We can all agree this year has been unlike any other. The coronavirus has changed the ways we work, learn and socialize. Schools have shifted to online-only teaching models; stores have shut down or limited capacities; and each day, we are sanitizing, distancing and wearing masks.
While it has been difficult, we are
grateful for those who have helped make this tough time a bit easier on all of us. Health care workers, waiters and waitresses, grocery cashiers, veterinarians, postal service employees, therapists and more — these people have kept this country running. Here are some of our 2020 heroes:
Dr. David Gonzales
At a time when health care is more important than ever, Dr. David Gonzales, the chief medical officer at Christus
St. Vincent Regional Medical Center,
has overseen patient care at Christus
St. Vincent locations across New Mexico. With more than 20 years in the medical field, Gonzales is an experienced physician who leads his practice with attention to detail and compassion.
Like millions of
doctors worldwide, Gonzales has been hard at work caring for patients during the coronavirus pandemic. He has given countless hours to treating those who are ill and toward trying to help as many people as possible. The job has not been easy.
“It has most definitely been tough. We are working very long hours, and we are just trying to help as many people as possible,” he said. “Everyone is counting on us to help them and their loved ones, and I don’t want to let them down.”
Capacity is one of the most prominent struggles, Gonzales said, noting that Christus St. Vincent cares for New Mexico residents as well as people who live in eastern Arizona and Texas.
“We have struggled taking care of the volume of patients we have seen,” he said.
It’s also been difficult “keeping staff safe,” making sure they have enough protective equipment and ensuring they don’t get infected, he said.
Despite the challenges, Gonzales is proud of how his staff — and health care workers everywhere — have responded to the pandemic.
“Watching everyone work so hard — it just gives me hope for the future, that we will make it out of this pandemic,” he said.
Before 2020, grocers were often overlooked and underappreciated for their efforts to provide food to their communities. Because of the pandemic, the public is finally recognizing the value of this essential work.
Karina Gutierrez, a cashier at Albertsons Market on Zafarano Drive, is among those who have busily stocked shelves and checked out customers.
Of her three years at Albertsons,
2020 was undoubtedly the most challenging, Guttierez said: “We have been working hard, but it feels never ending.”
Workers constantly restock shelves throughout the day, as demand is high and supply is short. They deal with customers who shop without wearing a mask, they implement and adjust pandemic-related policies, and they double down on sanitation and cleaning efforts. Every day, they face new challenges, Guttierez said.
The holidays have proven extra hard on workers, Guttierez said just before Christmas.
“People are literally going crazy. They are all rushing to the store to do holiday shopping and to buy food for their holiday dinners,” she said, noting the larger crowds add to the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Gutierrez said she hopes everyone will continue to follow guidelines so that her job can run more smoothly.
And when the pandemic ends, she hopes Santa Feans will remember the important role grocery workers play in keeping their communities healthy and fed — even in the most difficult times.
“Hey, who knows? Maybe we will start to get the recognition we deserve. I mean, I know we aren’t doctors, but we are helping in our own way,” Gutierrez said.
Hardships related to the coronavirus aren’t solely physical.
As lives have been turned upside down, it only makes sense that a surge of people are experiencing mental health issues. According to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “more than four in 10 adults overall (45 percent) feel that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.”
These statistics were compiled at the beginning of the pandemic and have been on the rise. For this reason, workers like Laurel Carraher, a Santa Fe-based counselor, are needed more than ever.
Carraher is one of many counselors and therapists who have remained active throughout the pandemic. For therapists, offering a safe and comfortable environment for clients to remain engaged and receive help is mandatory. For this reason, Carraher was worried an online-only model might not work as well.
Carraher describes her initial transition to online therapy and telehealth as “difficult” due to software and technical difficulties. She also feared the absence of face-to-face contact would diminish her effectiveness.
Instead, she found the experience to be equally enriching and surprisingly “easier” than in-person therapy.
“I really like [online sessions] quite a bit,” she said. “I feel that basically, we communicate as well with our words and emotions over the phone.”
Carraher recognizes that many teens do not have this type of outlet to express their thoughts and feelings. She advises that younger people practice self-care and seek help when needed.
“Resources are available to those in need, either through schools or other
companies. Asking for help is one of the most important steps towards healing” she said.
Carraher offered a few tips for people struggling with motivation or self-esteem. She emphasized the importance of making a regular schedule, socializing in safe and positive ways, unplugging from technology and social media, and writing in a journal.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, however, resources are available. To reach a 24-hour crisis center, call 800-273-TALK or text MHA to 741741.
From therapists like Carraher to pharmacy cashiers and gas station employees, every front-line worker made a difference in 2020. Be sure to thank them next time you see them.