In Kansas Farmer’s Gesture for Healthcare Workers, There’s ‘A Snapshot of Humanity’

By Tom Bell
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I was struck recently by two stories appearing within days of each other that show how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the best and the worst in us.

Tom Bell

We all know that COVID-19 has closed businesses, kept us at home and even made us fear for our health and safety. There is really no need to provide much more background information. We are all ready to try and move toward something that feels more like “normal” as we reopen Kansas.

Dissatisfaction with the current situation led a group to the Topeka Capitol to protest Gov. Laura Kelly and her stay at home order. It also led a few healthcare workers to the same location to protest the protesters. As the healthcare workers stood silently with their face masks on, one woman approached them with some choice words. She called them liars and implied they weren’t real nurses (they were). She asked them why they weren’t in the hospital working and called them disgusting several times. All through this harassment, the healthcare workers stood silently, refusing to engage.

At about the same time, we were hearing the story of a northeast Kansas farmer who gave one of his only N95 masks for a healthcare worker on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in New York. At one of his regular briefings, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo read a letter from Dennis Ruhnke, a retired farmer from Troy, Kansas. Ruhnke told of having five masks left over from his farming days. He kept four of them for his immediate family, including his wife, who is in her 70s and only has one lung. The fifth mask he wanted to give to a nurse or doctor fighting the pandemic in New York. Gov. Cuomo, who was obviously touched by Ruhnke’s letter, praised his “generosity of spirit.”

It’s easy to get caught up in disdain for the irrational protester in Topeka, and I admit her antics angered me. But thinking about the quiet, selfless act of Ruhnke is far more productive. It shows the great regard that the average person has for those healthcare workers who are serving their communities every hour of every day. It’s a reminder that strength is often the opposite of belligerent and loud. I think it’s reflective of the generous nature of most citizens of our state and frankly, it makes me proud to be a Kansan. It is, as Gov. Cuomo said, a “snapshot of humanity.”

About the author: Tom Bell is the President and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association, a voluntary, nonprofit organization existing to be the leading advocate and resource for members. KHA membership includes 216 member facilities, of which 123 are full-service, community hospitals. Founded in 1910, KHA’s vision is “Optimal Health for Kansans.”

This column does not reflect endorsement by MD News.