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Elodia Mercier, a 34-year nursing veteran, sets the tone for the way patients should be treated.
A graceful chandelier created from hundreds of leaves. The friendly faces of patient navigators dressed in red coats. Both are a constant presence at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York.
So, too, is Elodia Mercier, MS, BSN, clinical director of nursing.
A 34-year veteran of the medical center, Mercier can be found walking the halls of the unit she now manages, engaging with staff and patients alike with a cheery “Good morning! Happy Monday!”
This is Mercier’s way of disarming patients and staff members who may have been distracted or unhappy only a few minutes before. It also allows her to get at the root of their problems.
On stage with patients
As a clinician leader, Mercier knows she’s “on a stage” in front of staff members and patients. For her, that means she sets the tone for the way patients should be treated.
Mercier asks patients for permission twice: Once before entering their room and again before she sits at their bedside.
The typical response from patients, says Mercier, is a quizzical look. “Usually, that takes a patient off guard. They think, ‘This is your hospital. Why are you asking for permission?’”
But Mercier has thought this through, too. It’s a simple way to show respect. Often, she says, a patient will tidy the pillows on the seat before she sits down, just as they would in their own home. Sitting down next to the patient also means she’s at their level, and not towering over them physically.
“In the hospital, this is their home. This is how I show patients respect. Many times, they have lost everything. They may be the sole provider in their family; they may not be able to work, and they’re afraid,” says Mercier.
Mercier is also grounded by the reality that she sees patients at their worst. “It’s our job to cure them and to give them their dignity,” she says.
Mercier says her first memory of the 134-year-old medical center was as a middle school student. Her great-grandmother was being treated at the hospital. The future nursing leader was so impressed by the care her great-grandmother received that she tucked away a dream of working at the medical center herself one day.
The first in her family to go to college, Mercier says her nursing education wasn’t without its struggles. She worked throughout college as a dorm assistant and took out a loan for her tuition from a close family friend; the loan was paid off within her first year at Montefiore, she adds.
Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis a few months before graduation, Mercier was unable to move from the waist down because of the painful inflammation of her joints. Despite suffering a fever of 104 degrees and being hospitalized, she returned to her nursing studies after her discharge from the hospital.
Toward future nursing leaders
“No.” That was Mercier’s response when she was first asked to join the nursing leadership ranks at Montefiore. Why make a change? She was content serving as a head nurse.
Still, ever the pragmatist, Mercier changed her mind. If it didn’t work out, her manager told her she could always return to frontline nursing, remembers Mercier.
And she uses that same approach with nurses she’s grooming for leadership roles today; they can always return to frontline nursing if leadership roles don’t work out, she tells them. The qualities Mercier looks for in nursing leaders include:
Mercier also fosters informal leadership among frontline nurses in the medical center’s shared governance program. That involves each unit electing a nurse to represent the unit and providing that nurse with time off to drive improvements suggested by nurses on the unit. For example, a team of 30 nurses on the unit can rally to support the remaining five nurses in getting certified over the next five years.
Some nurses don’t know how to navigate this certification path, but that’s where Mercier comes in. She helps support the nurses with work schedules that allow them to pursue certification.
In 2004 and 2005, the medical center’s Press Ganey scores revealed that patients were unhappy about the amount of ambient noise. With that information in hand, Mercier did her research; that meant hitting the books and asking staff members for ideas for the SHHH (Silent Hospitals Help Healing) Initiative.
She highlights some of the simple changes that decreased ambient noise:
Food for thought for healthcare leaders? Mercier asked staff members why they tolerated these noises in the past. “It’s always been that way, they said,” remembers Mercier. It’s not that way anymore at Montefiore.