Leadership is helping others

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’?”

- Fred Rogers

President Donald Trump’s daily televised press briefings are probably the last place for Americans to find solace during this increasingly deadly global pandemic and rapidly worsening economic meltdown.

In stark contrast to the comfort offered by President Franklin Roosevelt during his fireside chat radio broadcasts amidst the Great Depression, Trump’s erratic and disjointed public briefings are riddled with lies, political propaganda, angry outbursts, false accusations, braggadocio and, last Friday, a gratuitous attack on all the people working at the U.S. State Department. His sociopathic behavior and total lack of empathy has only magnified the public’s sense of uncertainty, anxiety and dread.

Contrast this with the leadership and commitment offered by America’s governors, mayors, county and municipal officials, as well as the millions of others who are doing whatever they can to help people during this crisis.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s televised news conference on Monday encouraged people to pull together while offering timely and practical information on exactly what he was doing to solve the problem. That’s leadership.

California was the first state to issue a sweeping order closing all non-essential business and government offices and advising most residents to stay home, and Gov. Gavin Newsom later deployed the National Guard to assist food banks statewide to serve residents in need.

Sonoma County Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase issued a shelter-in-place order two days prior to Newsom’s announcement and has been communicating with local government officials and first responders on other ways to prevent Sonoma County residents from contracting the virus.

Here in Petaluma, City Manager Peggy Flynn, Police Chief Ken Savano, Fire Chief Leonard Thompson and dozens of city staffers are doing much the same. Despite having closed some public-facing offices temporarily, municipal services are continuing unabated and the city’s newly redesigned website has become an invaluable source of much-needed information.

Petaluma Public school administrators and teachers are scrambling to develop remote/home-based curriculum and learning programs and provide “grab-and-go” meals for students who need the daily nutrition. Their leadership and selfless dedication to ensuring kids don’t fall behind is inspiring.

The Petaluma People Services Center is recruiting volunteers to deliver meals to homebound seniors and make daily phone calls to check on their welfare.

With many small businesses shuttered during the pandemic to protect public health, the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and the Petaluma Downtown Association are providing vital resource information to small business owners and their employees while also encouraging people to buy gift certificates from local restaurants which have been particularly hard hit.

But nowhere is the leadership and commitment to battling this virus more evident than among the professionals and support staff at Petaluma Valley Hospital and the Petaluma Health Center, where doctors, nurses and other health care employees face the proverbial calm before the storm as coronavirus cases are anticipated to surge in the weeks ahead.

According to Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer at the Petaluma Health Center, “We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” adding that due to the massive layoffs underway in the local hospitality industry, he anticipates seeing many more clients without health insurance coming through his doors in the next few months.

Noting the county already has a shortage of doctors and nurses, many of whom are over the age of 60, Toledo says that despite the center’s ramped-up telemedicine program enabling most patients to be diagnosed remotely, it worries him that some older health care providers might be exposed to the virus.

And with public schools closed indefinitely, many health center employees are struggling to find day care for their children, says Toledo. To support the center and its employees, go to and click the Donate Today button.

A similar situation exists for Petaluma Valley Hospital workers with children, says Director of Nursing Wendi Thomas, though the hospital’s operator, St. Joseph Health, is working to address the problem using a partnership with a childcare services organization.

As with most hospitals around the country today, Petaluma Valley is running short on coronavirus test kits and is therefore having to ration tests primarily to high risk patients. Also, due to the global pandemic, personal protective equipment including masks, gowns and face shields are also in short supply. The hospital is working to obtain more of this equipment to protect health care workers, says Thomas, but it’s an ongoing challenge.

Persons wishing to donate unopened, medical grade personal protective equipment are asked to contact PVH Development Manager Brett Shinn at 778-2796. To help purchase needed equipment and fund Petaluma Valley Hospital’s fight against COVID-19, go to, or send a check to Petaluma Valley Hospital Foundation, 400 North McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, Ca. 94954.

The people working at local health care institutions are as critical during this pandemic as the first responders were during the wildfires of 2017 and 2019. They are the helpers whose vital life-saving services we desperately want and need.

They, in turn, are very much in need of our financial support today.

(John Burns is former publisher of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. He can be reached at

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