Fraser Health’s Award-Winning Project Looks Inside the ICU During COVID-19

Back to Blogs By Mona Lee Posted: January 16, 2024

Fraser Health’s Carrie Stefanson is the winner of the 2023 Gold Quill Award of Merit in Media Relations for the project, “Inside the Intensive Care Unit During COVID-19.” 

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fraser Health saw relatively young people (age 15-49) becoming very sick with COVID-19. The goal was to impress upon the public the seriousness of the situation and the need for individuals to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine became available. 

“Another goal of the project was to highlight the sustained health care response provided by the staff,” she explained. “Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and others were working incredibly long shifts and overtime to care for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit where the sickest patients were treated.” 

Carrie and her two media relations team members, Joshua Klaassen and Nick Eagland, decided to produce their own stories and to facilitate ICU access for the media, so they could tell compelling stories that might prompt the public to make informed decisions and protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19, including being immunized as vaccine access became available to younger age groups. 

Three adults stand side by side and smile at camera

Joshua Klaassen, Carrie Stefanson and Nick Eagland of Fraser Health. Winners of the 2023 Gold Quill Award of Merit in Media Relations. Photo by Krystle Landert, Fraser Health.

As Carrie and Nick are former journalists, storytelling comes naturally to them. Carrie submitted the project for an award because it reflects a snapshot in time that cannot be replicated. It encapsulates what makes a story newsworthy: timeliness, currency, proximity, unusual and location. 

“It’s the people who make the story,” Carrie stated. “I connected with the wives of two ICU patients in their 40’s who were on ventilators, and those wives allowed their husbands to be filmed, and they shared what their families were going through. Sadly, both men passed away. They never had the opportunity to get vaccinated, as the vaccine wasn’t available for their age group. The stark reality of the pandemic was told through the lens of those closest to it, including our staff, suffering patients, and their families.” 

Patient in ICU bed is attended by health care provided wearing protective gear

ICU patient. Photo by Joshua Klaassen.

She said it was sobering and rewarding to be able to pull back the curtain and allow the media to really see what was happening and tell the stories of the heroic staff who were moving from site to site to help their colleagues, and often, were the only ones left holding someone’s hand as they passed away.

Health care provider stands at life support machine in hospital

Dave Wnuk, perfusionist. A healthcare professional who operates the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. ECMO is an advanced form of life support that does the job of hearts and lungs, pumping blood outside of the body so a patient’s organs can rest and recover. Photo by Joshua Klaassen.

Carrie finds it incredibly rewarding to have her team’s work recognized with a Gold Quill Award. “Being able to work on projects that weave in communications and journalism – as this one did – is extremely gratifying. Good stories rule all the time,” she said. 

“In their comments, the Gold Quill judges noted that the work Carrie and her team did highlighting the behind-the-scenes realities of the pandemic was exceptionally meaningful:

From start to finish, this was a textbook model of how communications can serve a greater cause. The work being done in the ICU needed to be shown – to educate the public, to provide thanks and recognition for the staff and to make a difference in the community. With the exception of excluding AVE [Advertising Value Equivalency] metrics in the future (or including a caveat about them), you needn’t change a thing.”

Carrie’s suggestion to others who aspire to win the Gold Quill is to lean on colleagues for advice and a second set of eyes when crafting award submissions. “Sometimes, we get caught up in our own work and fail to see the broader implications,” she added.

If you wish to illuminate your team’s project at a global level, visit to learn more about the IABC Gold Quill Awards.

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