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Wednesday, July 6, 2022 81°F New York

National Nurses Month Special: Saluting Years of Dedicated Service

This year, in celebration of National Nurses Month, VNSNY honors—and thanks— all of the nurses whose hard work and dedication make such a vital and colossal contribution, and difference, to the lives of our patients, clients and members across the organization.

As a special highlight, Frontline spoke to the longest-serving nurses in each part of the organization. Click on their names to go directly to their stories or just scroll here to read them all!

Myrna Agosto

Susan Banner

Myra Cohen

Eloise Goldberg

Lisa Miller

Elisabeth Regis

Karen Terry

Betty Velez

Nancy Washburn

Deborah Wilson

 

Myrna Agosto, Adult Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Queens/Brooklyn Mobile Crisis Unit, Behavioral Health — 33 years at VNSNY

“I see the possibilities.”

As a psychiatric nurse practitioner in the Queens/Brooklyn Mobile Crisis Unit, Myrna Agosto spends her days working with vulnerable patients at very difficult times in their lives. “Typically, we’ll get a referral from NYC Well for people who are in a crisis,” she says. “I’ll usually visit them with another team member to assess the situation and their needs. This may mean linking them with outpatient mental health services, or occasionally it means calling 911 if the assessment indicates they are a risk to themselves or others. We then follow up as needed.”

One memorable referral involved a client who had locked himself in a basement room. “When we got to the client, we engaged with him, but it was all through a closed door because he wouldn’t leave his room,” says Myrna. “He was threatening to blow himself up, so we enlisted the help of the police, who negotiated with him for two hours until he finally came out.” He was taken to the hospital, where Myrna reconnected with him. “When I got to the hospital, he tearfully told me that he’d been this way for months. His girlfriend had left him, and he’d lost his job. He was distraught and it had all become too much. It was really intense, but he was so thankful that we’d helped him. Those are the moments that make my day—and there are many of those.”

She adds, “People often ask me why I’m not scared to do the work I do, but I have the perspective of seeing people as spiritual beings having a human existence. I sometimes have visions of how the person might look in my mind. I envision them whole and healed, and I see the possibilities. I do not let fear control me, because I know there’s potential there, no matter how hopeless things may seem at the moment.”

Susan Banner, Nurse Field Supervisor, Partners in Care — 16 years at VNSNY

“It’s important for me to build relationships.”

After a first job as a physical-rehabilitation nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital followed by a fascinating stint researching vaccines at NYU Langone Medical Center, Susan Banner found herself drawn to nursing in an outpatient setting—a hankering that led to a job with Partners in Care. “I didn’t want to work in acute care, where patients are in and out,” she says. “It’s important for me to build relationships with my patients, getting to know them and their unique circumstances—which is why I wanted to care for them in their homes. VNSNY was a perfect fit.”

Over the years, Susan received her ANCC Certification in Gerontological Nursing and received certification in Wound Care as well, and has served on many committees within VNSNY, giving her a valuable vantage point into the organization as a whole. In the process, she has watched how healthcare has evolved over the years, and nursing alongside it.

“There’s a lot more paperwork and technology involved today, and that’s been one of my biggest challenges,” Susan says. “My passion has always been about spending my time with my patients.”

Technology and time constraints aside, Susan’s dedication to her work hasn’t dimmed at all. “When I visit a patient and I’m able to spend time with her and her family, answer their questions and address their concerns, and put their minds at ease—that’s one of the great rewards in what I do,” she says. “Sometimes I might not have all the answers on the spot, so I’ll call them back with the information, even if I have to do it on my own time. I’ve always been very thorough, and I would never feel satisfied merely going through the motions.”

Myra Cohen, Quality Reviewer, Care Management Organization (CMO) — 31 years at VNSNY

“I’ve loved getting to know my patients, their needs, and how they lived.”

As a brand-new nursing school graduate with a passion for community healthcare, Myra Cohen eagerly applied to VNSNY—and was rejected. “They kind of patted me on the head and told me to come back when I had some experience under my belt,” she recalls. She worked at Mount Sinai for eight years, had a family, then reapplied to VNSNY and was hired on the spot. “I always believed in the VNSNY mission, both professionally and personally, and my parents both benefited from VNSNY’s services,” she adds. “I’ve loved getting to know my patients, their needs, and how they lived.”

A natural people person, Myra worked as a field nurse for 14 years, becoming close with patients and their families alike. “One of my favorite patients was 103 years old,” Myra says. “She became like family—coming to my home for the holidays, attending my daughter’s graduation. She passed away 10 years ago but I still think of her and call out her name every time I drive by her building.”

Though she misses visiting her patients, Myra is perfectly suited for her current role as quality reviewer for VNSNY’s Care Management Organization. “I love the collaboration between departments, and the problem-solving,” she notes. “It could be the member is having an equipment problem or transportation issue, or maybe our remote monitoring system shows that a patient’s vital signs are going crazy. I also enjoy watching our members progress, and getting involved in their ongoing success—whether it’s teaching a new diabetic how to eat and take their medicine, or helping patients connect with services they’re entitled to.” 

Eloise Goldberg, Clinical Liaison, Business Development — 46 years at VNSNY

“The hands-on care that nurses provide remains a basic component that hasn’t changed over the years.”

With the distinction of being VNSNY’s longest-serving nurse (see an earlier Frontline profile here), Eloise Goldberg was drawn to community nursing since she was in her teens. “My father had been very ill and we had a visiting nurse come in,” she remembers. “I was fascinated and impressed with what she did—how she provided direction to our family, how she sat and engaged with my father, and how she addressed every problem.” After attending nursing school, Eloise put in the requisite two years of in-patient hospital experience required to work at VNSNY. As soon as the two years were up, Eloise applied and got the job.

Starting as a home care nurse in Queens, Eloise went on to serve in a variety of leadership roles across the organization, helping to launch a number of innovative programs and also working as Home Care regional manager in Queens, the Bronx, and Long Island for a time. “Nursing has evolved a lot over the years,” she notes. “There is so much you can do with a nursing degree now—teach, research, direct care, and all the specialty areas for nurse practitioners—but the hands-on care that nurses provide remains a basic component that hasn’t changed over the years.”

Eloise officially retired a few years ago, but quickly found that sitting at home was not for her. “I was used to getting up early and working all day and I missed it a lot,” she says. “Four months later, I got a call from Sue Caputo, Senior VP of Business Development, who said she thought I’d probably had enough of retirement, and asked whether I wanted to get involved in a business-development project. I immediately said yes!”

Since then, Eloise has been involved in a number of projects, usually some sort of pilot program, and loves the opportunity to apply her years of experience to whatever mission comes her way—from homebound vaccination programs to care-management interfaces aimed at reducing patient rehospitalizations. As if that’s not enough, Eloise volunteers in the Nassau office every Saturday, doing whatever needs to be done—whether it’s handing out supplies to field nurses or preparing COVID kits. “I encourage any retirees who have time on their hands to volunteer,” she says. “It’s a great way to assist the agency and to maintain contact with people.”

Lisa Miller, Clinical Manager, SelectHealth from VNSNY CHOICE — 34 years at VNSNY

“I’m proud that I’ve provided care in almost every kind of residence and living situation.” 

After many years as a field nurse, mostly with VNSNY Home Care, Lisa Miller is currently in her eighth year at SelectHealth, and in her fifth as a clinical manager. Supervising a team of seven care managers, she’s primarily focused on developing the tools that care managers use for their outreach. For example, a recent project included creating a much-improved orientation program for new plan members.

“It’s really about making the care managers’ jobs easier and more efficient, while also making it easier for us to capture and use their member data more effectively,” she says. “When our care managers don’t have to struggle to do their jobs, they are much more successful at reaching the members who need their help. My job is to develop tools and systems that bring a better, more efficient experience that benefits both our members and our team.”

While Lisa did love being out in the field, especially when walking to her appointments on beautiful spring days, she sees her current role as part of a natural progression. “Field work was extremely rewarding, and I’m proud that I’ve been all over Manhattan and that I’ve provided care in almost every kind of residence and living situation, but that’s hard on the feet!” she laughs. “Plus, I don’t miss the downpours or the blizzards.”

That said, her past field experience still comes into play every day. “It taught me how to bring healthcare to people’s context and their world, which is critical, especially with the members we serve, many of whom are living with HIV and/or have a history of behavioral health issues. My experience helps me direct the care managers to meet members where they are, and to effectively address the challenges they face.”

Elisabeth Regis, Home Care Consultant, Intake — 39 Years at VNSNY 

“We are giving the community a vital service.”

Elisabeth Regis started working for VNSNY as a field nurse 39 years ago. Not long after that, she shifted to the role of Intake nurse, arranging for patients to be admitted to VNSNY Home Care—a position she’s held ever since. “I love my job!” says Elisabeth. “We are giving the community a vital service that allows people to go home with the support they need.”

Originally from Haiti, Elisabeth always felt that taking care of the elderly was her calling. She studied nursing in New York, and before coming to VNSNY she worked at a local hospital caring for the elderly. “They become like your family,” she explains about her feeling for the patients she’s cared for.

Over the four decades she’s been with the organization, Elisabeth has also witnessed how VNSNY has evolved. “I started when we were using paper,” she recalls. “Then we got computerized, and now we use multiple electronic platforms. At the same time, I’ve grown mentally, emotionally and professionally during my time here.”

She continues to grow and adapt to new technologies and challenges today—especially during the pandemic, when she was working from home. “I really didn’t think it was possible to do my job from home,” she says, “but I took my computer home with me, and I was surprised to find that it could be done!”

The pandemic brought other challenges as well, like tracking down patients’ correct contact information. “We need those phone numbers to discuss with the patient and their family the kind of home care or service that the patient needs,” Elisabeth explains. “Before the pandemic, you could just walk in the hospital to get the information you needed—but now we depend on whoever made the referral.”

Elisabeth adds that she feels very lucky to have a family to rely on during these extraordinary times. “I have a son, his wife, and five grandchildren,” she says. “You always count your blessings.”

Karen Terry, Nurse, Hospice — 29 Years with VNSNY

“Hospice really makes you grow mentally.”

Karen Terry has been working with VNSNY as a nurse since 1993. Her first job as a nurse was in a hospital. She went on to work at multiple jobs within VNSNY, including as a per diem and per diem plus nurse, a staff nurse, a facilitator, an on-call nurse, and finally as a hospice nurse—a position she has been in for the past four years, taking care of patients in their last days. “Once I was in hospice, it took six months for me to become comfortable making independent decisions in the home, as compared to the support of multiple disciplines that you get in the hospital setting,” Karen explains. “In home care, you can use more of your own personal nursing judgement.”

Karen has been with the organization long enough to witness the embrace of numerous new technologies. “When I started everything was in writing. We had triplicate forms that we used,” she recalls. “All that changed with computers.” The biggest challenge in her career, however, had nothing to do with technology: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and most people were working from home to avoid getting infected, her job was to visit the homes of the most vulnerable hospice patients.

“We had all this infection control gear, like infection control gowns, masks, face shields and shoe guards.” Karen explains, “It was a big deal, not only for me, but also for the patient. They felt as if they had a disease. You couldn’t touch them like you could before, and you couldn’t stay with them for as long as you would have liked. It was very hard.”

In her time as a hospice nurse, Karen notes, she’s come to have a deep respect for the job. “I never thought I’d love hospice care. After working here, though, I think it really makes you grow mentally. In order to help the patients in their process, you have to come to grips with what you think about dying, and what dying with dignity is. I guess I fell in love with hospice!”

Betty Velez, Manager, Clinical Operations, Contact Center Shared Service — 39 years at VNSNY

“I never met a wound that I couldn’t heal quickly.”

Betty Velez has played many roles at VNSNY since she first joined the organization in 1982. She started out as a field nurse in the Bronx, a time she remembers fondly. “We were still carrying those heavy leather bags at the time, and I had the keys to every building in the neighborhood,” she recalls. “Everybody knew me –from the postman to the cops to the residents. I’d even do free blood-pressure checks in the lobby!”

Betty went on to become the very first nurse hired by the CHOICE Managed Long Term Care (MLTC) health plan to work in the Bronx, ultimately getting promoted to manager of the plan’s Bronx enrollment unit. She held numerous other positions along the way, even working as a physical therapy assistant when there was a shortage. Her true passion, though, is wound care. “I felt like there was energy coming out of my hands,” she says. “I never met a wound that I couldn’t heal quickly.”

Today, Betty uses every facet of her extensive experience in her current position in Contact Center Shared Service (CCSS), fielding questions and complaints from patients, clients and members. Working from home from 4:00 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Friday, and during the day on Saturdays, she manages and makes decisions regarding all manner of issues. It’s not a job for the fainthearted, she notes: “Because of my field experience, I can immediately picture what is going on and what’s needed. Sometimes I have to tell a client to hang up and call 911 if it’s an emergency—like a son who called because his mom was having trouble breathing. Or maybe it’s a Foley catheter that’s fallen out, and a nurse needs to be called in. Often, though, I can solve the issue right over the phone, explaining to a family member how to take care of a wound, provided it’s not an emergency. When I’m on the phone with someone, no matter what they’re calling about, they’re my entire focus and I’m going to do whatever I can for them.”

Nancy Washburn, Clinical Review Manager, Home Care — 43 Years with VNSNY

“I know a lot of people in the organization, and they’re like family to me.”

In the 42 years that Nancy Washburn has been with VNSNY, she has held nursing jobs in almost every part in the organization. “I started as a field nurse, and did that for about 20 years,” she recalls “Then after 9/11, I got a job as an Intake nurse.” She went on to serve as a Team Facilitator, then worked in the Oasis Unit, and even spent time in the Maternal-Child Health program. “I’ve had the flexibility to work at, and enjoy, different jobs,” she explains, “I’ve never felt bored. I always felt there were opportunities in this company.”

Nowadays, Nancy is a Clinical Review Manager for Manhattan Home Care Branch 1. She plans on retiring this year, even though the thought of retirement is a bittersweet one for her. “I don’t see myself not working,” she says. “I’ve worked since I was 16!”

Nancy started her career as a public health nurse in the Virgin Islands. Then in 1979, she traveled to New York City for an interview with VNSNY. “I came to New York on a Saturday, and I started working on a Monday,” she recalls. “I was totally traumatized because I had never lived in New York before.”

Today, she’s not sure she can leave the Big Apple. She has three children and five grandchildren living close to her, and she also keeps in touch with many of the nurses she’s worked with over the years. “It’s a real community,” Nancy explains. “I know a lot of people in the organization, and they’re like family to me.”

Deborah Wilson, Education Manager, Clinical Education — 30 Years at VNSNY

“Home care was where I wanted to be.”

In her role as Education Manager, Deborah Wilson helps new nurses transition into practice and alsoprovides educational programs to those already working as clinicians with the agency. She understands firsthand how helpful these programs are for clinicians new to home-based nursing. “When I first came to home care, I realized how distinct it was from other areas of nursing,” Deborah recalls. “It’s a totally different type of practice.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in Community Health and Public Health Nursing from Hunter College, Deborah was a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering and NYU Langone Medical Center before making the shift to working in home care with VNSNY. “I was in those jobs for a couple of years each,” she says, “and over that time, I realized home care was where I wanted to be.”

That was 30 years ago. Since joining VNSNY, Deborah has served in many different positions. “I’ve worked as a Coordinator of Care and as a Facilitator in HR College Relations, before taking my current position in Education,” she notes. She adds that over the years, the company has created a number of platforms that have made educational opportunities more available to the VNSNY workforce. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

“Today, team members can learn online, in person and with self-directed learning,” she explains. Other developments include a continuous orientation program for new nurses, and a preceptor’s program to guide new nurses in their transition to home care practice.

Even for the most experienced nurses, there’s always room to grow, notes Deborah. “For instance, we are now expanding our Continuing Education program,” she says. “We are continually looking at how can we better meet the needs of our clinicians.”