May 6 is National Nurses Day and we are celebrating the many nurses throughout programs of Empath Health and the numerous contributions they make daily. They serve our patients, clients and participants in many roles throughout the agency from the bedside to the boardroom. Read a selection of their stories below.
Julee Lombardo, RN
Suncoast Hospice, Hospice Nurse, North Pinellas Care Center
Julee Lombardo, RN, has been a nurse for 27 years with the last seven at Suncoast Hospice. Before joining Suncoast, Lombardo was an oncology nurse but thought coming to hospice was “the natural next step” in her career in taking care of patients.”
Working first on the Burgandy Team, she served patients and families in north Pinellas nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And then COVID-19 struck. For the first time her job had been reduced to mainly Zoom calls because it was difficult for our staff to visit. That was not the type of nursing Lombardo wanted to practice. In August she transitioned to the North Pinellas Care Center in Palm Harbor. “I’m more of a hands-on nurse and I have been able to do that here.”
But working at the facility that housed Suncoast’s COVID unit didn’t come without its challenges. “We all took turns working in the unit. It was hard helping patients’ families learn how to gear up and down with all the PPE-helping them do it properly, how long it takes as well as how it separated them from their loved ones a little more.”
And for Lombardo her nursing style had to shift. There were fewer pop-in visits with patients as she had to go through the procedures of donning and doffing full COVID-protocol PPE. And she said wearing an N-95 mask for 12 hours a day was not easy and made her tired.
But looking back over the past year with all of its challenges she still loves being a hospice nurse. When she started at Suncoast Hospice she thought, “I finally feel like I am home.”
Eman Harb, APRN, AGACNP-BC
Empath Palliative Care, Advance Practice Registered Nurse
What started as a planned one-year stint at hospice to learn about end-of-life care has become a passion for Eman Harb, APRN, AGACNP-BC for Empath Health Palliative Care. “I didn’t think they taught you much about death and dying in school and shortly after beginning to work at Empath, I knew I was hooked.”
Harb joined Empath Health as a hospice admissions nurse, moved to working in the care centers while she was working towards her APRN and now works at Largo Medical Center on the Palliative Care inpatient care team. She consults with patients about their goals of care, advance directives, symptom management and the management of cancer-related pain.
“During COVID working in a hospital was scary as it was ground zero and we didn’t know what was happening and information kept changing,” she said. “We were worried about bringing it home to our families.” But she was comforted and bolstered because she felt that she was surrounded by smart people who were providing solid information and continually looking for solutions.
Palliative care consults began to be requested earlier because Palliative Care staff helped have difficult conversations about best and worse-case scenarios so that families could be kept apprised of their loved one’s condition. And then there was “the emotional strain of saying goodbyes over Facetime.”
Harb is optimistic though and gets excited about educating patients and families more on Palliative Care and that isn’t only for use at end-of-life. “Palliative care is beneficial to patients at any stage of a disease.”
Jan Curtis, RN, CRNI
Empath Health Pharmacy, IV Coordinator
As a student nurse, Jan Curtis, RN, CRNI, heard a presentation from a Suncoast Hospice employee that “made you not only want to work at hospice but even be a patient,” because he described the care so well. His wife also presented and talked about her job as an infusion nurse. Curtis thought it would be wonderful to work in that area but never imagined she could actually do it. Now looking back over her 25 years as an Empath Health Pharmacy employee and IV nurse she knows that her team makes a difference every day.
Empath Health’s infusion team serves hospice patients by providing hydration, nutrition and pain medication through IVs. Curtis recognizes while their jobs are to provide a specialized kind of nursing care it all boils down to “making a difference and sometimes it’s not about the IV, sometimes it’s just about spending time with them and or the family and listening. Sometimes they just need your presence.”
COVID taught Curtis that in the end we are very adaptable as humans and at the work we do. “We learned a different way but with IVs it has to be in-person, you can’t do our jobs over telemedicine.” But she believes that because of the intricacies involved in being an IV nurse that the team quickly adapted to new protocols. And while some Empath teams might have spent less time in the field during the height of the pandemic, “our team probably made more visits,” Curtis said.
In 2007 Curtis’s son was critically injured in Iraq and spent 18 months in a military hospital in Texas. Curtis is still grateful to her Empath family for the flexibility given to her to attend to him and the overflowing generosity of the gifts and letters sent to him and her family during that time. While a lot has changed with staff and programs, she still is proud to work at the place she learned about in nursing school.
Kate Bevens, RN
Empath Health Home Health
“The best part of nursing is knowing you made a difference and I feel that every day with this job,” says Kate Bevens, RN, Empath Health Home Health nurse.
Her patients are at home, usually after a hospitalization or sudden illness, and often at their most vulnerable. Through skilled care, IV infusions, wound treatment and disease management education, Bevens works to build a trusting relationship while helping them through the rehabilitation process. Empowered with knowledge and security, her grateful patients can safely recover at home.
Bevens came to Empath Health from a local hospital in September of 2019. At that time, she had no idea what was to come over the next year as her already homebound patients would become even more isolated from the outside world.
“I remember my first COVID-positive patient telling me, how even with my personal protective equipment, I was the only person who didn’t make her feel so sick and alienated throughout her illness. That put things into perspective for me,” adds Bevens.
For months, Bevens was the only outside person her patients would see. That made her regular visits that much more important. It also added heartbreak on top of the stress that comes with living through a pandemic. She was no longer just a nurse, but a link to the outside world. Often that meant taking the extra time to listen to stories of family and friends that were being missed and providing the reassurance they were not alone.
Bevens didn’t have time to linger on her own fears – her patients, scared of the unknown while trying to recover from an illness, needed her strength and compassion.
Trish Griesmeyer, RNCM, WTA
Trish Griesmeyer, RNCM, WTA, has been a part of Suncoast PACE’s team for the last five years. For her, nursing school provided exposure to many types of nursing, including hospice care. When a speaker from Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health, came to talk to her class, Griesmeyer knew that was a path she would be happy to be on.
“At the time of applying to Suncoast Hospice, my application reached the PACE program,” says Griesmeyer. “I was called in for an interview and the rest is history! I found my niche, my PACE family.”
As a registered nurse case manager (RNCM) she provides direct and indirect primary nursing care to program participants. This includes completing nursing assessments, collaborating with members of the interdisciplinary team and outside organizations and facilities, and overseeing the medical care needs of each participant. Griesmeyer also trains new nursing staff during their onboarding process. As a wound treatment associate (WTA) for all participants of Suncoast PACE, she performs an initial wound assessment on every newly-identified wound and assists with developing an appropriate plan of care with that participant’s RNCM and PACE provider.
Though Suncoast PACE offers opportunities for nurses that may not be typically thought of, Griesmeyer has felt the same unexpected grief, stress and burnout as other essential workers across the world. The pandemic disrupted routines and asked nurses to put themselves at risk, all while dealing with the loss of loved ones and colleagues.
With the uncertainty and stress, has also come lessons. Of those, Griesmeyer shares the importance of teamwork, learning and sharing knowledge and the growing role of telehealth.
“The biggest takeaway of it all has been to only worry about what you can control,” adds Griesmeyer. “The constant changes to policy and protocol can be draining. However, it helps to remember we have no control over CDC guidelines and announcements, we just have to roll with it.”