DHHS team member Simone Chessa of Broughton Hospital in Morganton, NC, is a 2020 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Outstanding Service.
Chessa used her sewing talents to design and create hundreds of specialized masks for staff and patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. These masks featured a clear vinyl window to allow for lip-reading and better communication.
Simone Chessa has loved sewing since she first took a class in high school. This passion followed her to Broughton Hospital, where she leads group therapy classes for patients with various disabilities.
Chessa’s classes focus on art where patients can express themselves through painting, decorating, and even quilting. She even started a 2020 quilt (group project). Chessa engages patients with discussions on a range of topics: “What’s your take on 2020? How do you feel about it? What’s your hope for how things unfold this year?”
Then, COVID-19 arrived in North Carolina, triggering many changes for Broughton Hospital and the greater community, the most notable being the requirement of masks.
“There was a huge emotional impact of the COVID masks on the deaf unit patients and myself,” explained Dr. Candace Tate, Broughton Hospital Deaf Unit Coordinator. “I am deaf and I read lips. All of a sudden, you take the lip reading away and I was completely isolated—and I knew that my patients were going through the same thing.
“We were looking for solutions,” she continued. “Trying to come up with programs, humor, activities.”
Then, Stacie MacDonald Jones, Director of Psychosocial Treatment, stumbled upon an idea on social media: Masks with clear central panels to allow mouths to be seen. Upon seeing the concept, Jones immediately thought of Chessa. “She’s a quilter. She knows how to sew. I’ll just take it to her,” said Jones.
Chessa took the mask concept and went to work. “It was a process,” she said. “I would work at it from home and I would send video or photos of what I was creating to folks on the deaf unit.”
Over a period of weeks, Chessa spent dozens of hours behind her sewing machine creating the perfect pattern of fabric and vinyl. Once she had the final design, she enlisted the help of her colleagues in the Broughton Hospital sewing room to mass-produce hundreds of masks for staff, patients and even members of the community in need.
“The enthusiasm was wonderful,” said Tate. “Just to feel so cared for and know that everybody wants us to be included and not feel isolated. It was a warmth of heart.”
“I feel like if you’re going to serve others, serve them well, and that’s my gift,” Chessa said. “It’s fulfilling to know that my purpose was helpful.”
Jones nominated Chessa for a Governor’s Award for Excellence for Outstanding Service for her role in the project. “This piece of fabric and plastic pulled all these people together and continues to do so… This was evenings, nights, early mornings, weekends Simone is thinking about this project,” she said. “She dedicated herself and her time and her energy to come up with a solution as quickly as she could because it does make a difference. And if that’s not outstanding service then I don’t know what is.”
“It makes me really proud to work for the state of North Carolina,” Chessa said of the award. “With everything that’s happening in the community, I feel blessed to have a job and to be given an honor is just so on top… I just feel really grateful and proud.”
The Governor’s Award for Excellence is the highest honor a state employee can receive for dedicated service to the State of North Carolina and its citizens. The Governor’s Awards for Excellence program acknowledges and expresses appreciation for outstanding accomplishments that do not fall entirely within the scope of normal duties but are in the nature of a major contribution reflecting credit on the person and state service. Employees are nominated for the recognition by other state employees—coworkers, supervisors and subordinates. NCDHHS provides award recipients three days of special leave.