Jan. 14—A few dozen Aikenites gathered at Aiken Regional Medical Centers on Friday morning to pay tribute to the more than 250 lives lost due to COVID-19 in the hospital since the start of the pandemic.
Several speakers took their turn at the podium to provide words of wisdom, support and hope for the future at the event, dubbed REFLECT.
"The word (reflect) is meant to encapsulate the past, point to the future and inspire internal reflection," said Jim O'Loughlin, CEO at Aiken Regional. "The word reflect has connotations of reviewing and commemorating the past year and remembering those impacted by COVID-19."
Gail Diggs, a member of Aiken City Council and the Patient Family Advisory Committee at ARMC, gave an impassioned speech, imploring listeners to continue to follow health guidelines and be safe as the pandemic continues to spread across Aiken, the state of South Carolina and the world at large.
"This virus has left many empty chairs at tables in so many households," Diggs said. "I cannot help but wonder where we would be in this pandemic today if we all followed CDC guidelines faithfully, if we didn't minimize the severity of this virus and not just see it as a bad cold or a hoax. Because hoaxes don't kill 800,000 plus people."
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., was in attendance at the event and briefly spoke, thanking the hospital's employees for their work during the pandemic.
Other speakers at the event included the Rev. Paul Bush, senior pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and member of the Board of Governors at ARMC; Patrick Chambers, CEO of Aurora Pavilion Behavioral Health Services; and Eugene White, president of the Aiken County Branch of the NAACP.
White spoke about the perseverance displayed by the citizens of Aiken during the pandemic, saying there was no quit.
"We showed up every day and we dug (in)," White said. "Very quickly, we started to see the drive-by parades celebrating our frontline workers. We all took turns sponsoring lunches for our exhausted heroes. Little by little, we began to build our hope that a solution would come quite soon."
In closing, White asked everyone to "imagine a world in which we learned lessons from this difficult period of time."
"In which we learned to take care of each other and lean in together as a community. Imagine what that world would look like and the things we can accomplish."