John Morahan used to work at Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bern Township, but when he began his career with the hospital, St. Joe's campus was located in Reading, at what is now Central Middle School.

Long before keeping watch over the changes at the hospital, Morahan was behind the camera in Pittsburgh, when he wasn't out on the soccer field.

"I had the rare opportunity of being able to work part time with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School every Friday morning and, believe it or not, I was the audio/visual guy. I got a part-time job," Morahan said.

It was the beginning of a lifetime in the healthcare industry. What drew him to St Joe's was core values and a history that goes back to 1873. When the hospital opened on Walnut Street that August, there was no fanfare, just an open door. Everyone was welcome, with a philosophy built on faith.

"There's another dimension of spiritual healing," Morahan explained, "and in terms of restoring that person to a wholeness, in terms of their lives, and that always appealed to me and really was kind of an appeal of coming to St. Joe's."

For years, Morahan led St. Joe's through the challenges of growing a hospital while trying to stay true to its roots. He didn't know his biggest challenge would come just months before he was set to retire. It was the start of the biggest healthcare crisis in our lifetime, and our nation's hospitals were ground zero.

"No matter what the crises, we were prepared and we would practice and practice and practice," Morahan recalled, "and then indeed, this team was ready as soon as early March, when we were watching the numbers by early March, and we knew we needed to establish what was known as our incident command center."

Daily meetings focused on how to fight a virus health experts didn't know much about, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and how to protect those on the frontline.

"We wanted them to be safe and protected," Morahan said, "so that really became the focus in the beginning, and then it became a matter of really planning for which kind of worst-case scenario were we facing in this community and here in the United States."

Penn State Health St. Joseph drive-up coronavirus - COVID-19 testing

As the drive-thru testing began, Morahan grappled with the unending questions: Would the hospital be overwhelmed? Would it run out of room? Would it have enough ventilators? St. Joe's would make it through those early months of the pandemic. Come May, Morahan said he felt comfortable handing over the reigns and taking the retirement he had planned for so long. Before he left, he gave a nod to the folks still there today.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center during coronavirus - COVID-19 pandemic

Abigail Adelsberger, right, a clinical nursing associate with Penn State Health St. Joseph, tends to Benita Wagner, a COVID-19 patient from Berks County.

"They're the true heroes in all of this," he said. "They would risk or endanger their own lives due to the compassion of another human being and another fellow person, and at least for St. Joe's, I'm getting kind of emotional here, that's what it's all about. That's what it's always been about. I am awestruck that these people, day in and day out, risk themselves to take care of another. I've never been more proud of this organization, the people of this organization, than I have been in terms of addressing the COVID pandemic."

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