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First responders salute medical workers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton

First responders from the South Shore region parade and salute healthcare workers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, at shift change, during the coronavirus pandemic.
First responders from the South Shore region parade and salute healthcare workers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, at shift change, during the coronavirus pandemic.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

First responders from across the state hosted a parade for over 500 medical workers at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Milton Tuesday afternoon, honoring the efforts of those working on the frontline during the pandemic.

Upwards of 100 police officers, firefighters, and other first responders from local and statewide communities were in attendance, according to Bob McCrystal, a hospital spokesman.

“Our staff from day one have been terrific, they’ve been rolling with punches,” said Richard Fernandez, the hospital’s president. “They’ve stayed so focused on taking care of patients and themselves, and it makes the culture of working here amazing.”

Planning for the hospital’s mid-day shift change to ensure hospital workers could see the procession, the first responders met at Milton High School at 2:30 p.m. and drove to the hospital together, arriving about 15 minutes later. Donning face masks and scrubs, the awaiting health care workers waved and clapped as the cars slowly passed them by.

“Our staff has worked tirelessly for the last several weeks treating a large number of COVID-19 patients. It has been draining, life and death work,” McCrystal said. “This recognition and celebration is just one small way we can show them our appreciation on behalf of patients and let them know the community loves them and stands with them shoulder-to-shoulder.”

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“Surreal” is how Fernandez summed up the past two months at the hospital since the coronavirus began rapidly spreading across the state, putting pressure on the health care system and causing hospitals to quickly adjust to an influx in infected patients.

But even as infections have risen at the hospital in recent weeks, Fernandez has found silver linings. A new sense of purpose and camaraderie has developed between the staff.

“I could not be more proud of our staff for coming together,” he said. “They come in, put a smile on, and take great care of the patients. It’s team-based care.”

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The hospital has been a “tale of two worlds,” Fernandez said. In one world, nurses and doctors are frantically facing an uptick in cases, adjusting to new regulations, and balancing the stressful nature of work with home life.

But in the other world — the parts of the hospital that aren’t dealing with patients infected by the virus — the atmosphere is eerily quiet. People with serious conditions who need medical attention have been avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting the virus, Fernandez said.

That’s a huge problem.

“If there’s one place you won’t get COVID-19, it’s in a hospital,” he said. “You can only get it if you’re near an infected patient, and we won’t let that happen. Our emergency departments are half busy right now.”

Fernandez recalled one day when a woman came in with her son who was showing symptoms of the virus. As he was being tested (his results came back positive), she started having problems breathing. Doctors brought her in and discovered a blood clot in her lung. Surgery was promptly performed, and she walked out of the hospital feeling grateful.

“You saved my life,” she told the doctors.

Although the celebration Tuesday afternoon was for the workers, it was also for members of the community, like the mother and son, who want to show thanks.

“It’s also for our community, who has supported the community by donating food, sneakers, and making signs,” Fernandez said. “It’s a great way to publicly be there in a safe way and show and support and appreciation.”

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Matt Berg can be reached at matthew.berg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.