By LINDA MESSMER
Registered Nurse Helen Allen received the St. Vincent Clay Hospital Superstar Award for the first quarter of 2004. The award is given to a hospital employee who has performed an exceptional act of service which has had a positive impact on a patient.
The hospital had the program before but it was revamped. Helen is the first employee to get the award this year under the new structure.
All employees are eligible and can be nominated by other employees, patients, doctors, family of patients or a community member. The winner is picked by the 10-member GREAT Team, Guest Relations Enhancement Associate Team. Helen was nominated by one of her patients.
"She was so helpful and so nice and wanted to do everything for you to make you comfortable," the patient wrote in her nomination. "It made me feel good that she helped me. And she made me feel wanted. She got ice water for my husband too. Very helpful."
Helen was honored at a reception held in the hospital cafeteria. Besides a plaque and a cake, the award included flowers, $150 and dinner for two at a restaurant of her choice.
It was a total surprise to Helen but her family was notified the day before. So husband, Noel, and two of her daughters, Nanette Metz and Patricia Woodcox were present to see her receive the award. A third daughter, Rana Hill, was unable to attend due to illness.
"I was absolutely flabbergasted," Helen said. "When Billie Jo (the Director of Nurses) announced it, I was shocked. I never dreamed of anything like this.
"Paulette Gaskill, my supervisor, went up with me. I just kept saying, I can't believe it."
Helen has worked at Clay County/St. Vincent Clay Hospital for 35 years. She got her licensed practical nurse license from John Patterson Alabama Jr. College in Montgomery, Ala., which was near her hometown, in 1965. The Allens moved to Brazil that same year where Noel had taken the manager's job at the Marion Brick Co.
"I didn't work the first year because we had three children," Helen said.
"I thought they needed time to adjust. They did better than me," she laughed.
"I loved Montgomery and missed the beauty of its clean, marble buildings and beautiful, nearly year-round flowers. It just sparkled," she said with still a hint of her soft southern accent. "But whereever your home is, you adjust. The kids and Noel were happy. And, really, I was happy too.
"I absolutely love nursing," Helen continued. "All I ever wanted out of life was to have a family and be a nurse. So the next year after everyone had settled in, I thought it would be a good time to work at the job I dearly love."
The late Holly Dugan was the Director of Nursing who hired Helen. She hired in at the same time as Virginia Mathis, a long time hospital ward secretary and Shirley Lawrence, a St. Vincent R.N. who started out at Clay County as a nurse's aide.
In 1979, Helen, with her husband and youngest daughter, moved back to Alabama due to Noel's employment. They returned to Brazil in 1982. Two years later Helen enrolled at Indiana State University and obtained her registered nurse license in 1987.
She retired from her full time position at the hospital Dec. 31, 1998. But, by February, she was back at Clay County working PRN (as needed).
"I never intended to totally give up nursing," Helen said.
When asked about the effect of St. Vincent acquiring Clay County Hospital, Helen said, "I'm very optimistic about the hospital now. They're trying to stress the care your patients need and support of co-workers. I really feel this is a quality hospital."
The 72-year-old nurse was asked how long she intended to work.
"I still love nursing," Helen said. "I enjoy the patients and the people I work with. I plan to nurse as long as I'm able. Or as long as the hospital will let me," she said.