The Year of the Nurse

Elaine Rissel, RN, and Mickey McAvoy, RN both work at The Chautauqua Center.
Elaine Rissel, RN, and Mickey McAvoy, RN both work at The Chautauqua Center.

What a year to be in the healthcare business! It has been a historic year. The World Health Organization named 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife*. Nurses were on the front lines of a battle against an unknown, very contagious and often fatal disease. They continued their mission to care for and comfort patients while adapting everyday to new information about the virus, constantly changing guidelines, and learning to care for overwhelming numbers of patients while wearing layers of protective equipment.

Nurses are in the fight every single day. Patient care and safety is their number one priority. They support each other and their team of healthcare providers to keep their patients on the road to recovery, or in many cases, comfortable in their last days. Nurses were the family because families and friends could not visit their loved ones. Patient visitation was by phone and iPad. Nurses were the hand-holders, prayer partners and story tellers for their scared patients. Nurse were regularly working double shifts, and when not working, living isolated from their loved ones. They deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice and courage.

Emelia Harley, RN, Chief Nursing Officer has been in the WCA/UPMC Chautauqua healthcare family.
Emelia Harley, RN, Chief Nursing Officer has been in the WCA/UPMC Chautauqua healthcare family.

A Tough Year

“It was a tough year,” said Emelia Harley, Chief Nursing Officer at UPMC Chautauqua hospital. She is a Jamestown High School graduate with advance nursing degrees from Daemen College. She has been in the WCA/UPMC Chautauqua family for 30 years. “This past year was a real challenge for all in healthcare. I have incredible respect for the leadership team at UPMC. The local leaders did not take a day off. The emergency room staff and ICU nurses stepped up and did what needed to be done.” She went on to add, “the UPMC system was prepared for such a disaster, plans were in place, with adjustments of course and it was very fluid.”

Among the nurses this reporter spoke to, the common thread was patient focused care. Mickey McAvoy who has been a nurse for over 40 years came out of retirement to work at The Chautauqua Center five years ago. “I have received so many calls from frightened patients. This is a new thing, they don’t know what to do. They ask me for help because they don’t know what to do, should they get the vaccine, should they not. I listen to them, talk about the options and tell them they need to make up their own mind.” Ms. McAvoy was trained years ago at the Jamestown School of Practical Nursing. She has critical care and long-term nursing experience. She added, “as a nurse you need to establish a connection with your co-workers and your patients. That is hard in a mask when you cannot show a smile. The team here at The Chautauqua Center is here for the patients. We work well together. I love what I do.”

Elaine Rissel, RN, also works at The Chautauqua Center and was interviewed for last year’s Nurses’ Week article. She celebrated her 25th year in nursing this year! “COVID has been an exhausting endeavor this year. Nowhere in my nursing education did I prepare for this pandemic. That being said, I have been impressed with the community, as a whole, coming together to mask, quarantine, wash hands and have discussions about this disease. We are not out of the woods, however. We need to be just as diligent to get the vaccines for COVID, continue to mask, whether vaccinated or not, for use in public places. The nursing profession continues to educate the public to maintain safety.” She added a personal reflection, “the nursing profession has been seen as superheroes. I have never seen myself in a cape, fighting crime, but nurses have put our needs and our family’s needs aside to continue to work for others, which is what we have always done. Throughout this pandemic, the media has shown nurses as the empathic people we are.”

Nekeisha McAddo, Nurse supervisor at TRC.
Nekeisha McAddo, Nurse supervisor at TRC.

Nekeisha McAddo is a Nurse Supervisor at TRC. When the pandemic began, Ms. McAddo pointed out that working in long-term care is different from a hospital setting. “We had to figure out how to keep ourselves and our people safe. Our people have intellectual disabilities and helping them understand they needed to wear a face mask was a challenge. Social distancing, hand washing, all of it was new to them and us.” Another difficulty for her individuals was the visitation limitations. However, some good things did come out of this difficult year. “It was the healthiest year for our individuals. We didn’t see the usual colds and flus.” She went to say that TRC held vaccination clinics for the staff and individuals in their care. “It was interesting to be on both sides of the syringe, I received a shot and gave shots,” said Ms. McAddo.

What Does the Future Hold?

Ms. Harley said, “my big wish is that there would be an increase in vaccinations so we could return to normal, whatever that may be in the age of COVID-19. Telemedicine expanded it’s reach during the past year. In this rural region, that is a huge help for our homebound and transportation challenged population.” When asked about the nursing profession she said, “the baby boomer aged nurses are retiring, and we need to recruit nurses and scientists. Nursing is a huge profession with many options, from hospital acute care to home care to schools to nursing homes. If you like learning and growing professionally, nursing offers many opportunities for advance degrees. You can make a difference in your community and have a personal impact on your patient’s lives.”

Ms. McAddo, TRC, was impressed with how well her individuals adapted to the many changes throughout the year. “They handled it great. Now I’m aware that they can be more flexible than we thought,” she said.

Ms. McAoy, from The Chautauqua Center said, “Hands on nursing is so important, we can’t do it now, but hopefully we will get back to it.” Ms. Rissel also from The Chautauqua Center said, “the future of nursing is difficult to judge. I like the push for more persons to join the career field, it is much needed. I am concerned about the students enrolled in classes right now, with the lack of clinical opportunities within the medical settings preventing learning opportunities. I hope, though, this new generation appreciates the sacrifices that we are making within the community.”

And finally, in Ms. Rissel’s words, “Kudos to my brothers and sisters who continue to fight the good fight! Keep up the great work.”