How two JGH nurses turned a musical dream into a social-media hit

Nurses Serena Baffour (left) and Jackie Boudreau (right) of the Jewish General Hospital Emergency Department
Nurses Serena Baffour (left) and Jackie Boudreau (right) of the Jewish General Hospital Emergency Department

With one voice, the Emergency Department strikes a chord of solidarity

It began as an idea to sing in unison as a show of support. It ended up a success story – and a social-media sensation.

In April, Nurses Jackie Boudreau and Serena Baffour of the Jewish General Hospital Emergency Department started planning a project. At a time of unparalleled work pressures due to the coronavirus, the pair wanted to gather colleagues together to express their solidarity through song.

They chose Lean on Me, the 1972 classic whose title perfectly conveyed their message.

“Everyone is so preoccupied with COVID. We wanted to unite the team and say that we can lean on one another,” Ms. Boudreau recalls.

In just two weeks, their vision became a reality. And the video of their sing-along at the JGH, produced and promoted by CIUSSS West-Central Montreal Communications staff, spread quickly on social media. As of mid-May, it was seen by nearly 30,000 people and shared more than 330 times.

The nurses’ initiative took root when staff in the Emergency Department were feeling the strain of dealing with the coronavirus – on themselves, on their colleagues, on their families. Daily life at work was stressful. Many nurses were also separated from their loved ones, self-isolating in their homes or moving out altogether to shield their families from potential contamination.

“Times are really hard. People are hurting,” Ms. Boudreau says. “I just wanted to find something positive at a difficult time.”

She reached out to Ms. Baffour after seeing a post of her singing on Facebook. Soon, they began to contact co-workers, inviting them to join the sing-along on May 8, just ahead of Mother’s Day. Some colleagues responded that they would like to come but worried they didn’t have good voices. They were told it didn’t matter – they could lip sync.

The two were hoping for a good turnout. Still, as the date approached, they had no idea how many people would show up.

On the late afternoon of May 8, people started taking their places on the steps of Pavilion K. In a few minutes, more showed up. Then more. By the time the singing began at 5 p.m., there were close to 50 employees on the steps – nurses, physicians, inhalation therapists, security agents.

As the soundtrack began, their voices rose up, joining together seamlessly as one. “Lean on me,” they sang through their masks. Spectators filmed it on their iPhones. A patient watched from her wheelchair.

“I was trying to hold back tears the whole time,” Ms. Baffour recalls. “I was completely overwhelmed. Seeing how everything unfolded was magic.”

Ms. Boudreau was equally touched. “When I looked around, people had tears of happiness and joy. You could feel how proud they were to stand up there and sing,” she says. “At one point I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. We’ve all connected as one’.”

Just as improbable, the sing-in happened with virtually no rehearsal. The lyrics to the song were taped to the backs of participants, so that those standing behind them could follow the words.

The project got a boost behind the scenes from the CIUSSS’s Communications team, which helped coordinate, film, edit and promote the video on social media.

In the end, the success embodied what the Emergency Department is all about: By uniting together in common purpose, everyone came out stronger.

“Whether you had a high pitch or low pitch or no pitch at all, it just worked,” Ms. Boudreau says. “We stood together.”

The view is echoed by Ms. Baffour. “We have each other’s backs,” she says. “You may be away from your spouse, from your kids, from your brothers and sisters. But you have a family in the Emergency Department that you can lean on.”