• Renown Health
  • COVID-19

A One Year Reflection: Thousands of Health Care Workers and Northern Nevadans Vaccinated Against COVID-19, Offering a Beacon of Hope This Holiday Season

December 21, 2021

Renown Health logo

The best protection continues to be getting a COVID-19 vaccine and booster, wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands often.

For the thousands of physicians and health care workers of Renown Health, this week is etched into the pandemic timeline as the start date of a nationwide wave that signaled the first vaccinations against COVID-19 and a beacon of hope for the future. A year ago, the nation’s health care systems in communities across the U.S. first began vaccinating physicians and health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19, and thousands received their first vaccine.

One year ago, Renown Health, the Washoe County Health District (WCHD), the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began to distribute the initially available, limited supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines in Washoe County. Media representatives viewed the first healthcare workers as they obtained their first dose of the life-saving vaccines.

Luis Martinez, first health care worker vaccinated, now plans to attend medical school Luis Martinez, who served on the front-line of the pandemic at Renown Regional Medical Center, received the first of his Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a year ago this week, after it received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. He received the second and final vaccination in the series 21 days later.

Luis has been at Renown since 2016, where he started as a phlebotomist and has been encouraged to advance his career in the medical field. He works as a technician on Renown’s Clinical Decision Unit — a short stay unit within the hospital for people who need clinical care, but do not need admittance to the hospital. Luis worked with patients and clinicians in the Clinical Decision Unit for a year before requesting to work in Renown’s Alternate Care Site, built in the Mill Street parking structure as a place to care for patients recovering from COVID-19 before they returned home.

Today, Luis is working to fulfill his dreams of becoming a doctor. He took the Medical College Admission Test® earlier this year, interviewed virtually and applied to 24 medical schools. Luis has shadowed physicians in a number of medical fields, including internal medicine, emergency medicine, cardiology and orthopedics, and would be thrilled to train in any one of those areas. As for medical school, Luis was excited to hear about Renown’s new clinical affiliation with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med). He is enthusiastic about becoming part of the next generation of Nevada's health care professionals, and his first choice is UNR Med. He expects an admission decision by UNR Med this winter. If that doesn’t work out, he says, he has an interview with leaders at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV in January.

Luis is bilingual and understands that Nevada continues to face a shortage of physicians and affordable medical care. He volunteers with CARE Chest of Sierra Nevada, a non-profit organization that provides free medical equipment, supplies, and prescription assistance to underserved populations when he is not working at Renown. His dream is to graduate medical school and stay in the community to provide medical care as a physician.

Luis knows the importance of excellent medical care, and the importance of the vaccines against COVID-19. Last October, Luis turned 33 and contracted COVID-19 after a family birthday party. Because of his experience, his interest in medicine and his research, Luis obtained his COVID-19 vaccines- and his booster, and is pleased that everyone in his family is triple vaccinated too. He says they are all feeling well and looking forward to being together at the holidays.

“As we celebrate this holiday season, we give thanks for Luis and the thousands of health care heroes who have been fighting this pandemic with care and compassion; continuing to safely screen, diagnose, care for and vaccinate thousands of employees and community members,” said Tony Slonim, MD, DrPH, President & CEO of Renown Health. “It has been an honor to assist local and statewide health partners in the herculean vaccination effort. Over the past year, Renown’s vaccine team administered more than 58,000 dose 1 and dose 2 vaccinations to Nevadans ages five and older. We continue to work closely with our community health leaders and are always ready to assist. We are proud to be part of the solution for our community and pleased to have made a genuine difference in the health and well-being of others throughout this unprecedented time in our history.”

Renown continues to use current local and national data, analytics, and public data sets for predictive modeling in service to our community. When there is heightened concern around an illness, enhanced infection prevention strategies are in place to ensure Renown is ready with the appropriate supplies and alternate plans should the need arise.

Vaccination is still the best protection against Omicron and Coronavirus

Today also marks a dark new milestone for Washoe County — over 1,010 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, and over 70,549 total cases in our population of nearly 500,000. The bright spot is that over 65,714 people have recovered in Washoe County, although many still grapple with long-term effects of the illness.

The world and the U.S., continue to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations with the highly contagious Omicron variant, which now accounts for 50 percent of the coronavirus cases in parts of the country. In some areas, there is a significant stress on the hospital system, particularly where vaccination rates are low.

“The most important action you can take to protect yourself from the Delta and Omicron strains and the COVID-19 virus is to get fully vaccinated,” says Susan Lee, DO, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, Acute Care. “The COVID 19 virus and its related strains are preventable and controllable through safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which are free and now widely available in our area. The CDC recommends all people 5 years and older be vaccinated against COVID-19. Data shows that nearly all COVID-19 deaths are now occurring among unvaccinated individuals.” A list of providers in our area offering vaccines is available at vaccines.gov.”

“The best protection from COVID-19 has been a combination of getting a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands often,” says Amy McCombs, MSN, RN, CCRN, CNML, vice president of Quality for Acute Services for Renown, and a champion of the vaccination effort for Renown. “No one tool alone will stop this pandemic; it will take a combination of all of us using all of these efforts to fight the spread of this virus, especially through the holidays.”

“Vaccinations have been a game-changer in terms of improving the health of our community,” said Rahul Mediwala, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Health Services. "Given the demands of this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been pleased to help in the fight by providing vaccinations. Our goal a year ago, was that all Renown physicians; employees and their family members; and all Hometown Health members and Renown patients interested in receiving the vaccine would have an opportunity to be vaccinated, we are excited to help make that dream a reality for all.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is now mandatory for all Renown employees in an effort to protect those who are ill and physically vulnerable, and ensure a safe environment for patients and health care workers. Renown is covering all costs of the vaccine, and it is being offered free of charge to employees. As of today, 97% percent of all 6,750 Renown Health employees are vaccinated or have an approved exemption or deferral.

“This year was a year no one will forget. For everyone- and for our health care workers at Renown, the year presented countless challenges and opportunities. Those of us who choose healthcare as our life’s work answer a true calling to serve others; this field requires a self-less commitment and a tireless dedication to caring for people when they are at their most vulnerable,” said Renown’s Chief of Staff, Sy Johnson, MBA. “I applaud the entire team- every physician, nurse and health care hero for their valor, their strength and perseverance in serving our patients and community during these unprecedented times.”

What follows are highlights of some of the most remarkable moments and events that have taken place at Renown Health over the past year in relation to the response to COVID-19.

Temporary Deployable Medical Structure Outside Renown Regional Emergency Department

On March 12, 2020, Renown erected a deployable medical facility to serve as a respiratory illness evaluation and screening center for Emergency Room patients at Renown Regional Medical Center. A similar tent was also set up outside the Emergency Room at South Meadows Medical Center. An additional layer of protection, this proactive measure helped to care for people with symptoms of respiratory illness, and to protect patients and staff in the Emergency Department and other areas of the hospital. The tents were dismantled on January 20, 2021. (See photo here.)

Alternate Care Site at Mill Street Parking Structure at Renown Regional

As many communities across the nation experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases, including significant surges in hospitalized patients, Renown’s leadership had the foresight to create an Alternate Care Site (ACS) in the Renown Regional Medical Center Mill Street Parking structure. The ACS served additional hospitalized patients and allowed caregivers to remain on campus and still have access to existing hospital infrastructure such as lab, pharmacy, imaging, food services and other critical services. This solution also supported an efficient level of care escalation and other emergent interventions as needed. After just 10 days of intricate construction, including flooring, electrical infrastructure, lighting, water, technology and wall partitions, the ACS was completed on April 3, 2020 with space to hold up to 1,400 patients. On Nov. 12, 2020, Renown opened the ACS to serve additional hospitalized patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who were clinically stable or improving. Healthcare workers at Renown cared for hundreds of patients in this site. In early Jan. 2021, the remaining patients returned home. The Site has been decommissioned and leaders expect the area to be available for additional parking later this winter. (Alternate Care Site B-Roll.)

Renown invests in Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) ‘Hospital at Home’ Monitoring Systems

Appropriate patients (including those recovering from COVID-19) are now offered a telehealth solution using wearable, continuous pulse oximetry, and the convenience of being in their own homes, with the confidence and security of knowing that Renown clinical staff are closely monitoring their health data through the Renown Transfer and Operations Center, and regularly communicating with them through their recovery process.

The Renown Transfer and Operations Center spans 6,000 square feet, and is one of the largest centers of its kind in the nation, equipped with 28 high-definition dashboards on the front wall, two in the center of the room and four hanging monitors toward the back. Large plasma screens display important metrics such as patient vital signs, bed availability, facility capacity, staffing, technology and more. Registered Nurses and dispatchers continuously monitor activity around the clock, across Renown’s 100,000 square mile service area, 100+ locations and partner facilities to make the best decisions for patients, providers and care teams.

“LOVE” Makes its Way to Renown

On April 16, 2020, during a time of darkness and uncertainty, Artown loaned the “LOVE” sculpture, a one-ton, welded-aluminum artwork created by artist Laura Kimpton and fabricated by Jeff Schomberg to Renown, where it lit up Regional Medical Center’s main entrance on Mill St. The sculpture formerly debuted at Burning Man in 2019. On July 13, 2020, thanks to the support of former board chair and community supporter, Blake Smith and the Keyser Foundation, “LOVE” continues to glow in Renown’s signature purple every evening, shining brightly for patients, employees, visitors and passersby to enjoy. Throughout the pandemic, this sculpture has served as a source of inspiration, hope and positivity for our community. (LOVE sign B-Roll.)

When Words Fail, Art Speaks

Recognizing art’s powerful healing capabilities, Renown collaborated with prominent artist and fine art photographer, Anicia Beckwith, to immortalize the many battles fought against and amidst COVID-19 within the healthcare system’s walls. Beckwith captured portrait images of Renown caregivers, patients and their loved ones, showing raw and touching scenes from the COVID Intensive Care Unit, Emergency Departments, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Wilbur D. May Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Alternate Care Site field hospital. A group of Renown caregivers hold a COVID patient’s hand. Tears well up in their eyes as the patient takes his last breath. Care providers respond to a patient’s only request – a facial shave. The man beams at the sight of his freshly groomed face, and is visibly touched by the tender care he received to make it happen. Lupe, an environmental services worker, takes special care in her efforts to clean and sanitize patient rooms—a craft she has perfected and taken pride in for the 25+ years she’s worked at Renown. These are just a few of the captivating moments Beckwith illustrates through her art. Beckwith’s full photo gallery of images from Renown are located here; and downloadable visual assets are available here.

Evolving in an Ever-Changing World: Long-Term Remote Work for Renown Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed healthcare leaders throughout the world to determine how best to provide care in this ever-changing environment. Leaders in Renown’s Human Resources department evaluated the thoughts and opinions of employees working remotely throughout Renown Health. Due to the positive feedback from employees, including decreased commute times, fewer distractions, improved work-life balance and a reduced carbon footprint, over 700 Renown employees will continue working remotely.

Renown Offers In-House COVID Testing

In June 2020, the Renown Laboratory team sprang into action to help meet Washoe County residents and businesses’ growing demand for COVID-19 testing. Renown invested in expanded staffing and in-house testing capabilities to be able to swab and process up to 1,000 COVID tests for patients each day, with return of results within hours. Renown’s CEO, Dr. Tony Slonim also collaborated with the Mayor’s COVID-19 Task Force, local faith and community leaders beginning in Oct. of 2020 to address health equity by providing free COVID-19 testing for communities of color. (Lab B-Roll).

An Extraordinary Year of Service

Renown’s leadership remains steadfast commitment to keeping our community safe. “We thank the community for standing by us and helping us all emerge as stronger people with hope for the future. We continue to fight the good fight,” said Dr. Slonim. “With COVID now imbedded into our daily lives, it’s remarkable to reflect on the progress we’ve made and the obstacles we’ve overcome. I will be forever grateful for the precautionary measures, innovation, and acts of service and love implemented by our dedicated team over the past two years. We hope by demonstrating our caring values and exhibiting hope and determination, we are inspiring others.”

Stay Up-to-date on COVID-19

Renown Health is prepared to safely screen, diagnose and care for patients with respiratory illness, including COVID-19. To stay up-to-date on communications regarding Renown’s distribution of the COVID19 vaccine, FAQs and the scientific evidence behind the vaccine, visit https://covid.renown.org/

Join the Renown team

Renown Health remains committed to hiring key roles in our organization to support the health and well-being of our community. To join the Renown family to Fight the Good Fight, apply on line at https://careers.renown.org/

Support the Renown team

Renown Health, a charitable, not-for-profit organization, is grateful for our community’s support during these unprecedented times. If you are interested in supporting Renown Health, a charitable, non-profit health organization, please consider giving to Renown Health Foundation. Donations are accepted through the following ways:

  • Make a gift at www.renown.org/give
  • Call Renown Health Foundation at 775-982-5545
  • Mail a check to Renown Health Foundation, 1155 Mill St., O2, Reno, NV 89502
  • Venmo: @RenownFoundation



About Renown Health

Renown Health is the region’s largest, locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. With a diverse workforce of more than 6,500 employees, Renown has fostered a longstanding culture of excellence, determination and innovation. The organization comprises a trauma center, two acute care hospitals, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest, locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown is currently enrolling participants in the world’s largest community-based genetic population health study, the Healthy Nevada Project®. For more information, visit renown.org.