As we approach one year since COVID-19 arrived in Rhode Island, 12 News is bringing you special reports all this week at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. They’re stories of heartache, heroes and hope.

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — More than 1,400 Rhode Islanders in nursing homes died of COVID-19 over the past year, and so many long-term care staff members worked extra shifts to help out during the crisis.

At Oakland Grove Health Care in Woonsocket, where they lost some 30 men and women, Social Services Director Catherine Rasco knew early on they had to keep families connected.

In the early days of the pandemic, there was a palpable shift in the hall of many long-term care facilities as they dealt with crippling numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“The staff here did amazing things, but we were scared, we were afraid, how would it affect them? How would affect us and our families? But the staff just stepped up,” Rasco said.

Rasco said she knew she had to go beyond just stepping up at the Oakland Grove Health Care Center. They had to focus on reaching out with so many families not able to see their loved ones in person.

“I’ve worked here for 13 years, since I was 27, and I had never had a situation where I felt helpless,” Rasco said. “People needed to feel that love and have a connection to allow that.”

That’s when an online connection turned into an unexpected gift. Roslyn Yozura offered to hand crochet and knit special red hearts for men and women receiving end-of-life care.

“We had 30 patients who received one, some of them had them pinned on, others held them, and we sent the other one for the family to let them know they were connected in some way,” Rasco said.

While Rasco showed compassion during loss, she knew it was important to celebrate those who survived the virus, and the staff that endured so much pain during the past year. She decided to organize a heroes parade, with an extra twist.

“It was also a birthday celebration, 100 years for someone who survived COVID, it was an emotional night, lots of tears, something I will never forget,” she said.

At the Oakland Grove Center progresses with completing life-saving vaccinations, Rasco said she can start to see hope in what felt like a hopeless situation for so many days.

“I am looking forward to group bingo! To bingo arguments! To see people in the hallways, to see families in the building, I am looking for the heartbeat of long-term care to return to the hallways,” she said.

Rasco was honored with a COVID-19 hero award, an anonymous donor contributing $28,000.

There were also 27 different nominated health care heroes who received a small toke for their compassion and tireless efforts over the past year.

You can meet two nursing home employees who say even though this has been a challenging year, they would do it all over again. Their heartfelt mission can be seen tonight at 5 p.m. on 12 News.