Sidelined hospital employee rocks morale of co-workers

MARSHFIELD, Mass. — It would seem, at some point, that all the rocks churned up by the Atlantic Ocean eventually make their way to Marshfield. The largest deposit is along Ocean Street. The mound of beige, taupe, white and gray stones, pounded smooth by the surf, nearly reaches to the top of the sea wall.

Hannah Mitchelson found it the perfect place last month to collect rocks for a morale-boosting project at her place of employment, Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

Mitchelson, a former high school teacher, recently began a second career as a Child Life Specialist at Newton-Wellesley. The job entails providing emotional support to children and families facing surgery or other medical procedures.

But with elective surgeries on hold, and a need to preserve protective equipment, Mitchelson was among those relegated to staying home until the pandemic eases.

Still, her thoughts stayed with co-workers still on the job.

“Many of them were working long hours and worried about their own health as well as family member’s health and bringing home COVID-19 and getting family members sick,” she said. “And I really wanted in my spare time at home do something to boost morale and let them know they were supported.”

Mitchelson remembered a departmental project involving inspirational sayings written in chalk outside the hospital. It was effective in boosting morale -- while it lasted.

“Unfortunately with the rain -- we’ve had a very rainy spring -- it continually got washed away,” Mitchelson said. “So this light bulb went off in my head and I had painted rocks with my daughter and her friend on summer vacations in the past.”

Her goal was, in part, to thank everyone at the hospital for their hard work.

"The doctors and nurses are amazing," Mitchelson said. "But it was really important for me to thank housekeeping, valet services, food services. Everyone who's really going out of their way to help patients and families during this time."

And the rocks do seem to cover every department -- from pharmacy to transport to public safety to administrators.

Mitchelson placed the 100-rock collection near a frequently used, but discrete, employee entrance. "Even as I was placing them employees were walking by and getting pretty excited to read the rocks and everyone was happy to see when I had tagged their department."

Many of the rocks sport inspirational quotations.

"One of the quotes I loved was we must accept finite disappointment, but we must remember there's infinite hope," Mitchelson said. "The messages I tried to put out there were messages on the rocks about hope and strength and that it's okay to feel down and cry and feel that pain during this time because it's a hard time for people working in hospitals. They're seeing a lot of things they've never seen before."

Mitchelson intended the rocks to have a semi-permanent life -- but some are disappearing -- employees perhaps needing inspiration at home, as well as work.

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