Nurses crucial in patient care

Mirror photo by Patt Keith Registered Nurse Jamie Pendersen checks 92-year-old Garvey Manor resident Richard Gildea’s breathing.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Residents at Garvey Manor and Our Lady of the Alleghenies receive care from an educationally diverse mix of nurses, said registered nurse Becky Wilson, director of nursing.

The facility employs 90 certified nursing assistants, 35 licensed practical nurses and 20 registered nurses, she said, noting that 132 residents of the skilled nursing area and the 36 residents of a secure dementia unit need the most care and residents in 54-personal care apartments the least.

Wilson, of Altoona, has made a 19-year career at Garvey where she started as a CNA, became a registered nurse and held various positions before landing the lead position.

“I never expected to stay here my whole career, but I have,” Wilson said. “I know and love the residents. They put a smile on my face.”

Registered nurses Holly Jackson of East Freedom and Jamie Pendersen of Northern Cambria are more typical of nurses today as each has worked in various settings. Jackson has worked in inpatient hospital and other long-term care settings while Pendersen’s 42-year career has ranged from hospice nurse to assistant director of nursing.

In the mid-1970s when the region had three diploma nursing schools, Dot DeAngelo of Cresson earned a four-year degree and then two master’s degrees in community health and nursing.

Many of the Hollidays­burg nursing home’s CNAs and LPNs come through its relationship with the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center’s programs.

Twice each year, Garvey offers CNA classes and provides clinical rotations for LPN students.

This spring, 74 students are enrolled at the GACTC, said Becky Kelly, LPN program coordinator, adding “there’s no doubt on my mind they’ll find employment” at Garvey or other area nursing and personal care homes. While 90% of the students are female, they range in age from 18 to 65. An LPN provides for patients’ basic needs, such as bathing, dressing, eating, changing bandages and other hands-on care, which is taught in a 1,564 hour-course, Kelly said.

It’s a very affordable pathway, Kelly said, as many students receive tuition assistance through various programs, and many students attend class parttime in the evening and work during the day. Schooling affordability, plentiful openings and an average annual salary of $43,000 (source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics) make these careers enticing, Locally, Kelly said, the hourly pay rate has risen by $1 per hour since 2016, Kelly said.

“Nursing jobs can’t get filled fast enough,” said Garvey spokesperson Holly Keller. “Everywhere you look, facilities are advertising for nurses at all levels.”

Garvey nurse recruiters compete with hospitals and hospitals often offer higher wages, shift-differentials, overtime incentives, sign-on bonuses and opportunities for flexible scheduling, Wilson said.

“There’s a misconception, too, that the work in a skilled nursing home is less exiting than in a hospital,” DeAngelo said, “however, patients in long-term care facilities are challenging because they are often more medically complex.”

The challenge comes because the average patient age is 88, with the oldest resident is 105 years old, DeAngelo said.

“Sometimes we lose a nurse because she feels her advanced skills, such as drawing blood, may decline,” Wilson said. “However, our nurses have exceptionally strong assessment, critical thinking and decision-making skills. There’s not a doctor here all the time so our nurses are a crucial link in deciding patient care.”

While in high school, Pendersen considered becoming a lawyer, but her older, much-admired sister was a nurse, and her mother also encouraged her to go into nursing because nursing offers scheduling flexibility needed when raising a family, she said.

“Younger nurses seem to want the excitement found in a hospital, but I have learned so much from our geriatric patients. If you take the time to talk to them, you can learn so much from them and you acquire patience,” Pendersen said.

All four Garvey nurses said they recommend the nursing profession, especially for those who like to learn because “as a nurse you never stop learning,” Wilson said.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.