New London - When the lockout of nurses and technicians at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital interrupted regular contact among staff on the neurology unit, nurse Patti Harvey started worrying what to do about an annual holiday charity activity she'd organized.
For the last four years, Harvey, a Noank resident who's been a registered nurse at L+M for 25 years, has led an adopt-a-family project involving the entire unit, about 50 strong with nurses, technicians, patient care assistants, managers and other staff, both union and nonunion. The group had signed up to adopt a needy New London family of three through a program run by resident Joni Discordia out of the Elks Lodge, with each of the three shifts taking a different family member.
But with the staff split between the locked out nurses and technicians on the outside and the other staff on the inside, Harvey wasn't sure what to do. The hospital has forbidden its working staff from contacting the locked-out workers while on the job, and Harvey had left the paperwork with the gift list and sign-up sheet in the unit. The lockout began Nov. 30, after a four-day strike and is in its 14th day today.
"I thought about not doing it, but then I thought it through and decided it wasn't right for this family to miss out because of the situation at L+M," she said. She contacted fellow nurses and technicians in the unit through Facebook, and then she and others found ways to reach out to the managers and others still working without violating the hospital's directive.
"I thought it wasn't right to just keep it to people on the outside," she said.
Everyone, she said, was enthusiastic about keeping their commitment despite the difficult circumstances of the lockout and the financial hardships to the nurses and technicians.
"Everybody was on board," said Penny Sherry of Waterford, a second-shift registered nurse in the unit. "Caring for people is what we do, so we still wanted to help the family. It seemed like it was being true to Christmas. We just decided to get together and make it happen."
Groups shopped for the towels, blanket, Legos, basketball, socks and other clothes and household goods the mother and her two sons had requested. Another group got together at the home of one of the nurses for a wrapping party.
On Friday, everyone met outside the hospital to load Harvey's car with the gifts and help her deliver them to the Elks Lodge, where the receiving family would pick them up.
After the emotional and financial difficulties of the lockout and ongoing labor dispute between the hospital and the union representing the nurses and technicians, Harvey and Sherry said, coming together for a positive purpose was all the more uplifting.
"This kind of restored my faith," Harvey said.