First came the rage, then the resolve and finally the response.
“I watched that horrible meeting with the hecklers, and I was just outraged because here our medical community is just, they are exhausted,” Shannon O’Quinn said Thursday.
She was referring to a Natrona County Commission meeting on Nov. 2 intended to give the community an update on the local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some people heckled and shouted down public health officials to the point that Commission Chairman Rob Hendry closed the meeting.
Neither O’Quinn nor anyone in her family works in health care, she said. “I was just appalled at that meeting.”
So O’Quinn wondered what she could do to show support for health care workers and make that voice louder than the disruption.
And so “Casper Healthcare Heroes” was born, and grew up fast.
O’Quinn has a background in advertising and design, and has her own business.
She thought about designing signs for sale and the proceeds would go to food and snacks for those working at the Wyoming Medical Center.
O’Quinn contacted Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which agreed to donate two spots on its digital billboards.
She quickly designed a sign with a yellow and orange background, and blue lettering saying, “thank you Casper healthcare heroes.”
She also contacted Card My Yard, which posted a sign, “Heroes Work Here,” in Conwell Park across the street from the hospital.
Two days after “that horrible meeting,” O’Quinn started a Facebook page, and garnered more than 1,000 followers since then. “It just became so popular so fast.”
Hospital employees saw the Lamar billboards and Card My Yard signs, and wanted yard signs with the same message, she said. So she designed signs saying “Casper Healthcare Hero” and a sign for supporters of the healthcare heroes.
Using the Facebook page, she asked for a donor to pay for signs for the health care workers. The Casper office of Enbridge Energy Co. stepped up and donated 1,700 signs costing nearly $6,500, O’Quinn said.
The YMCA contacted her and said it would make signs available and take donations, she said. If someone can’t afford to make a donation, they can still ask for a sign.
A lot of other people have pitched in, including her mother Donna O’Quinn, and friend Erin Potter, O’Quinn said.
The response has generated thousands of dollars in donations, and all that goes to signs and gifts of food — dozens of pizzas last week and dozens of doughnuts this week. O’Quinn receives no money herself, she said.
The new rush of interest mirrors that of earlier this year, when the initial national response to the pandemic included business closures, mask wearing, and even howling at 8 p.m. as demonstrations of support.
Then it slipped.
When it started, the public listened to scientists and doctors, O’Quinn said. “Somehow along the way they were discredited.”
That national reaction trickled down to the local medical community, she said. “These are people who have dedicated their entire lives to helping others.”
The support is coming back.
“Since I started this, I’ve had nurses write me; they have shared stories with me about the hospital filling up; about how exhausted they are; how sick and worn out and emotionally drained they are,” O’Quinn said.
The COVID-19 crisis won’t last forever, hopefully ended with a vaccine, social distancing and wearing a mask, she said.
O’Quinn intends the “hometown heroes” project to last for a month, but that may change, she added.
Referring the hecklers at the meeting last week, she said this:
“Their voice was very loud that day, but the community of Casper’s voice has blown them away because this town has rallied around and supported and donated and offered to help,” O’Quinn said. “And I think our voice has outweighed theirs.”
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