Conn. (WTNH) — Communities across the country are celebrating the work of frontline workers during National Nurses Week. Hartford Hospital hosted a special event Monday morning to kick off the week-long celebration.

Nurses with 40 or more years of service raised the ‘nurses week’ flag in front of the hospital, the Life Star Flight Crew took to the sky, and nurses reflected on working during the pandemic.

“We’re in the business of saving lives, and we were just victims of a pandemic that overtook us,” Susanne Yeakel, the director of nursing medical services at Hartford Hospital, said.

Yeakel began working at Hartford Hospital in 1981. Despite the challenges of the last few years, she said working as a nurse is a rewarding job.

“I think it’s very rewarding when you can help a patient get home to their loved ones, but it’s also a privilege and an honor to stand by a family when they pass and help somebody pass with dignity,” Yeakel said.

Her work as a nurse inspired her son, Alexander Yeakel, to follow in her footsteps. Alexander is now a nurse educator at the hospital.

“Seeing her touch so many lives and develop that love and affection towards a random stranger,” Alexander said.

On May 5, the World Health Organization downgraded its assessment of the coronavirus pandemic, and in April, specific mask requirements within Hartford Hospital were loosened. Nurses are still adjusting to this new chapter that includes less mask-wearing, but they believe it will improve their ability to connect with patients.

“There’s so much that comes out of your smile, you know so much that we can communicate that’s compassion, empathy, it’s just a lot,” Laura Bailey, the vice president of Patient Care Services at Hartford Hospital, said.

National Nurses Week is celebrated every year between May 6 and May 12.