As President of the Board of Directors for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Southwest Missouri, I am honored to submit a DAISY Award nomination for the extraordinary Team of psychiatric nurses and behavioral health techs that can be found at Mercy in Springfield.
Nurses who have chosen psychiatry as their field of specialty are a unique lot. When asked by friends "What exactly do you do?" they always note the curious cynicism in which the question is asked. It is readily apparent that they are slightly surprised that someone would chose to spend their days surrounded by individuals who are struggling with mental illness, a bit negative, and a tad concerned -- as if to say "Why would you want to do that?"
Perhaps this speaks to the critical eye with which most of our culture views psychiatric illness. It is sad, unfortunate and undeserved. It has been my experience that stereotypes, labeling and judgments of all kinds often result from a lack of accurate information and even worse, false information. Healthcare, as a whole, has neglected to examine mental health to the degree that physical health has been attended to. The general public's knowledge is still very much lacking in the arena of mental health. I'll almost guarantee you that the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store is blind to the fact that suicide ranks third among the leading causes of death for adolescents and young adults.
What is unique about the psychiatric nursing team at Mercy is that it is evident they are not there just to treat a disease. They are there to treat the person. They do not see simply a diagnosis, but a real person -- a husband or wife, son or daughter, sister or brother, and a friend. Compassion, wisdom, skill, strength, support, hugs and tears - all are shared generously while people battle an illness they never asked for, and which is so intolerable to many. For some, the kindness they receive at Mercy is the first true kindness from another human being they have experienced in days, months, and even years.
Fighting symptoms of mental illness is a battle, a war that is fought with human emotion as much as with medications. Mercy is blessed with nurses who not only understand the battle, but are equipped with an arsenal of skills and a fearless, tireless dedication. They face the battle with their patients at every step.
But it doesn't end there. At the end of the day, these special nurses and behavioral health techs are emotionally drained and exhausted. If you have ever spent an entire day in the company of someone who is struggling with mental illness, you would understand how much energy that takes. Yet they don't slip out of their rubber soled shoes at the end of the day and call it good. Understanding these patients are discharged back into a world that can be beyond cruel, they dedicate more time to the community they call home, striving to make life better for others.
They are very actively involved with NAMI, providing hundreds of hours each year in volunteer time. They help us marshal the 18th hole at the annual Price Cutter Charity Championship each year - an event always held in August, and almost always unbearably hot. They donate time and finances for our annual car raffle as part of that benefit. Each year, they provide at least four large themed baskets for our annual banquet and silent auction. In the Spring, we can count on their help for our annual "Miles for Minds" walk, a fundraising event which has been supported by Mercy nurses and psychiatric staff for many, many years. In the late summer, they can be counted on again to help us with the "Illuminate the Darkness" run which is entirely dedicated to suicide prevention and education. Mercy psychiatric nursing staff and their team host internal bake sales to benefit NAMI, as well as additional charities such as The Victim's Center, Ronald McDonald House, and Rare Breed. In fact, two very special behavioral health techs (Beth and Sherri) will spend all of their weekend baking, and on their day off, come in the Marian Center to sell these baked goods for charity proceeds. There are many other charities this team is involved with annually. What others would find exhausting, these individuals find exhilarating - to be part of a force that is a catalyst for positive change.
This team of truly amazing staff is led by an individual I am so honored to have serve on our Board of Directors, and am delighted to be able to call friend as well as colleague. Gail Cyr is dedicated not only to Mercy as her employer, but to the very values that comprise Mercy's mission. Gail does what is necessary to determine what is right - not necessarily what is popular; and is willing to pay the personal price to do the right thing or cause the right thing to be done. This generates not only the respect of her staff, but the admiration of patients and members of the community. She fully recognizes that Mercy's corporate strength will grow or diminish in proportion to and in tandem with the sense of well-being, security and worth of her colleagues and co-workers. They, in turn, embrace those same values with their peers and the patients they serve. These are not simply espoused values - they are the very core of what makes her the amazing leader of this team of professionals.
The mentally ill are the most vulnerable members of our communities. Even in today's enlightened environment, the stigmatism associated with mental illness abounds, and there are few that take up their cause or hurry to their defense. Yet Gail will staunchly do so, knowing that if their needs are not validated by those with such courage, few are likely to take her place. And others follow, encouraged by her true dedication in service to others.
Neither Gail, nor her team, will boast of their dedication to the "least of these," so it is incumbent upon members of the community, such as myself, to bring this amazing team to your attention. What they do for patients, the community, and the families of those struggling with mental illness is more important than words can describe. You cannot know what it means to a person diagnosed with a mental illness to have acceptance and support. So often it is the first thing that is taken from them and the very last thing restored. Gail and her team deserve to be recognized for all that they do each day that lightens the heavy loads of others.