by Traci Chapman, Staff Writer
For Mary Harris, it was always been family, and personal connections, that fueled her mission to become a nurse. While the experiences that illuminated her path were sometimes painful, sometimes filled with loss, they were something that spurred her to bring comfort, care and kindness to the lives of each patient she cares for.
Harris always knew she wanted to work in the medical field – it was a goal that started early, during a family medical crisis that would have long-reaching consequences.
“I decided I wanted to pursue a career in nursing when I was in 1st grade and got to meet and watch a group of amazing nurses care for my dad when he got burnt,” Harris said.
It was a goal that never faltered. As the now 28-year-old began her career, every job she ever had was related to nursing.
But, it was after losing her mother to breast cancer that Harris knew precisely how she wanted to concentrate her nursing efforts – in hospice, where she could make a difference during a patient’s final journey, while comforting the family who knew they would have to say goodbye.
“I wanted to be able to provide the same compassion and care that the nurses showed my family to others when they are at that state in their lives,” Harris said.
That drive led the Hennessey High School graduate to enroll in Chisholm Trail Technology Center’s nursing program. At the school, located in Omega, Oklahoma, she earned her LPN; she also received CPR instruction at Enid’s Autry Technology Center.
Nursing degree in hand, Harris first worked as a charge LPN as a nursing home nurse, before finding the place she would call home – Russell-Murray Hospice.
“I just knew when I met them and I saw what they were doing for their patients that it was exactly where I was meant to be,” Harris said.
Living in Loyal, Harris said becoming a part of RMH’s Kingfisher office’s nursing staff was ideal. That location’s four nurses and three home health aides care for about 20 to 25 patients at any given time; company-wide, RMH’s nursing staff – which also work out of its El Reno home base and an office in Oklahoma City – collectively cares for about 100 people.
Harris said her job is comprised of a different routine every day, comprised of caring for patients, and their families, she gets to know well.
“I make routine visits for wound care, medication planning, skilled nursing assessments – I routinely check on our patients to assess their current condition and if they have any changes in needs,” Harris said. “What I like most is getting to visit with the patients on a regular basis and getting to know them.”
That care is given in a difficult healthcare climate. Rural areas are challenged with difficulties in finding dedicated staffs willing to commit to a long-term position. Kingfisher was no different; for a time, the city’s small hospital was on the edge of oblivion, before officials in 2009 took a bold step, constructing a $20 million, 52,000-square-foot hospital. In 2013, Mercy Oklahoma – which had managed the facility since 2011 – agreed to lease the now Mercy Hospital Kingfisher.
It was in that climate Russell-Murray Hospice decided to expand into the Kingfisher area. Now in its 30th year, the non-profit has for many years served the rural community; with the new office – and hiring local nurses and other staff members – RMH ramped up its commitment not only to Kingfisher proper, but also to small towns like Hennessey, Dover, Loyal, Cashion, Alpha, Omega and many more, as well as those families who lived on farms and other even more isolated areas.
“We wanted to make sure we provided access to care to families in about a 75-mile radius from each of our offices – so, of course, Kingfisher also has some overlap with our home base (El Reno), but there are many people surrounding Kingfisher that have had issues with getting hospice care, just because it’s not near the Oklahoma City metro or any of the larger cities,” RMH founder and executive director Vicki Myers said. “It was a smart decision we’ve never regretted.”
Joining Russell-Murray was something Harris said she never regretted either – it was a chance for her to find yet another home, with people she said provided inspiration and support her every day – support that led her to begin working toward her registered nursing degree at Oklahoma State University OKC.
“It can be hard sometimes to work in hospice because you lose people, it’s just part of the job – but, it’s so special to be able to make that final time special and safe and to help the family get through it too,” Harris said. “Then there’s my family here and it’s thanks to the love and support from my amazing boyfriend, Tracy.”
“What I get from all of them is more than I can say,” she said.