Northern Regional Hospital’s ‘Flags for the Fallen’ Program Pays a Final Tribute to Veterans
Typically, a quiet phone call from a nurse sets in motion Northern Regional Hospital’s “Flags for the Fallen” program – a solemn and respectful transport procedure that permits staff and others to silently honor a veteran who has passed away during their hospitalization. After being alerted by a nurse that an eligible patient has passed, a member of the Public Safety team arrives at the patient’s room and carefully drapes an American flag over the special privacy gurney used to transport that patient into the eventual care of a funeral director. During the transport process, all hospital staff and visitors are encouraged to honor the patient by placing their hand over their heart as they silently move aside to permit the flag-draped gurney to pass.
Begun in early March, the program was initiated by the Public Safety team and other interested employees – most of whom are veterans of the military or worked previously in such public-service roles as police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, etc. “A program like this has been on my mind for many years,” said Darin Manuel, Manager of Public Safety for Northern Regional Hospital and chief architect of the new ‘Flags for the Fallen’ program. “It’s a brotherhood kind of thing,” he adds. “We don’t want any veteran to be alone and we want to make sure that he or she is given the respect they deserve for the service they’ve given.”
“Our families and our communities have always been military proud,” Manuel says confidently, noting that there are veterans “of all wars” who are now part of the hospital’s workforce or serve there in a volunteer capacity. As such, each one intrinsically understands how the program’s use of a respectfully draped American flag is a powerful symbol of honor and respect for the veteran who has passed.
“The first time we did this, all staff members we passed, and even several elderly gentlemen in the lobby, stopped what they were doing and put their hands over their hearts as we transported our patient to the funeral home’s waiting van,” he recalls. “As the patient was carefully placed in the van, my staff and I all stood at attention. I didn’t have to say anything to them, I didn’t have to say ‘Present arms!” – because they just did!”
The flag, which is kept with the veteran and maintained by the funeral home’s professionals, is eventually passed on to the family, along with a note from Northern Regional Hospital that expresses the hospital’s gratefulness and pride in the veteran’s former service to country.
Manuel notes that the response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive – from affected family members of the departed, hospital employees, and guests to the hospital. “I’ve received several emails and been approached directly by many colleagues who let me know that they’re proud of this initiative and feel privileged to share in a process that honors our veterans and other public-service professionals,” he said.
The program also has the full support of the hospital’s administration. “The desire to serve others permeates every level of our organization,” said Christi Smiley, Director of Human Resources for Northern Regional Hospital. “The ‘Flags for the Fallen’ program is a true reflection of the caring spirit of the Northern Regional Hospital family.”