Daniel Phillips showing his support for staff at Salem Hospital on April 7, 2020 (Diane Beals/Salem Reporter)

When Daniel Phillips’ mother was released from the local hospital after a stroke in February, he wanted to thank the people who saved her life.

Phillips, 54, considered his options and on March 31, stationed himself on Southeast Winter Street, outside Salem Hospital’s Building B, with a handmade sign.

“To all the doctors, nurses & staff, thank you for saving my beautiful mother,” his cardboard sign read.

He intended it to be a one-time event.

But with many hospital workers on long shifts because of the coronavirus pandemic, Phillips said his simple message resonated in a way he wasn’t expecting.

The workers he wanted to thank were thanking him for being there. One got emotional as she stopped to talk.

“She was crying and I lost it,” he said. “She says, ‘There’s so many doctors and nurses in this hospital that really appreciate what you’re doing to lift everyone’s spirits.’”

So he decided to come back.

“When we all are educated and we all come together, we can make miracles happen,” he said about the pandemic.

A Salem Hospital worker receives bunny ears from Daniel Phillip (Diane Beals/Salem Reporter)

Phillips returned April 1, staying nearly all day so he could catch workers from different shifts. A photo taken by a hospital employee circulated within Salem Health as an example of a bright spot during a stressful time.

On Wednesday, Phillips was back again with an Easter-themed display. Bright pink signs facing both directions on Winter Street urged passersby to honk their support for health care workers. Phillips held a third sign and waved at everyone, whether crossing one of the hospital’s sky bridges between buildings, walking across the crosswalk or driving by. He passed out costume Easter Bunny ears to some, quickly exhausting his supply.

“I hate to miss anyone going over those bridges,” he said, apologizing for looking away during an interview so he could make eye contact with every worker.

"Every day, we are receiving expressions of gratitude from the community. Dan is a great example of this, and we are truly grateful to everyone. It is an immense source of encouragement," said Leilani Slama, Salem Health's vice president of community engagement, in an email.

The display was up around 8 a.m., and Phillips said he intended to stay until at least 3 p.m.

He put plastic buckets full of fruit - makeshift Easter baskets - in the bark lining the pavement, intending to hand them out later to workers with kids to take home. They were interspersed with American flags.

Daniel Phillips chats with staff from Salem Hospital on April 7, 2020 (Diane Beals/Salem Reporter)

Phillips was born at Salem Hospital in 1966, when what’s now called Building B was the only building.

His mother, Nancy, was unmarried and he didn’t meet his father until he was a teenager. Phillips said he was a target for bullies when he attended Englewood Elementary but counted his mother as a constant in his life.

“Mom was everything to me,” he said.

When she had her stroke at 80, Phillips said, “I was really worried she wasn’t going to make it.”

She was first hospitalized at West Valley Hospital in Dallas, where they live, but then transferred to Salem Hospital.

Now, as he stands on the sidewalk, Phillips thanks the hospital employees who walk by. Ultrasound technicians and critical response team nurses thank him in return, some stopping to talk or listen to him explain why he’s out there.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the janitors, the person that mops the floors, the person that takes the garbage out … the RN, the ICU doctors,” he said.

He doesn’t have set plans to return, but said he likely will at some point on one of his days off from his regular job at the Salem Costco.

“It’s not about me. It’s just about all the great people working here,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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