WATERVILLE — Dozens of healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic got a surprise early Wednesday when they arrived at Thayer Center for Health on North Street or were leaving after their shifts ended.

About 70 police, sheriff’s officials, firefighters and ambulance workers greeted them to show appreciation for all they are doing during the pandemic.

The Waterville police and fire departments organized the event.

“This is really a tribute from us to our healthcare professionals because they’re truly on the front line — they’re living on the front line,” Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said after Wednesday’s hour-long recognition.

Last week, first responders from the Augusta area paid tribute to healthcare workers in a similar activity at Alfond Center for Health. Earlier this week, Waterville area first responders did the same at Northern Light Inland Hospital and Northern Light Continuing Care Center, Lakewood, on Kennedy Memorial Drive, in Waterville.

Chuck Hays, president and chief executive officer of MaineGeneral Health, issued a statement Wednesday saying employees are inspired by the outpouring of support from fellow first responders in the communities.

“They’re our partners, with us all year round and during these unprecedented times,” Hays said. “We are honored to work beside them, and are so thankful that they are part of our team, protecting our community every day. All the support we have received in our community brings joy and inspires our staff who are on the front lines of this crisis. This outpouring of support — whether donations of homemade masks or other equipment or simple messages of thanks — has helped us take care of others.”

Fire departments, police and ambulance services lined up at the entrance to Maine General Thayer Campus in Waterville to greet the shift change of medical personnel on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Hays said MaineGeneral Health employees know this is a challenging time and everyone is making sacrifices.

“We’re here for you, your family and our community,” he said. “We’ve trained for this, and while there are great unknowns, be assured you have skilled, compassionate care when you need us.”

To date, the Alfond Center for Health at MaineGeneral in Augusta has had 11 inpatients who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to hospital communications director Joy McKenna. Of those, five are currently hospitalized, two have been discharged, two have been transferred, and two have passed away.

Waterville police Sgt. Jennifer Weaver, who supervises the department’s communications center, said police and fire officials invited first responders from all the towns Waterville dispatches for, including Waterville, Winslow, Albion, Belgrade, China, Clinton, Fairfield, Oakland, Rome and Sidney. Law enforcement officials from Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office also were invited, as were Delta Ambulance workers. They arrived at Thayer Center for Health just before 6:30 a.m., she said.

Massey, who heads up the Emergency Operations Center at Waterville Fire Department during the coronavirus pandemic, said health care workers are immersed in the environment of coronavirus and first responders know it is challenging for them to handle the influx of those they are treating.

“It’s difficult,” Massey said. “The challenges are difficult. This is not like a typical disaster we see — an ice storm or other natural disaster.”

Massey said emergency workers are prepared for events such as ice storms, but there’s nothing in history they can compare the current situation to. They do not know when and where the coronavirus will surface or surge and prepare as best they can with the resources available, and partnering with others.

Massey said he got a first-hand view Wednesday of the dedication health care workers practice. He needed stitches removed from a small incision in his lower back and his healthcare provider took him right in after the morning tribute to do that. He said he is sure that being on the front lines is stressful and challenging, yet caring for people is what healthcare workers do.

“We can be thankful they’re there,” he said.

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