They have stood in for loved ones during the pandemic, holding the hands of the dying as they drew their last breath. 

They have worked shift after shift, overtime and then some, to care for the deluge of sick coming into the hospitals. 

They have adjusted ventilator settings, administered medicine, and answered questions from scared patients, like, "Am I going to get better?"

They are our local health care workers — the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, technicians, housekeeping staff, transporters, emergency medical technicians and more — who work in Kern County hospitals and health-related fields, and a new effort aims to galvanize the community and raise awareness, support and gratitude for what they've done the past 10 months. 

Dignity Health, which operates Bakersfield Memorial, Mercy Downtown and Mercy Southwest hospitals, on Friday launched Operation White Lights, which encourages the community to show its support for these workers as "a way to lift up our healers and let them know the community cares about them," Robin Mangarin-Scott, vice president of marketing and communications for Dignity Health Central California, said in a news release. 

The call to action urges the public, community leaders and businesses to partake in Operation White Lights and support health care workers by displaying white lights and ribbons on their homes, businesses, cars or on their lapel, and to share messages of gratitude on social media.

"Not everyone can do it," said Terri Church, Dignity Health’s chief nursing officer, of the work done by nurses and others who provide direct care to patients. "That’s why in a pandemic like this one, it shows how important health care workers really are."

Throughout the nation and worldwide, hospital workers have been lauded for the work done during COVID-19. When Italy was hit hard early in the pandemic, residents sang the national anthem to honor the medical workers. In New York City, clapping and cheers erupted each night to honor their local health care workers.

Early on in the pandemic, many businesses sent meals to hospitals to thank the workers for their service. However, as the pandemic has dragged on and taken an economic toll on businesses, that dropped off. 

Church said that in addition to showing support, those who work in the hospital enjoy receiving notes and cards. When the Aspiring Future Medical Professionals Club at Bakersfield High School recently created posters expressing appreciation for the staff at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital, it had an impact on staff, Church said. 

Shortly after the posters were displayed, Church was stopped by a nurse coming into the hospital to work.

"She said, 'Hey, I want to tell you I love those posters and the first time I saw them I cried,'" Church said. "She was so thankful to know someone appreciated what they were doing."