Part two of our week-long series highlighting some of the amazing nurses of the Nurse Alliance of SEIU Pennsylvania.
In her more than 30 years as a nurse, Jean Hayes, RN, BSN, has worked in almost every department, working with patients in every stage of life. So she considers her new role in case management at Regional Hospital of Scranton to be an opportunity to round out her skill set.
“It kind of takes me full circle in a way, so I’m not sorry for the experience,” she said. “I’ve worked in everything from a new-born nursery to home health. We were also linked to a hospice so we used to cover for them.”
While it’s not direct bedside nursing, Jean notes that it’s a crucial part of the modern healthcare system.
“It involves doing chart reviews and updating insurance companies,” she explained. “Doing the required Medicare reviews periodically on patients’ charts and also working with the social workers to help find an appropriate and safe discharge plan for patients and all the documentation that goes along with that.”
Jean refers to it as “a part of the puzzle” that she didn’t understand and she looks forward to soaking up the knowledge.
That thirst for knowledge can be traced back to Jean’s early career, which didn’t start in nursing.
“I originally was in school at Millersville State in a Special Ed teaching program,” she revealed. “I loved the kids and I loved what I was doing, but I just had a feeling — I can’t describe it or explain it — that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. My professors were upset because I had fabulous grades and they couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave, but I did.”
Jean gravitated to nursing, in part, she thinks, because of her experience with her adoptive mother, who was chronically ill and her birth mother, who Jean lost to cancer when she was still a baby. She clearly had an urge to care for others.
“I don’t think when we were young and idealistic any of us realized how difficult it would be,” she admitted. “It’s rewarding, but it’s not an easy life.”
For Jean, the rewards involve the people.
“I love the patient contact,” she said. “I think one of the best parts of this job are the people that you meet and the stories — their stories, their history and their experiences. I think that’s very valuable and I’ve always enjoyed that.”
She also points out that it’s the simplest things you do as a nurse that makes the greatest impact on your patients.
Jean recalled an elderly woman she cared for who made a tremendous impact on her.
“I’ll never forget the woman –I still remember what room she was in when I took care of her,” she said. “I wasn’t doing anything highly technical; I came in to bathe her. She needed a lot of care.
“I finished and I was cleaning up all the dirty linen and she looked right at me and she said ‘God sent you here today to give me a bath.’”
Jean said it’s the moments like that when you realize it’s the human touch that really makes a difference to people.
The real challenge of nursing now, Jean said, is the focus on documentation and productivity. She remembers a time when care delivery was more patient-focused.
“When I was in nursing school, there were two separate charts,” Jean recalled. “One was for the clinical people to use with the medical information you needed to care for the patient and the other part of it was a separate thing that we never looked at with their insurance information.”
While incorporating that side of the ledger has become integral to modern healthcare, Jean remembers the simpler time fondly.
“Years ago, they didn’t want us to know that information because they didn’t want it to color our care for the patients,” she said. “They didn’t want us to give better care to somebody who had good insurance and not so great care to somebody who maybe had no insurance or had not a great plan. They wanted everyone treated equally.”
Inequity is one of the reasons Jean helped organize the union at her hospital years ago.
“I saw the division it caused between people when you would come in and they would interview you and then tell you, ‘Now don’t tell anybody else what we offered you salary wise.’” she said. “Because they were offering different people different deals. People would find out about all of these different deals for people with the same amount of experience and education and it caused a lot of friction and problems. It was unfair.”
Jean said the union helps level the playing field for workers and gives them power when they have to stand up to management.
“[Our union] holds the employer accountable,” she said. “They can’t just change your working conditions and wages without consulting with the members. It’s an added layer of protection.”
But for the union to work, Jean explains, members have to be involved.
“It’s not a magic wand like a lot of people think it should be,” she said. “I think unless you sit in that room and go through [bargaining], you don’t realize how difficult the process is. I think a lot times when people complain, ‘Well the union doesn’t do anything for me.’ They don’t understand the process.”
Outside of the hospital, Jean is very active in the community advocating for the health and medical benefits of a plant-based diet. She lectures in the community on the benefits of plant-based nutrition with her grassroots organization, The Scranton Beets. She’s also on the Preventive Medicine Advisory Board at the Commonwealth Medical College.
“For the last three and a half years that’s kind of been my passion,” Jean said. “I talk to as many people who will listen to ‘Crazy Jean’ about how changing their diet can not only prevent chronic illness but can also reverse it.”
Jean said current research has shown great results in improving heart disease and reversing Type 2 Diabetes. There’s even hope that maybe some cancers can be reversed, but Jean said researchers are a ways off from anything definitive.
As busy as she keeps, Jean admits she still can’t imagine keeping up with the schedule of her colleagues at the bedside.
“Every day I hear, ‘I’m staying till 7,’ or I’ll hear someone coming around saying ‘Who wants to stay until 7?’ Like it’s a given. Like somebody’s going to pipe up and say, ‘Oh yeah! I can’t wait to stay!’ she said. “One of the reasons I didn’t go back to bedside nursing – I don’t think I could do those kind of hours anymore. I don’t know how the bedside nurses do it.”