Kaiser San Jose hospital unveils memorial to 189 patients lost to COVID-19

SAN JOSE – At Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Jose, the pandemic began on February 28, 2020 – when the first patient under investigation for COVID-19 became the first confirmed case in Santa Clara County.

On Wednesday, the hospital remembered the lives lost and the dedication of their healthcare workers with the unveiling of a new memorial on campus.

Memorial to patients lost to COVID-19 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Jose, May 11, 2022.

Andria Borba / CBS

How does one honor a million American lives lost to COVID-19? At Kaiser, bells rang for 189 seconds straight – one second for every life lost at the hospital to the virus.

For hospital staff nurse Elsa Garcia, the losses weren’t just patients, but family. She lost five family members to the coronavirus – while she was working to save the lives of other people’s loved ones.

Garcia said her colleagues lifted her up while dealing with their own grief and fear.

“Despite our sadness and the loss — at Kaiser we’re such a tight family — he was there to hug me and tell me it was going to be okay,” Garcia said.

How does one heal the healers?

“We heard the cries and prayers of family members sitting in their parked cars alone, not knowing when and if they could see their loved ones if they passed on. We provided comfort and solace even when there was not much to be had,” said Dr. Gayathri Nanja, Asst. Chief of Hospital Based Services.

Sharron Bell was named ICU manager in February 2020 and said the everyday acts of humanity and heroism by her staff took her breath away.

“When I rounded, that nurse was holding this patients hands. Talking to him. This patient was intubated and she didn’t know if that patient could hear her or not,” Bell said.

On Wednesday, praying the worst is behind them, the staff at Kaiser took a moment to honor those lives lost – as well as themselves – the essential workers who fought to keep a community alive.  

“I am so proud of all of you,” said Priya Smith, medical group administrator at Kaiser San Jose. 

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