, keep going and stay strong.


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