Thursday, May 14, 2009

Toasting their health: National Nurses Week

HCA and Carilion are looking to pamper the nurses who serve their communities.

Retired Lewis-Gale Medical Center employees and nursing students (from left) Wanda Atkins, Mary Plaster, Sylvia Echols, Grace Myer and Mary Ellen McClung look at old class pictures of nursing school graduates.

ERIC BRADY The Roanoke Times

Retired Lewis-Gale Medical Center employees and nursing students (from left) Wanda Atkins, Mary Plaster, Sylvia Echols, Grace Myer and Mary Ellen McClung look at old class pictures of nursing school graduates.

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Jo Lambdon, a 1954 graduate of the Lewis-Gale School of Nursing, was drinking tea and chatting with her former nursing colleagues when she posed a query:

"Did you know nursing is like a disease in my family?"

Indeed, she said, two of her daughters and a granddaughter serve in Virginia and North Carolina.

"I tried to tell them not to," she said with a laugh. "They did it anyway."

National Nurses Week was May 4 to 8, and administrators at HCA Southwest Virginia and Carilion Clinic looked to pamper the nurses serving their communities. From Bedford to Christiansburg, they arranged breakfasts, massages and fountains filled with chocolate.

There was also a British royalty-style tea party that Lewis-Gale threw for 250 of its current and retired nurses May 6, where people such as Lambdon met and had tea, sandwiches, fruit tartlets and cakes.

Pam Hardesty, chief nursing officer of Lewis-Gale, highlighted the importance of recognizing nurses: retention. Lewis-Gale has vacancy rates "in the single digits," which she said is better than the national average, and it's important to recognize the good talent around.

National vacancy rates among registered nurses was about 16 percent in 2007, according to a study published by the American Health Care Association last year.

"Our nurses are very precious to us," Hardesty said. "So any opportunity we get to appreciate them, we do it."

At the party, nurses in surgical, emergency and other specialties met with their friends. They laughed, drank tea and shared stories. Some of them, such as Patsy Seville, looked at graduation photos from 1914 to 1965 of the Lewis-Gale Nursing School. Seville glanced at her class from 1955 and realized she was the only one still practicing.

She said the biggest and most obvious reward of spending years on the job is working with different people every day.

She has served in Lewis-Gale's employee health department since 1979 and has met almost every person at the medical center -- from custodians to CEO Victor Giovanetti.

"I would rather to still be working here than anywhere else," she said.

And there was Lambdon, a former emergency room nurse who nibbled on scones with other retired emergency room nurses. Mary Plaster, a 1962 graduate of the nursing school and a 2006 retiree, said that she enjoyed serving people, but that it was challenging to work erratic 12-hour shifts and juggle maybe a dozen patients at once.

"It was a good job, and all good things must come to an end," she said with a laugh.

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