Brunswick resident Daniel Atkins standing with a sign outside of Mid Coast Hospital on Wednesday. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Daniel Atkins was standing behind his truck on the side of Medical Center Drive in Brunswick before sunrise Wednesday morning. Illuminated by a small light, he held a sign that read: “Alone, a thread. Together, a tapestry.”

As the sun came up, cars driven by Mid Coast Hospital staff pulled in – honking the horn, flashing their lights, gesturing with a cup of coffee and occasionally stopping to strike up a chat with Atkins before a long day’s work.

Atkins, 69, started doing this in March 2020, around the time that the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Maine. A Brunswick resident for 24 years, he’s created just under 90 signs during the pandemic, most of them put to use greeting the town’s frontline workers coming in and out of the hospital.

“At the very start of the pandemic it was immediately clear to me that this was going to be a really dark period, and that it was an opportunity to try and be light in a dark time,” Atkins said.

It’s been almost two years now, and while the frequency of his visits to the hospital has fluctuated, his motivation remains the same. He regards the experience as the most extraordinary in his life, and the connections he’s created with healthcare workers have been both meaningful and eye-opening.

The signs aim to “nourish a camaraderie” among hospital staff, he said, boosting the spirits of those who face the challenges of COVID-19 that not many see. He’s motivated to bring greater recognition to the healthcare workers who show up each day, and of whom so much is being asked.


“There certainly has been no shortage of scarcity, with all of the tragedy and hardships that people have faced and endured,” he said. “But there’s also been, and that’s what I’ve borne witness to, is just an incredible abundance.”

Brunswick resident Daniel Atkins standing with a sign outside of Mid Coast Hospital on Wednesday. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record. 

For healthcare workers battling the pandemic on Mid Coast Hospital’s frontlines, Atkins’ project started at a time when community support was high. As the pandemic went on, however, those large showings of support diminished.

“Part of the struggle for us here is because it became less about the pandemic than it did everything else happening in the world. It became very political, it became so many things – but he remained present and kind and insightful when so many people could not,” said Tricia Olson, the director of Mid Coast Hospital’s intensive care unit and respiratory therapy.

At times staff feel like a band of soldiers cut off from their unit, fighting an uphill battle. Olson said this is not to anybody’s fault, but many folks are just unaware of what the day-to-day struggle inside the hospital looks like.

An example, she said, is a note she found addressed to her one morning after arriving to work. It read: “ICU is out of body bags.”

“The emotion behind a simple note. I think that sets the stage of what we were going through, and to come in and address that note like we were out of plastic forks — it explains what we do every day here. Being out of body bags is the equivalent of being out of plastic forks and we have to act like that’s normal. It’s not normal, it’s not normal at all,” Olson said.


Through all of this, however, the impact of Atkin’s signs didn’t fade.

“His sign, I think it was just in the middle of everything, it said ‘magic lies in showing up day, after day, after day.’ So just him recognizing that we’re still here doing it, maybe the rest of the world is moved on, but he knows that this is still happening,” said Cynthia Dalton, Mid Coast Hospital’s intensive care unit coordinator.

“He’s a beautiful human,” said Donna Gioia, a physical therapist with the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation program. “He’s a living breathing example of what we all should be.”

“Beyond the signs, which also brought a smile to your face, and a warm feeling in your heart, a tear to the eye, he has established personal friendships with so many of us beyond the hospital,” said Jill Weybrant, the manager of Mid Coast Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation program.

On Sept. 10, 2020, the Mid Coast–Parkview Health Board of Directors adopted a resolution proclaiming March 31, 2020 “Daniel Atkins Day” for his compassion and dedication to supporting healthcare workers through the pandemic.

The Times Record in January reported that 19 members of the Maine National Guard were deployed to the hospital through Feb. 23 to support staff through non-clinical roles.

Throughout the pandemic, Mid Coast Hospital has treated a total of 467 inpatients for COVID-19 and administered over 75,000 doses of the vaccine.

As of Thursday, the hospital was treating 17 in patients, five of whom were in the intensive care unit.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,777 Mainers have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

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