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Queens World Film Festival salutes Elmhurst Hospital workers with ‘Spirit of Queens Award’

Katho Cato poses with volunteers at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

As a salute to Elmhurst Hospital workers, Queens World Film Festival (QWFF) dedicated this year’s “Spirit of Queens Award” to the entire hospital workforce for its unwavering and heroic dedication to its patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a ceremony on May 10. 

The award ceremony also served as a kickoff event for Nurses Week activities.  

Queens World, which MovieMaker Magazine said is among the top 50 film festivals in the world, is giving a standing ovation to Elmhurst’s 5,997 employees in the form of a complimentary all-access festival pass. 

“We are so excited about this,” Queens World Executive Director Katha Cato said during the ceremony outside of Elmhurst Hospital.

Katho Cato poses at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We will be bringing the world to Queens and Queens to the world,” Cato said. “You know, we found out something in the pandemic. We found out what was really essential — people who go to work. People who push a broom. People who make a bed.” 

Community members can purchase the “Heroes of Elmhurst” tickets for $10 each for Elmhurst’s health professionals. The tickets typically cost $150 but were deeply discounted by the streaming platform Film Festival Flix, which is also donating 33 percent of the gross heroes ticket sales to Elmhurst Hospital. 

The tickets provide unlimited access to all virtual screenings and can be found at queensworldfilmfestival.org.

Additionally, Queens World will curate blocs of short films accessible to patients and staff on the hospital’s intra-web as a “Movies on the Menu” screening series for an entire year.

Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Elmhurst Hospital was the “epicenter of the epicenter” at the height of the pandemic, and Cato, who lives near the hospital with her husband, artist and director Preston Cato, recalled the early days of the pandemic.  

“When we would go to eat, not really realizing the danger that we were putting you in to reach for your hand to thank you. You involuntarily kind of backed off but then gave me your hand. What an incredibly heroic act that was,” Cato said. “We did not know in the opening moments what we were in  for. Every system that we have had has been rattled and broken, and some of them justifiably so. But the system that could not be broken was Elmhurst Hospital.” 

Preston Cato said he was honored to be in the presence of  those who are tirelessly using their skills and compassion to  care for their patients. He acknowledged the heroic work of hospital staff across the country who are still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Preston Cato poses for a photo with Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Before presenting the Elmhurst Hospital workforce with a custom made plaque in the form of an EKG, Cato emphasized how they inspired everyone.

“You were here at the epicenter of the epicenter, and your  leadership inspired us all as you kept the heartbeat of the  community going,” Cato said. “You are Elmhurst strong. You are our heroes of Elmhurst, so please accept this plaque as our humble offering to you, and we’ll see you at the movies.” 

Richard Calvache, who attended Queens World salute to hospital workers with his mom Lena, shared his personal story with COVID-19.

Richard Calvache speaks about his dad Edgar, who died of COVID-19 and was a patient at Elmhurst Hospital. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

His father Edgar, who lived in Jackson Heights with his family and worked at Henry Street Settlement, died of the virus on Oct. 1, 2020, after fighting the illness for six months, earning him the nickname “Rocky.”

A colon cancer survivor, Edgar was admitted to Elmhurst Hospital on April 6, 2020, and Richard recalled that the doctors and nurses made it possible to FaceTime his dad every day, even after he was incubated. Edgar showed signs  of improvement after receiving a dose of convalescent plasma, and on Mother’s Day 2020, he woke up.  

“My dad gave us the best Mother’s Day gift he could give us: He awoke,” Richard said. “He opened his eyes, and he smiled at us when he heard our voices, not once but twice.”

Richard said him and his family are grateful for the time they did have with their father, thanks to Elmhurst’s staff.

“We were lucky enough that Elmhurst not only did not give up on my dad — though, statistically, he would not have been a priority — but Elmhurst gave us those six months, which at that time were rough, but as a family, we were grateful to have,” Richard said. “The staff here gave us that hope and strength to fight with my dad.”

Elmhurst Hospital CEO Helen Arteaga Landaverde pointed out that this week is Nurses Week and described nurses as the “quiet soldiers who hold our hands when we are scared.”

Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
Katha and Preston Cato pose for a photo with Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Landaverde thanked Queens World for honoring the hospital employees and giving them the tremendous gift of an all-access pass.  

“Because as many of you know whether you watch a movie, or watch a film via streaming, via the TV, via your phone or your iPad, film takes our stories and makes them real,” Landaverde said. “Film makes us imagine the impossible, and the fact that the Queen’s Festival is filming our story and telling our story or part of our story is a huge honor, and I couldn’t be any more grateful to them.”

Chief Nursing Officer Joann Gull, who oversees 1,600 nurses, said it was a great honor that the festival was dedicated to their heroic staff, especially during Nurses Week.

“Our staff played many roles during the pandemic. They were  caregivers, hand-holders, substitute families and healers, and we became together ‘Elmhurst Strong,'” Joann Gull, who recently celebrated 50 years at Elmhurst, said. “I thank you for this honor and for providing every staff member a complimentary full festival all-access pass.”

Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Elmhurst Hospital CMO Dr. Jasmin Moshirpur praised the staff, especially the nurses, calling them their backbone during COVID-19 pandemic for the sacrifices they made during the height of the pandemic.  

She expressed her appreciation for Queens World for recognizing the service the staff provided for the community.  

“We thank you for this recognition. What the film festival did in this way is another big recognition to our nurses,” Moshirpur said.  

Queens Borough President Donavan Richards said Queens owed a tremendous amount of gratitude to Elmhurst Hospital for “showing up” during the pandemic and doing everything in its power to keep patients and residents safe. He noted that businesses in New York City are beginning to reopen because of the tireless efforts of Elmhurst Hospital workers and all essential workers across the city.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards with Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“It was the doctors and nurses, which kept us alive, and it is the science, which brought us the vaccine, which will provide a way out of this pandemic,” Richards said. 

He thanked Queens World for featuring films from around the world for over a decade before presenting a Citation of Honor.

“It is art, it is artists and creativity, and organizations like the Queens World Film Festival, which will help us make sense of our experiences,” Richards said. “And it is culture that makes us really  human.” 

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, presented a City Council Citation to the staff of Elmhurst Hospital for their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katha and Preston Cato pose for a photo with elected officials and Elmhurst staff at the Queens World Film Festival salute for Elmhurst Hospital staff. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

He commented that Queens residents have always known that Elmhurst Hospital is a first-class institution providing first-rate health care.

“But not everyone in the world has always known that. But, in part, because they have now seen the courage, absolute courage of Elmhurst Hospital workers and nurses and doctors and staff, the world knows of your courage and your  dedication and your talent,” Van Bramer said. “And so I just say thank you.”

This story was updated on May 12 at 10 a.m.

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