A gift of comfort for our courageous caregivers


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A gift of comfort for our courageous caregivers

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit greater Bridgeport, Bridgeport Hospital staff sprang into action, taking care of people suffering from a virus the world had never seen. What little was known about this virus was that it was very contagious, and some people became extremely ill from it. Those in its path were fearful of bringing it home to their loved ones – particularly frontline hospital workers. “We were hearing that our staff were concerned about going home after working all day around the virus,” said Lyla Steenbergen, CFRE, gift advancement officer, Bridgeport Hospital Foundation. “That’s when we had the idea to reach out to our donors to see if they would like to help donate hotel rooms to house our staff during the pandemic.”

Steenbergen instantly thought of Joan Trefz, owner of the Holiday Inn Bridgeport, and co-founder of the Ernie and Joan Trefz Foundation, a long-time supporter of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation and many other community organizations in the Bridgeport area.

“When the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation called me to see if we had any rooms available for staff, I was honored to help,” said Joan. “I could appreciate the fact that the frontline workers didn’t want to go home to their families after being around such a dangerous virus.”

In all, 61 Bridgeport Hospital staff members stayed at the Holiday Inn throughout the pandemic. The donated rooms brought calm to those who used them. They were working in a high-stress environment helping patients recover from COVID-19 or directly supporting frontline staff.

“This pandemic is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Bonnie-Anne Szturma, Emergency Department technician, Bridgeport Hospital. “I consider myself a seasoned veteran. In my career, I have worked with airplane and hurricane disasters – you can see the problem you face. You can’t see this virus.”

Bonnie, who stayed at the Holiday Inn for five months, said it was comforting to know that after working all day around COVID-19 patients, she didn’t have to worry about potentially exposing her loved ones to the virus after her shift.

“Knowing that the hospital staff felt safe in using the hotel for rest and respite during the pandemic made it all worthwhile,” said Joan Trefz, owner of the Holiday Inn Bridgeport.

“I’m confident in my training and the effectiveness of my personal protective equipment, but working among the virus all day makes you question everything,” she said.

Bonnie was also comforted by the safety protocols the hotel had in place. She would bag up her used linens herself and leave them outside the door for housekeeping staff to take away, and her room would be cleaned only when she wasn’t there. The main doors to the hotel were locked, requiring room-key entry only. Security was always present and available to assist. The front desk helped with anything she needed.

“They thought of everything. They were outstanding,” Bonnie said.

“Knowing that the hospital staff felt safe in using the hotel for rest and respite during the pandemic made it all worthwhile,” said Joan.

Joan Trefz is no stranger to offering tangible donations to Bridgeport Hospital. She and her late husband Ernie made generous contributions to the neonatal intensive care and maternity units, including donating warming beds to help premature or low-birthweight newborns regulate their body temperature. They instilled their philanthropic spirit into their two sons, Chris and Paul, who have taken over the family business, Trefz Corporation. Their children have become involved as well.

“We feel strongly about giving back to the communities that have supported us,” said Joan, whose family also owns and operates
43 McDonald’s in the tri-state area and received numerous awards for their restaurants and community service. “We are huge proponents of donating to Bridgeport Hospital. You can see the direct effect your donations have on people’s lives.”