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Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset to honor COVID heroes

The Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset will honor its “COVID Heroes” of 2021 on Thursday in a virtual awards event.

“We want to commend all the award recipients for their efforts during this unprecedented year and for their contributions to our community, Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset President Ary Radnaeva said. “As organizations and individuals, they have all worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic helping to keep our community safe, and we are extremely grateful for their efforts. As outstanding representatives of their peers, they epitomize Rotary’s values and focus on service, leadership and ethics in all vocations.”

The honorees to receive its annual Vocational Service Awards include members of Hawaii’s health care workers, first responders, military and educators.

>>Employer of the Year: Hawaii Pacific Health.

It includes Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Pali Momi Medical Center, Straub Medical Center and Wilcox Medical Center, and clinic locations statewide.

Its primary focus during the pandemic has been to ensure the safety of patients and staff while serving the community. HPH has worked collaboratively to address everything from treating COVID-19 patients and identifying innovative ways to provide and preserve personal protective equipment supplies to helping patients learn to connect virtually with their doctors.

It has been establishing clinics to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in the community and was one of the first to set up a mass vaccination center. “That monumental effort took the collaborative work of hundreds of employees,” and got it up and running in just a few weeks.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it set up in just days drive-up COVID-19 specimen collection sites, a COVID-19 virtual clinic and critical respiratory evaluation centers.

The Rotary Club also praised president and CEO Ray Vara for leading the organization through the pandemic, and for his personal involvement in committees with government, business and community leaders to assure the health and safety of all Hawaii’s residents.

>>Healthcare Worker of the Year: Ken Yamazaki, registered nurse, Emergency Department, Straub Medical Center

Yamazaki has distinguished himself with his hard work, compassionate care and unparalleled dedication during the pandemic by stepping up and accepting the challenges of COVID-19, Rotary says.

“Whether actively performing CPR while resuscitating a critically ill COVID-19 patient or compassionately holding the hand of a worried patient or family member, Kenji is constantly adapting and excelling at what is presented to him.…the essence of what it means to be a team player and exudes the mission” of Straub.

Yamazaki says, “(T)he experiences brought on by the pandemic really made me realize that bedside nursing was what I was put on this earth to do.”

>>Military Personnel of the Year: Sgt. 1st Class Nathan H. Lethgo, Tripler Army Medical Center

The combat medic for 17 years joined Tripler March 2, 2020, just as the pandemic was surging worldwide.

Working in the operations division, Lethgo helped establish the TAMC COVID-19 Current Operations Integration Cell, which became Tripler’s “center of gravity.” It manages all COVID-19 information and reporting requirements, receiving and publishing military orders related to the coronavirus, managing labor pools and much more.

>>Fireman of the Year: Battalion Chief Jeffery Hooker, Occupational Safety and Health Offices, Honolulu Fire Department

Hooker worked with the city’s infectious disease officer to develop quarantine and isolation protocols for personnel who were possibly exposed to or who had contracted the virus, established cleaning and disinfecting procedures for work sites and apparatuses, established procedures to reuse inventories to prolong their use when supplies were in short supply.

He also researched and acquired over $2.5 million in personal protective clothing and equipment. That included ultraviolet sanitizing stations for N95 mask reuse, electrostatic sprayers to disinfect work sites and apparatuses and half-face respirators, to name a few.

Hooker directly helped sanitize the Kalihi Uka Fire Station after HFD had its first confirmed COVID-19 case, the headquarters and various city offices.

>>Police Officer of the Year: Sgt. Joseph O’Neal, supervisor, Community Outreach Unit, Honolulu Police Department

O’Neal coordinated all of the outreach unit’s programs. At the start of the pandemic, he helped HPD deploy its Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) program, continuing the work of its Homeless Outreach and Navigation for the Un-sheltered (HONU) program during the pandemic by providing homeless individuals a 24-hour place to get shelter and services.

O’Neal was tasked with procuring millions of dollars of the best equipment to launch and operate the POST site.

He was given command in September of the outreach unit, and POST has been successful in sheltering over 810 homeless persons with 13,531 nights of shelter, serving 32,000 meals, providing on -site medical care to hundreds, and helping 434 to more permanent living arrangements.

Maj. Mike Lambert said O’Neal performed at the level of a lieutenant or higher without complaint. A huge part of the success of the unit was “his dedication, commitment, resourcefulness, perseverance and problem-solving ability.”

>>Teacher of the Year: Sheila Bierwert, second grade teacher, Jefferson Elementary School

Bierwert is the Grade 2 chairwoman, a member of the school’s Academic Review TEAM, and chairwoman of the school’s yearbook, and served as mentor to teaching candidates.

During the pandemic, she has organized her Grade 2 TEAM to teach in face-to-face and distance learning platforms.

The school’s leadership could feel the positive energy in her classroom, while doing daily walk-throughs.

She engaged students both in distance learning and projects as well as face-to-face learning, meeting the needs of all students at home and in the classroom.

Parents comment on how much their children enjoy coming to school because “Mrs. Biewert will teach their child something new each day.”

“My son loves coming to school. In his class, they do morning exercises and he loves moving around,” one parent wrote.

She makes it exciting to learn and begins at 8 a.m. with class exercises.

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