Ernest loved living on his own. At 88, he was independent and exercised regularly, with a routine that included 15 pushups every day – something of which he was quite proud.

But in March, Ernest suddenly fell ill and quickly deteriorated, ending up in the Intensive Care Unit at Health First’s Viera Hospital. With no relatives left in the area, his Boston-based family was upset that they couldn’t rush to be at his side.

“In light of this awful climate with the COVID-19 virus, I worried that his life wouldn’t be taken seriously by the people treating him,” admitted Joyce, Ernest’s niece. “But it most certainly was.”

Joyce recently sent a letter to Health First, thanking all who cared for her beloved Uncle Ernest, who died April 1. Despite the family’s loss, they expressed gratitude in the compassionate care provided by all who tended to Ernest in his final days – something they feared would be difficult in the midst of a public health crisis. Health First associates were so touched by the heartfelt letter, it was made into a video tribute you can watch by clicking this link, chronicling the man Ernest was – as well as the nurses, doctors and other associates who were with him until the end. This video was created to celebrate all associates during Health First Heroes Week, May 11-15.

“The ER doctor called me and was kind and smart and listened to my concerns,” Joyce wrote.

“From the minute my uncle was in the ICU, he was treated with dignity. The nurses couldn’t have been kinder to either of us and other family, and we never felt like a bother when we called. In fact, the opposite was true.”

Despite Joyce and other relatives being 1,300 miles away, they felt complete confidence in the care Ernest was receiving.

“Nurse Jen, who I dealt with initially, was an angel,” Joyce said. “She explained things to me thoroughly in ways that I could understand. She went above and beyond, contacting his clergy and got through to her when I couldn’t. She is truly exceptional at what she does.”

With the help of Susan at Hospice of Health First, Ernest was transferred to the William Childs Hospice House in Palm Bay. Susan “listened to my concerns, took me seriously and helped facilitate a transfer to the Hospice House in Palm Bay,” Joyce wrote.

Ernest was able to say his final goodbyes to loved ones with the help of Health First associates. “They couldn’t have been kinder,” Joyce gratefully explained. “Nurse Mia helped us have a beautiful last call with his rabbi and several family members, and did a lot of running around for us without complaint.” Within 48 hours of arriving at the Hospice House, Ernest died peacefully.

What the care teams didn’t know was that Ernest was a Holocaust survivor. As a young boy, he watched as his parents were taken from him, murdered in a concentration camp in Auschwitz. He fled to France, where he hid in a barn alongside the animals to escape the Nazis. Ernest moved to the United States at age 15, where he went into the armed services and eventually became a social worker.

It seems only fitting that a man who devoted his life to helping people was taken care of at the end of his by people just like him – those who dedicate their lives to the compassionate care of others. “He actually called me from the ICU to tell me that the nurses were so kind, that he was OK, and that he was so appreciative for the care,” Joyce said. “I believe he knew the end was near and knew he was in good hands.”

Ernest’s life mattered. And so did his passing.

“We can’t control whether we are going to die or not. We all do,” Joyce wrote. “But how we die matters. I wanted my uncle to have the dignified death he deserved – the one his loving parents did not get. We will be eternally grateful for this kindness. Please, please know how appreciative we all are.”

Health First

Founded in 1995, Health First is Brevard County's not-for-profit, community healthcare system. The fully Integrated Delivery Network (IDN) includes health insurance plans, hospitals, a multi-specialty medical group, and outpatient and wellness services.