Welcome to Extraordinary Stories of Empath Health. In this space we highlight our fantastic colleagues and the extraordinary work they do to make Empath Health’s Full Life Care a daily reality for the patients and families we serve. Join us as we demonstrate the ways in which our colleagues exemplify Empath’s core values: Eternally Hopeful, Profoundly Helpful, Lovingly Truthful, Confidently Skillful and Courageously Impactful.
There was nothing in Tomas Turner’s work history to suggest he was making a long-term commitment when he joined Empath Health, then known as Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, on Oct. 25, 1993.
No matter what he did as a young man, something always inspired Turner to look for something new at around the three-and-a-half-year mark. He owned a block masonry business. Did lawn maintenance. Manufactured aluminum.
No one, especially Turner, could have predicted he would enjoy a 30-year Empath Health stint that continues with no end in sight. Turner, who turns 72 on Nov. 11, currently works two or three shifts per week at the Empath Pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. It is his fourth position within the company.
“Not everything has gone smooth all those years,” Turner said during a recent lunch break at the pharmacy. “Leaving it in the Lord’s hands when difficulty arrives, I didn’t want to have a three-and-a-half-year stop. The difficulties helped me become what I needed to become.”
Turner arrived at Empath Health at an opportune time, getting in on the ground floor of two departments. His wife’s cousin, a social worker at Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, told him about an opening for a DME (durable medical equipment) driver delivering supplies and equipment to patients. Turner started about three months after the DME department began operations and was the third driver hired.
Six months later, a supervisor asked for someone willing to become the first full-time driver for the new pharmacy department.
In 2008, Turner published a book about the first half of his career at Empath Health, called “Pharm Country: A Folksy Historical Glimpse of The Hospice Pharmacy.” With trademark humor, Turner described the move from DME driver to pharmacy driver by pointing out that he had been the oldest DME driver.
“Perhaps having respect for their elders was a key factor in my move to delivering lightweight bags of medicine instead of 100-pound pieces of beds,” he wrote.
During its infancy, the pharmacy department distributed medications only to the southern half of Pinellas County. Later, after deliveries expanded to cover the entire county, the pharmacy needed someone to coordinate orders and keep volunteers and paid drivers on the right path.
That’s when Turner became a pharmacy dispatcher.
“I developed what was going to happen for the pharmacy dispatcher and the processes,” Turner said. “I even had to write my own job description. Not many get to do that. I custom-made my job.”
Pharmacy dispatcher was clearly Turner’s favorite job at Empath Health. He loved being involved with the day-to-day lives of volunteers and full-time drivers. He held the job until 2007, when his hearing deteriorated. He could no longer communicate effectively over two-way radios used at the time.
So, Turner studied for and earned his Certified Pharmacy Technician certificate and became a pharmacy tech at Empath Health.
“That was a wonderful transition for me, but I knew I would miss the volunteer interaction,” Turner said. “I didn’t want to give any negative input when they asked me, ‘Tom, how do you like your new job?’” I developed a positive response. A volunteer, Bill, asked me, ‘Tom, how do you like your new job?’ I said, ‘Bill, I found a job that really counts. I’m counting the pills.’ He laughed, I laughed. It was a positive thing. I tried to do that my entire term here.”
Through all the years and changes at Empath Health, Turner is proud of that positive outlook. He said he has counseled colleagues to have patience when times get tough. In his book, Turner wrote, “Storms don’t linger forever.”
“I would tell them, ‘Give it some time. See what happens. Don’t make a rash judgment,’” Turner said.
Turner said his career at Empath Health carries extra meaning when he considers all the patients and families he has helped along the way.
He knows how much the Empath mission means. His mother entered hospice near Atlanta on Oct. 13. She passed away on Oct. 17 at age 94.
“I’m privileged and grateful for the time that’s been given me and for the purpose, not only for me and my family, but for the purpose of helping others,” Turner said. “We in our pharmacy are there for those that are hanging on. It’s their last minutes, days, hours. Someday, I’m going to be one of those.”
Empath Health is looking for extraordinary people to join our team. Learn more about our current job opportunities at EmpathCareers.org.