When people decide to become nurses, they makes an important decision to selflessly dedicate themselves to the care of others. Caring for one person shows love. Caring for hundreds shows the true nature of a nurse.
Gloria Heinitz has assisted with the births of multiple generations of Holyoke families and watched them grow, cared for many community members throughout their years and been nearby as some of them passed on from this life.
Now after a long, humble, compassionate and heartfelt career, she is looking to store away the scrubs, put the stethoscope aside and fully embrace her retirement after this week.
Before beginning at Melissa Memorial Hospital in September 1970, Heinitz worked one year at Mercy Hospital in Denver and part time for a few years at the nursing home in Holyoke, all culminating in an astounding 50-year nursing career.
Gloria Heinitz, pictured at right, pauses from reviewing documents in a nurses’ workroom. Also pictured, from left, are nurses Lorraine Speicher, Deanna Stryker and Janet Mitchell. Heinitz is bringing her 50-year nursing career to a close this week.
“I must give great credit to all the nurses I’ve worked with over the years,” Heinitz said. “They were really tolerant of me, and I was just trying to keep up with it all.”
She joyfully reminisced about some of the past and more recent antics that she and her fellow nurses have conducted, saying that her coworkers help keep the air light and cheerful, and she can’t thank them enough for their caring support.
When Heinitz started at MMH, the old hospital on Baxter Avenue was five years old, and she has witnessed the evolution of nursing come through that facility and into the current hospital campus at the southeast edge of Holyoke.
“I’ve been privileged to work with Gloria for eight years,” said MMH administrator John Ayoub. “She has touched the lives of seemingly countless people and is an incredibly excellent nurse. I have the highest respect for her as a person and a professional.”
Heinitz noted that former nurses Delia Klatka and Winona Rouze “taught me all I didn’t know,” and the first hands-on lesson she learned was “you clean up after yourself” — “and we’ve kept to that ever since.”
Over the past 50 years, Heinitz has been a staff nurse — her favorite position — worked as director of nursing on and off for 15 years and has performed innumerable duties at MMH, including work in recovery, home health, hospice, obstetrics, emergency and operating rooms, and many more capacities.
“We all did it all back then,” she said.
Had she not gone through rural health care training in Durango, Heinitz said coming to MMH would have been a shock to her after experiencing the different world of Denver hospitals. But fortunately for the Holyoke community, nothing scared her off.
She pointed out how working with several doctors now, rather than a single one like in the past, has created more of a partnership between the nurses and doctors.
“I had a lot of great medical instructors,” Heinitz stated. “We nurses are always helping them with suggestions and recommendations, and now it is more of a team approach.”
In the early days of her career, Heinitz noted that she shocked the older nurses when she innovatively began wearing pants while all the others were still wearing dresses. She playfully pointed out that “pants were sensible and made the acrobatics of nursing much easier to perform.”
At that time, emergency room departments were a “big new experience in hospitals” and “putting in IVs was unique.”
Heinitz described how the nursing field evolved rapidly after that. Starting as a Florence Nightingale bedside-type nurse striving to help patients get comfortable, the job made a big change from care to medicine and working to keep people alive.
A quote from Nightingale saying, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse,” is one that could easily be attributed to Heinitz and many other dedicated nurses.
In fact, Heinitz has been nominated twice for the Nightingale Award, an honor given to registered nurses throughout Colorado each year, and she was a regional finalist in 2010.
Mentioning that nurses get a lot of personal feedback, she related several strong-willed stories of some of the most special patients that have impacted her life and career.
“I’ve delivered more than 400 babies, but I don’t remember who they all were,” Heinitz said, noting she very well might have even delivered this reporter when he was born. “But you always remember the deaths. Many find peace when that time comes, and I’ve found it is certainly helpful talking with the family when it happens. You absolutely never forget the young ones.”
Nurses meet and work with people in the worst and best times of their lives. When asked if having personal connections with people in the community made it more difficult to treat them, sometimes in life-threatening situations, Heinitz replied that it never bothered her because the reason they were there was what her focus was.
“If I’d known them for five minutes or 15 years, it didn’t make a difference,” Heinitz added. “Everyone gets the same care, and they remember the care they get.”
Ayoub added that Heinitz has always looked out for the best interest of all her patients, even if it’s not what they think they want.
“She knows clearly what the priorities need to be and always stands for what she knows is right,” Ayoub said.
Looking forward to retirement, Heinitz has many ideas for what will likely occupy her coming years.
“I might be working still, but it will be something completely different — a whole new phase,” she said. “And we’ve got grandkids we’re always running after.”
Heinitz and her husband Walt have three children, Teresa in Texas, Craig in Virginia and Ryan in Castle Rock with his children Isabelle, Caleb and Jorja.
She spoke excitedly about traveling and hopes of doing more bicycling in the near future, but she also noted she will feel a slight relief in getting away from all the decision-making that comes with her work, particularly in the ER.
“Between my career and my grandkids, I’ve learned you have to be ready to go by the seat of your pants,” Heinitz concluded as she headed off to her next duty. “You never know what’s going to come through the door.”
Holyoke Enterprise February 26, 2015