My friend, Gail, died last week. It was sudden and shocking. Gail was an expert nurse, a solid manager, and a wonderful human being who never sought the spotlight. While CEO at Homestead Hospital, I appointed her to the top position in nursing leadership even though she was not, on paper, the most qualified applicant. But I knew something about Gail that no staid corporate interview could ever reveal – her reservoir of strength and grit.
When it mattered, Gail showed courage under fire. She earned her title of Chief Nursing Officer on the battlefield of healthcare. She stood tall in the face of the monster Andrew, rose to the occasion once again with Irma, and led many skirmishes in-between. Gail was the leader who never lost focus, despite managing a nursing staff at a busy hospital in a struggling community.
In today’s business environment, healthcare is dominated by quantifiable metrics, i.e. the usual graphs, spreadsheets and best practices. Of late, though, there is a good amount of overdue appreciation for healthcare providers of all kinds, including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, lab technologists, etc. While stewarding her budget quite capably, Gail never forgot who she was meant to serve.
And occasionally, her focus was not a patient but a colleague in need. During one emergency, while readying Homestead Hospital for a possible direct hit, it was her concern for an at-risk nurse in the Keys that prompted her 10 phone calls to me. Ultimately, that nurse safely rode out the storm at Homestead Hospital – as a guest of Gail’s.
In this challenging moment in the healthcare industry, Gail was steadfast. Like many leaders, she had the skill to improvise and innovate. In moments like this pandemic, you need to have absolute confidence in those by your side. Like Gail, nurses constantly put themselves in harm’s way. It’s as if they have muscle memory about infection control measures and they follow the protocols reflexively. That’s one reason why you see so much cognitive dissonance with healthcare staff across the country complaining about PPE. It is inconceivable to a nurse not to be able to do the right thing.
Until very recently, those infection prevention protocols were sacrosanct. If you violated them, you would deservedly be chastised and asked to leave, as happened when I bumped a piece of sterile equipment. By observing infection protocols, caregivers aren’t just protecting themselves, they are first and foremost protecting their patients. In fact, one of the greatest compliments a nurse can give is to observe of another, “They’re a good nurse”. There are depths and layers to that simple phrase that are hard to comprehend for someone who doesn’t carry that important title. Gail was such a nurse, one who heeded the call to the profession.
Like Gail, nurse leaders are often mavericks. They don’t always toe the line. They are less likely to be employee of the month, and may not recite the mission and vision statement. But when you are flat on your back in a hospital bed or the exam room table, these compassionate and innovative caregivers are who you want to see at your bedside.
Gail also fought the novel Coronavirus with all of her might alongside her nurses. Her passing means that this community is now a little less resilient, a little less experienced, a little less ready to fight either this COVID-19 beast or the next.
When this terrible time passes, remember the ones who stood tall, like Gail, when the going got tough. Find them and give them a public thanks. They deserve it, and you won’t regret calling them out.
Rest in Peace, Gail Gordon.
Wayne Brackin is the President & CEO of Kidz Medical Services