Nova Scotia

Flag designed by retired RN will fly in praise of pandemic's front line

Hospitals across the province will be flying a home-grown flag this month to recognize the extraordinary service care providers have provided during the pandemic. What make the flag extra special is that it was designed by a nurse-turned-small businesswoman.

'Our direct care providers every day need to be thanked for the care that they provide,' says Deb Hartlen

The health-care hero flag will be raised at six health-care facilities across the province, including Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, Dartmouth General Hospital (inside the lobby), Halifax Infirmary, Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Building, Victoria General (inside the lobby) and Soldiers Memorial Hospital. (Submitted by Deb Hartlen)

A flag designed as a tribute to health-care workers for their efforts during the pandemic will be hoisted this month at hospitals across Nova Scotia. 

The flag was created by Deb Hartlen, a retired registered nurse who now owns the Flag Shop in Dartmouth.

"I had a very successful career in nursing spanning almost three decades," said Hartlen. "I worked in intensive care and the birth unit, so both ends of the life spectrum."

Her desire for change led her to buy into the Flag Shop franchise where Hartlen thought she could best use her managerial skills and lifelong love of sewing.

Hartlen's two worlds collided last year when she received a call from Patrick Sullivan, CEO of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, who wanted to find a way to express gratitude to those who've helped care for sick patients during COVID-19.

"Leave it with me," Hartlen told him. "We will figure it out."

Public Health nurse Emma Greer says the flag is a beautiful way to be acknowledged. (Submitted by Emma Greer)

She came up the health-care hero flag — a design of two blue bars flanking a red heart on a white background. There's a stethoscope piercing the heart.

Hartlen said she drew on her nursing experience to choose symbols that would be recognizable, and placed them in a way to convey a meaningful message.

"The blue of the two ends represents the code blue emergency," she said. "And I tried to find a colour that was close to the scrubs that are often worn in ICUs, emergencies, ORs, or those kinds of settings.

"The heart with the stethoscope through it was for the care and compassion that patients receive from those providers, and also how they feel towards the people who are providing the care."

Sullivan said the chamber flew the flag outside its Dartmouth office through most of the spring and summer of last year. He recently raised it again.

Connor Porter, a technical specialist, says lab workers appreciate the recognition. (Ashley Lloy)

Hartlen said she is tickled that Nova Scotia's health authority will fly the flag outside five hospitals and display it inside the lobbies of two more.

"It's just wonderful that they're willing to do that," she said. "It's just a little piece, a little way that I'm saying thank you to people who are providing care."

RN Emma Greer said she appreciates the thought Hartlen put into the flag's design.

"I love that it was a nurse who created it," said Greer, who's been working as a nurse for five years. "I think that the flag is a beautiful representation of the idea that it is really nice to be acknowledged and thanked."

Technical specialist Connor Porter has been working extra long hours in the COVID-19 testing lab during the past 14 months.

He, too, is happy for the acknowledgement.

"I certainly appreciate it," said Porter. "Lab work, it's a behind-the-scenes job.... people are tired, they're working a lot of overtime so it's nice to know the public appreciates the extra work we're putting in."

Hartlen is a former RN who now runs a flag specialty shop in Dartmouth. (Submitted by Deb Hartlen)

Hartlen had the company's print shop in Vancouver create the flags in standard sizes and smaller versions for home use. The flags cost between $19.95 and $100, depending on the size, and can be purchased through the Flag Shop.

She said 25 per cent from the sale of the flags has been donated to the QEII Health Sciences Centre's COVID-19 response fund.

It has allowed the Halifax hospital foundation to buy pulse oximeters for COVID-19 patients to use at home to monitor their own oxygen saturation level, and for iPads so that patients can connect with family members while in hospital.

The foundation said more than $546,000 has been raised so far from community businesses. Hartlen said she believes more than $6,000 has been donated from flag sales so far. 

Hartlen said after what health workers have endured the past 14 months, they are deserving of every bit of recognition people can provide.

"I think our health-care providers, our direct care providers, every day need to be thanked for the care that they provide because almost always there are challenging circumstances that they're faced with," said Hartlen.

"In this situation, they're asked to step up another level."


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.