By Crystal Harrell

CV Weekly is honored to have the opportunity to recognize the hard work and dedication of all of our local health care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year. We appreciate the hard work, dedication and sacrifice that each and every one of you has provided. Below are the profiles of a doctor and nurse from each of our 3 local hospitals telling us in their words how they have dealt with this difficult time…  Tracy Dietlin/Publisher

2020 has been a year for the books—for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, there have been individuals in the Coachella Valley that have demonstrated their dedicated support to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. CV Weekly has selected these individuals who have healed, encouraged, and supported those severely impacted by the pandemic, demonstrating a true sense of community and acting as the true heroes of 2020.

Wendy Edwards, MSN, RN, NE-BC


Wendy Edwards is proud to say that she has been employed at Eisenhower Health for nearly 15 years, and currently serves as Clinical Nursing Director of 3 South Telemetry, 2 South COVID unit, and the Nursing Resource Pool.

2020 has given Wendy a deeper appreciation for previous generations who suffered tremendous hardships such as world war and disease. This year has been so profound in her life, as she sees herself looking back and reflecting on these times with her grandchildren someday, just as Wendy’s WWII/Great Depression-era grandparents did with her.

When her Chief Nursing Officer requested a volunteer at a meeting to open and run the first COVID unit at Eisenhower, Wendy’s hand shot up. When she told her staff on 3South and in Resource what had happened, and that she needed their help to get the new unit up and running, Wendy expected them to go running in the opposite direction.  But instead of running, they completely stepped up and helped. With the support of executive leaders, every content expert Eisenhower had to offer, ancillary departments such as facilities, environmental services, supplies, and an incredible team, they had a fully functioning and safe COVID nursing unit running within three to four days.

“I am proud of and grateful for every person who helped, and who continues to help us run the unit today.  After nearly a year fighting this pandemic, I still encounter people who ask if I ‘really believe’ this COVID thing is real or that deadly. Because they say, ‘If it was that bad, wouldn’t it kill everyone?’ In response, I use my tornado analogy. Tornados will zip through a community, completely destroying some structures, while leaving others, sometimes right next door, completely unscathed. Tornados don’t kill everyone in their path. Such is the same with COVID. With a tornado, we don’t sit around waiting to find out which houses will be hit, and which ones won’t; everyone who can, takes shelter and waits for the storm to pass to increase their odds of survival,” said Wendy.

Anil Perumbeti, MD

Dr. Anil Perumbeti is a board certified pulmonologist and is also the Medical Director of Eisenhower Health’s ICU. He has been at Eisenhower for five and half years, and believes that 2020 came with many unexpected outcomes that he has not seen in his profession.

“This year threw everyone for a loop. No matter how much we talked about it or had possible projections about what might have happened, it was still beyond what we thought would actually happen. We weren’t completely thrown off guard without being prepared, but we all hoped this was the worst case scenario,” said Dr. Perumbeti.

The most important accomplishment that Dr. Perumbeti regards this year is being able to maintain and manage having normal patient care and quality—about as normal as it can get for 2020. He acknowledges that the hospital staff has done an excellent job at protecting coworkers and family. Striking the balance of patient needs and safety is always necessary, and helps medical personnel continue to feel motivated.

“As part of intensive care, we’ve always seen hardships and have this understanding that you do what you can and provide the most medicine and compassion. Some things are out of our hands, but as long as we do our best and take care of families, that is how we are trained. It’s okay to feel emotionally drained and it’s okay to share feelings; other people feel similarly. We feel optimistic over the next six months with science progressing. There is hope that we can get beyond this. We’re more than halfway there,” stated Dr. Perumbeti.

Gina Cheek, MSN, RN, CCRN

Gina Cheek is the Director of the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) and the Telemetry Unit at Desert Regional Medical Center. Gina was the one to administer the first Coachella Valley shipment of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine mid-December. She has worked at Desert Regional since 2008, but acknowledges that 2020 has been the year with the most unprecedented challenges, not only professionally but also personally.

“2020 has actually changed the way we live our lives completely, from the way we handle things at work to the way we communicate with friends and family. We are social beings, and the pandemic has altered the way we care for our patients as we try to follow CDC guidelines. This is not only challenging for healthcare workers, but for everyone,” said Gina.

In a time before COVID, Gina was used to greeting her patients with a handshake and smiling without a mask. The traditional way of approaching patients has been altered. The families of patients are also altered, as they cannot visit with those infected with COVID and want answers or solutions in a timely manner—which is often not possible.

“Being the one who administered the first COVID vaccine to the first person in the Coachella Valley has given me a sense of hope. Here I am, giving a vaccine to someone who may need it to make it through in the future whereas some others could not. We need to keep the faith, and look for support in each other. I see patients get well, and that motivates me. They get well because of the medical workers’ dedication, and that’s what motivates me to go to work every morning,” stated Gina.

Dr. Kinji Hawthorne, MD, MPH

Dr. Kinji Hawthorne is the Infectious Disease Medical Director at JFK Memorial Hospital. He recently moved to the Coachella Valley at the end of March of this year. Although there is no denying the devastating consequences that 2020 has brought, Dr. Hawthorne also regards 2020 as one of the most rewarding years of his life.

“I’ve spent many years of my life doing something different in the public health arena, and in 2020, I finally arrived back to doing general infectious disease medicine. Just looking at the current events, it’s been a major tragedy for many for multiple reasons. On the opposite side of the coin, that tragedy has led to triumph. It brought the medical community together, it showed the importance of the players in it, and it demonstrates how far we’ve come in medical science,” said Dr. Hawthorne.

Dr. Hawthorne acknowledges that although there have been many medical breakthroughs within a short amount of time, he still would never have anticipated a pandemic such as this to happen in his lifetime. He has been convinced that all the training and experience he has accumulated so far has prepared him for this moment.

“This too shall pass. We just have to hang in there together and do what we have to do to get this under control. Have a newfound respect for each other and be truly humble. This virus has really stretched our limits of humility, and we need to be prepared for next time, so we don’t get to this point,” stated Dr. Hawthorne.

Dr. Joel Stillings, DO

Dr. Joel Stillings is an Emergency Medicine Specialist at Desert Regional Medical Center. He has been at the hospital for almost 10 years, but 2020 has been by far the most difficult.

“It’s been a challenging year for sure. There have been so many changes in my line of work. We have had global personal protective equipment issues and we’ve redone parts of the ER to accommodate COVID patients. It’s a series of changes that has taken place through the last nine months,” explained Dr. Stillings.

Even though there have been numerous changes, one of the best things about the emergency room atmosphere to Dr. Stillings is how well his cohorts work closely together. From the nurses and physicians to the transporters and x-ray techs, he sees everyone in the group come in each day with a positive attitude.

“They are all happy to be here, and it inspires us to all do a good job. When this started, there was a large amount of fear and not a lot of information, and yet despite that, we still came to work and did our job. To see how we’ve been able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances is the greatest accomplishment. It’s pretty inspirational. I also think the human spirit is powerful. The finding of a vaccine is a testament to that human ingenuity, and that human spirit can overcome obstacles,” said Dr. Stillings.

Summer Murray, RN

Summer Murray is the manager of the Medical/Surgical and Telemetry Units at JFK Memorial Hospital, where she has worked for four years. Although the pandemic has brought about many tragic consequences, Summer regards one positive outcome, and that is how the entire hospital staff has come together during this difficult time.

“We are really like a big family. This year has shown growth and challenges, but it has also built a stronger team. The stress that COVID has brought made us closer. The stress has brought on a new way of coping because you are not only worried about your patient, you are worried about yourself and your family. At the beginning, there was a lot of fear, but we have developed a more organized way of running things,” said Summer.

Summer recognizes the important connection forged between the hospital staff and the families of patients. Loved ones in treatment often are not able to communicate with their families when they visit, so they depend on the staff even more.

“You can feel that gratitude personally and emotionally every day. We are not only doing our jobs that we were trained to do but we are also emotionally impacted. We’re helping and we can see the difference we’re making, even more than we were before. I am proud that I show up every day, staying healthy and strong for our patients,” stated Summer.


While we chose our medical workers as our Persons of the Year I also felt we should mention a few other people in our community that have gone above and beyond over this past year to help during this very difficult time…  Tracy Dietlin/Publisher

Lisa Weaver

Lisa Weaver is the owner/operator of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit as well as the Director of Sales for the brioche company, West for St Pierre. When the pandemic began, she started to donate individually portioned boxed meals to essential workers at Eisenhower Hospital. The restaurant started receiving some donations from citizens who admired what they were doing.

After word of the donations got out, Lisa started to get attention from the newspaper and TV press, which also helped bring in more donations and allowed for the expansion of the donation outreach to include police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers, post office workers, doctor’s offices, and food bank workers.  All of the funds raised for donations went directly for food and other supplies provided. To date, Lisa and her team have donated over 3,500 meals to essential workers.

In addition, after reading an article in the Desert Sun about families that live in the Oasis, Lisa decided that she wanted to help those people who did not have enough food to eat. With the help of Ruben and Sylvia Garcia as translators, they started buying large quantities of beans, rice, masa, flour, sugar as well as masks and bleach. Volunteers helped repackage the large quantities of food into smaller packaging and deliver to the families.

A plan was organized to do a delivery of toys and food on Christmas as well. A total of 55 bikes were initially donated to children in need, and then Lisa and her team delivered another 12 bikes on December 28th to kids that they missed previously.

“I am so proud of this community, my General Manager Gloria Ortiz, my friends, and all the people who gave time and energy to make this happen. 2020 has been a rough year for so many people. For me during this time of COVID, it has given me the opportunity to help so many. I am fortunate to have a good job with a company that supports my efforts. I am happy that I am able to use the restaurant to create good in the world. I realize and am grateful for how fortunate I am,” said Lisa.

Katie Stice

In her Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce Role as President and CEO, Katie Stice has been able to launch countless new projects and partnerships in the Valley. She launched a live small business video series in April called “Live with Your Chamber” which features a local business leader, a nonprofit executive, or a health update by a hospital official or law maker. With the help of her sister Betty Slimko, who is an RN at Desert Regional Medical Center, Operation Feed the Front Lines raised $7,000 to bring meals to front line medical workers.

The Rancho Mirage Chamber founded the Business Recovery Alliance: Coachella Valley with most of the Valley chambers, business groups and shopping centers. They also have a Facebook group page with the same name where they communicate the latest news, and business owners can connect and help one another navigate through this time.

The Rancho Mirage Chamber was first to initiate a shop local holiday campaign called “Keep the Cheer Here” among other Shop Small, Shop Safe campaigns through press releases, television, and radio to encourage the community to shop local. The Rancho Mirage Chamber also launched an Employment Opportunities: Rancho Mirage Chamber & Friends group through Facebook where they have live interviews on selected “Workforce Wednesdays,” which act like virtual job fairs as essential employers share their job openings with the public.

Recently, Katie stepped up to volunteer as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, along with Davis Meyer of the Greater Palm Springs CVB, for the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. The museum closed down when the shutdown orders were given in March, and now fundraising is needed to reopen in late 2021. The “Save Our Museum” campaign will officially launch in January 2021.

“At the start of this crisis, I saw the community in rare form and I observed something that broke my heart. People were taking all the toilet paper as an elderly person wandered the empty grocery store aisles with tears in his eyes. I’ll never forget that sight or that feeling. It changed me in an instant and I thought that this just could not happen in my community —that we are better than this—and if I have an ounce of influence it will be to be a good human and encourage that spirit in our Valley. I have not stopped since. It is through kindness that will bring us the most peace. It is through gentleness that will bring the most understanding. It is through giving and grace that will change our community and world,” said Katie.

Jack Srebnik

Jack Srebnik is the co-owner of The Slice New York-style pizzeria in Rancho Mirage, and with the help of his partner Ellen Spencer, he has given back to the local heroes that work at Eisenhower in the ER and the COVID nurses station. They decided to create Pizza Mondays, and with his partner Todd Flood at his other restaurant, Maracas, they have also created Burrito Thursdays. The Slice has delivered about 800 pizzas since April and Maracas has delivered about 3,000 Burritos during the same time. They deliver 20 to 25 pizzas on Mondays and 80 burritos on Thursdays to the hospital.

Jack is grateful for the health of his family and employees, and also being able to participate in the Great Plates program that feeds the seniors of Rancho Mirage. While helping out the seniors, Jack was also able to keep as many of his restaurant employees employed.

“I am thankful for all of our wonderful customers that keep supporting no matter how many times we have to change the way we are doing things. When we first closed, they started purchasing takeout and delivery. When we opened for in-house dining, they were there with all their smiles. When we were forced outside, they came and filled our tent. And now with the shut down in place, they are doing the take out thing again. They help me help my employees,” said Jack.

Jack is happy to help make other lives a little better, whether it’s delivering food to medical workers and seeing their smiles, or visiting all of the seniors that they deliver to on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and how happy they are, as they are shut-in and see very few people. It is a priority of Jack’s to keep a majority of his staff working and watching them give back to the customers with great service and a smile.

“When we deliver to the hospital, the COVID nurses and ER staff are so appreciative because as they say, ‘thank you for giving us a few minutes of normal while eating pizza and burritos,’ it always makes me think—these are the real heroes saving lives and risking their own, all I do is make pizza! As a restaurant, we have the platform to feed those in need. Everyone has the platform to make someone’s day a little better. Please reach out and let people know that they are not alone. And also please mask up!” advised Jack.

Tanya Moreno

Tanya Moreno is a full-time single mother of two and a full-time Real Estate Agent at Coachella Vista Realty. She is also sponsoring Coachella Valley Weekly’s Person of the Year cover to honor her late mother Sherrol Voigt.

“That woman was a firecracker of a human that had been through so many trying times. She was such a beautiful beacon of light even through all the yuck this world threw at her.  She had her own share of medical problems while here on earth. Nurses and doctors are superheroes in my eyes and I know my mom would agree,” said Tanya.

While 2020 was a difficult year for most, Tanya acknowledges some of her personal accomplishments as being able to get through the mental blocks that the pandemic has caused, and trying to keep her family and community safe while her kids are at home doing schoolwork.

“To all medical personnel, your community sees you. The world sees you. Your sacrifices, love, kindness, exhaustion, and hard work has not gone unnoticed. The amount of gratitude and appreciation we all feel in our hearts is immense. There really are no words adequate enough for all you have endured this year but I give my most sincere thank you,” stated Tanya.