Saluting those who answered the calling
PEF nurses run the gamut of nursing care
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Throughout New York, there are nearly 9,700 PEF-represented nurses who devote their lives to helping and caring for others. They come from all walks of life, and work in emergency rooms, prison infirmaries, homes for those with disabilities, specialty hospitals and research centers. Their common thread is the love for their profession, and the day-to-day motivation to provide quality care for all their patients.
National Nurses Week is celebrated annually beginning May 6 and ending on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12. It is a week when nurses are praised and their efforts nationally recognized. It is a time to educate the public and lawmakers about the critical role they play in health care, and to advocate for laws such as safe-staffing ratios.
This year, the 2018 national nurse’s week theme is “Nurses Inspire, Innovate, Influence.”
PEF’s Statewide Nurses’ Committee is co-chaired by Nora Higgins, a neonatal intensive care nurse at Stony Brook Medical Hospital, and Timothy Quain, a nurse at Clinton Correctional Facility.
They agreed that each PEF nurse is a gift, not only to their patients, but to the communities where they live, for the “calling” has no boundaries, no judgements, just compassion, skill and empathy.
Following are snapshots of the work PEF nurses do around the state.
John Taverne Jr has been a nurse since 1985 and works at Mohawk Correctional Facility. He fell in love with nursing when he first worked as an orderly in a hospital and observed the various roles involved in medical care.
Now years later, he has tended to thousands of patients.
“The main thing about working in a state prison is you have to adapt and change as the doctors each have their own agendas and intricacies. Some days we do procedures. Other days we see cardiac or neurology patients.
“We treat all the patients the same. The inmates under my care receive the same attention and compassion that I would treat anyone. Nurses who work in corrections need to be aware they are nurses first, and that a patient is just that,” Taverne said.
For the past 28 years, Taverne has participated in the nationally famous Utica Boilermaker, one of the largest 15k running races in the nation.
“When the runners go down at the finish line from exhaustion, my wife and I are there to pick them up. We help the ones who need medical assistance.”
Taverne also provides his nursing skills at children’s softball games, cheering on the youngsters and being there in the event anyone gets injured
“If you are considering being a nurse, you need more empathy than the average person has. I don’t think that can be taught,” Taverne said.
Irma Bates feels blessed to find her calling at Helen Hayes Hospital where she became a certified rehabilitation registered nurse in December 2017. Bates has been a nurse since 2010, but this certification provides a documented level of knowledge in a specialized area of practice. She works with patients who have a chronic illness and helps them maintain maximum function, as this requires a higher level of nursing care to those patients with physical disabilities due to acute or chronic illness.
“I work with older patients, and find this to be a very special profession,” Bates said. “Whether a person is recovering from a surgery or accident, it is our goal to bring their life back as it was before the injury. You have to work very hard to help them do what they were once able to do. You have to be very thorough and conscious of the treatment you are providing to these patients,” Bates said,
On average, Bates treats about eight patients on her unit. She emphasized teamwork, and said the key to getting good results for the patients is a collaborative effort among the physical and occupational therapists, social workers and doctors.
“I really love what I am doing, and seeing the positive results is truly rewarding.”
Marie Puthusseril was introduced to nursing when she worked as a developmental assistant at a facility operated by a disability services agency in 1985. A decade later, she became a registered nurse. Her colleagues at Bernard Fineson Developmental Disabilities Services Office have said she consistently has been motivated to excel at whatever task is at hand, and always demonstrates the characteristics of a team player, yet has proven to take charge when a critical decision is required. She has gained a reputation of thoroughly knowing all her patients and advocating for all the consumers.
Puthusseril is responsible for up to 35 patients in the community, performing nursing assessment and addressing specific problems.
“I have seen so many changes over the years, but I still love this profession. You have to have a passion to help people, and be able to be calm and patient while keeping a professional and positive attitude. You have to be willing to spend time with your patients. Nursing is an opportunity to help others, plus you get paid to do that.
“Nursing also extends to the patient’s family. You have to communicate, educate and be equally compassionate to the family. In this type of nursing, you have to develop and support the patient by involving the family.”
Puthusseril’s dedication to help people includes her role as a part-time psychiatric nurse at Northwell Health.
“People with psychiatric problems rarely get sympathy from others. A lot of people don’t fully realize these patients suffer from an illness. Some are depressed, or are bi-polar or have schizophrenia. Besides their illness, they have a social stigma,” Puthusseril said.
“As nurses, we strive to make the lives of all our patients more pleasant and as comfortable as possible.”
Tony Gomez has some advice for anyone considering a nursing career.
“Before you decide to specialize in any particular field of nursing, have a strong foundation and get some skills under your belt. That not only makes people more marketable, but it allows you to do a better job, to provide quality service.
“People don’t realize nursing can be a hard job. You put in a lot of hours and work. The role of a nurse, especially in the state system, is a hard one.”
Gomez became a nurse in 1994. His role in health care dates back to 1987, when he worked as a therapy aide. It was a time when aides were allowed to perform some current-day nursing duties such as dispensing medications.
He credited the state and his union, PEF, for providing tuition assistance to advance his career and dream.
“I decided to take advantage of it, graduated and became a nurse. It is a helping profession and something I really enjoy doing. I was grateful for that financial support.”
After years of having patient interaction, Gomez has become a nurse administrator at Capital District Psychiatric Center where his responsibilities include the tasks of a facility supervisor and scheduling all the units with staff seven days a week, all year. He grants time off for employees and keeps track of their time. He is also the assistant council leader for PEF division 231.
But the calling or desire to help others still burns in his soul. To fulfill that, Gomez works a side job for an agency in Ulster County where he visits psychiatric patients in their homes.
“I basically case manage their living situation out of the hospital. I make sure their medications are correct and that they are taking them. There is always a challenge, but the rewards of nursing are far greater.”
Brandee Monacelli has been a registered nurse since 2002 and works for Sunmount DDSO in Massena at an individualized residential alternative community home that has 24-hour staff support and supervision for up to 12 individuals.
“There are 11 individuals with developmental disabilities in this home. They range in age from 50 to 75-years old. They have more medical needs, and some have behavioral issues. It’s a dual diagnosis, psychiatric disorders along with developmental disabilities. Our challenge is we have to have the ability to communicate to an individual who may not have the ability to fully understand. It is our role to support them in their daily lives and to make sure they have what they need to be happy and to lead a healthy and richer life,” Monacelli said.
When she decided to become a nurse, Monacelli said her motivation was to help others, and to satisfy her drive to support herself and eventually her family.
“When I started nursing, I was taking care of the elderly and then people with developmental disabilities. I found caring for these people made a difference in their lives and my own. That made me happy. I grew as a person and as a nurse.
“Even though we face daily challenges in our careers, we have to remember we are here to serve these people. If someone has the desire to care for other people in any capacity, nursing is a wonderful profession. There is so much you can do, not just in this agency, but across the board.
“I truly love being a nurse and caring for people. If I didn’t have three children at home, I also would have volunteered to go help the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. I would do that in a heartbeat.”
Karen Antley works at the state Veterans’ Home at Oxford, a 242-bed facility that provides medical, nursing, psychological and rehabilitative services to its residents. She is the charge nurse of a unique unit, referred to as the “wandering dementia unit” where care is given to a maximum of 32 veterans. Currently, the unit has 24 patients, all over 80 years old.
“It is very rewarding working with veterans, and an honor to work here. These men and women have fought for our country. They served from World War II to the Vietnam War. They give me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I can help people who were there for all of us.
“Many of these veterans fought in combat. As former servicemen, they don’t often talk about their war experiences. Once in awhile they do. We don’t discourage it, nor do we prompt it,” Antley said.
Prior to her nursing career at Oxford, Antley was a medic in the U.S. Army and said that experience inspired her to become a nurse in 1996. She has worked at nursing homes and just over three years ago she decided to look into a position at Oxford because she “liked the idea of serving veterans.”
As the charge nurse, Antley is responsible for everything that occurs on the unit. She does individualized care planning which she communicates to the other nurses and staff, assesses the residents and ensures they are doing the best of their ability. The resident’s family is also kept current of any changes or issues about the care plan, and she dispenses medications when other nurses are unavailable.
Antley is the PEF steward at Oxford, which employs approximately 50 nurses.
“This is more than a job. For anyone entering the nursing field, I would advise them to always remember why they chose this type of work. Nurses are passionate about what they do, no matter where they work. We are all honored to be able to take care of you.”
Nicholin McMillan always knew she would become a nurse. When she was a child, her family affectionately called her Florence, as everyone knew she would grow up and follow in the footsteps of Florence Nightingale.
For the past 18 years, McMillan has developed her own version of Florence, caring for hundreds of patients at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. This PEF steward and registered nurse works in the medical surgical unit on the night shift, and is the charge nurse. She assigns nurses and nursing assistants to tend to the patients 22 patients in that unit. And when staffing levels are low, she does not hesitate to be a team player to ensure each patient receives proper care and attention.
McMillan also plays a role at the epilepsy monitoring sub-unit, where individuals admit themselves to get treatment.
“These are elective admissions, and most patients stay three to five days. The unit can accommodate six patients. Electrodes are placed on their scalp and the patients are observed through an EEG (electroencephalography) monitoring system. We can see when a patient has a seizure and the doctors can evaluate the problems related to the electrical activity of the brain. The doctors then know if treatment involves surgery or specific medications,” McMillan said.
On Wednesdays, McMillan works as a wound care team associate and visits patients throughout the hospital who have pressure injuries (bedsores). Patients suffer from various stages of these injuries and she helps make recommendations for treatment options.
“I find nursing to be a rewarding profession no matter what role I take. I tell people you do not go into nursing for the paycheck. If that is your goal, you are going into the wrong profession. You have to like people and be open to treating people from various cultures. You need the passion to help others and that passion must also extend to the patient’s family. Many times, you end up having a bond with them.”