UnityPoint Meriter ICU worker delivers joy through artwork

MADISON, Wis. — The men and women who work in UnityPoint Health Meriter Hospital’s ICU carry a lot of emotional weight, but they also carry a little happiness from room to room thanks to a talented coworker.

Sarah Steffes decorates the recyclable paper bags her coworkers use to carry around their personal protective equipment, such as N-95 masks and face shields.  The hospital started using the bags in March, around the same time Steffes joined the team as Health Unit Coordinator.

Steffes says a coworker spotted her doodling one day and asked for a favor.

“[They asked,] ‘Can you just make my bag fun?’  That’s how it started,” Steffes said.  “Very simple with just names and little drawings… and now they’ve become more detailed.”

Steffes has drawn elephants, flowers, even Bucky Badger on about 100 bags, each crafted to fit unique personalities.  Steffes has no formal training — she draws and paints everything free-hand.

“I took art in high school and I loved it,” Steffes said.  “I like to paint on canvas as well, just for fun for friends and family, but other than that it’s nothing that’s been like a professional thing for me.  It’s just fun.”

Staff typically dispose of their bags and get new ones every month, but many will cut out Steffes’ artwork to save.

“We’ve had our ups and downs here.  The atmosphere, it’s kind of a rollercoaster, especially in the ICU,” Steffes said.  “We’ve been through a lot up here, we’ve seen a lot.  Just to put a smile on somebody’s face is rewarding enough for me.”  

Steffes’ work has become so popular, she says she has about 100 more requests.  She crafts them in her down time or at home after-hours, spending 15 to 30 minutes on each bag.

“It’s just a little drawing or something like that, for somebody to smile and give them something to make it through the rest of their day, it means everything to me,” Steffes said.