2020 Excellence in Nursing Awards

In this, our sixth Excellence in Nursing Awards, we applaud thirteen incredible nursing professionals who stand on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Long-Term Care Nurses of the Year

Linda Peckham

Linda Peckham, BA, RN
Director of Nursing at Royal Forest Farm

How did you get into nursing?
In the late 1970s, I worked on a research project developing a cognitive skills manuals for patients who had cognitive impairment following a stroke. I found I really enjoyed working with this population. I also realized both their professional and family caregivers had very little understanding about cognitive loss and how it affected behavior. While working on this project, I had the opportunity to watch rehabilitation nurses and long-term nurses. I decided being a nurse would give me the opportunity to work closely with people with cognitive impairment and the symptoms of dementia, and hopefully make a difference.

What do you wish more people knew about your role as a long-term care nurse?
We care for our frail, vulnerable and often medically complex elders who deserve exceptional care. We are often expected to do this without the respect, support, resources and education needed. I value our elders, especially those with dementia. They have taught me what is important in life: to live in the moment and not to waste your precious time on this earth. To provide the care our elders deserve, our society’s values need to change. We need to understand the importance of our elders to our society and provide the changes needed to the systems caring for them.

What qualities do you think make for a good nurse?
A good nurse needs to have compassion and caring for those he/she is caring for. In long-term care, you become an important part of the lives of your patients. In fact, for many of them, the relationship they have with you may be the last in their lives. Many years ago, when I was working as a CNA, a nurse asked me to give care to a woman I had spent a lot of time with, who was dying. I told the nurse that I did not think I should be the one to give her care because I was afraid that I might start to cry. I have never forgotten her response: “When you stop crying, stop doing this job.”

What advice would you give to an aspiring long-term nurse?
Follow your passion and do not give up, no matter what others tell you. When I was in nursing school, one of my instructors asked me what I was going to do when I graduated. I told her I wanted to work in long-term care. Her response was, “That will be a waste of your talent.” I did not answer her, but I remember thinking, “Someday she may be an elder and I wonder if she would want a ‘talented nurse’ caring for her?”

Nominator buzz: “Linda is incredibly compassionate and skilled in working with residents, but what I see that is different in her is her focus. It is not only on the individual resident, but also on the family that loves the individual and who is also significantly affected by the life changes.” — Joanne Fawcett Costello, Rhode Island College School of Nursing

Unsung Heroes Graphic

Cindy Donahue
Cindy Donahue, RN
Director of Nursing at the Village at Waterman Lake

How did you get into nursing?
After high school, I initially went into computer programming, which is now ironic, seeing as how I am still what you might call ‘old school’ when it comes to technology. (My colleagues laugh when I write myself reminders on the back of my hand.) What really drove me away from computers and into nursing was how much I disliked that the former allowed me such little contact with people.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love being the residents’ advocate. There is a tremendous responsibility in being that for a person, never mind for so many people. But being in a position to vie for someone’s physical and emotional well-being and have a potentially meaningful effect on the quality of their life — well, it is an awesome responsibility. And, yes, it is extremely special and deeply rewarding.

Do you have any standout patient memories?
Once I was taking care of an older gentleman and after I had shaved him and put him into bed, he pulled the covers up and said, “I just don’t know what to do with this feeling, this feeling of you taking care of me.” I cannot explain the surge of warmth that went through my body in that moment, as this kind man was so moved by my caring for him. It just resonated with me. It still does. I promised to myself that day that I would always give the very best of myself to the people in my care. I believe I have stayed true to that promise.

What advice would you give to an aspiring long-term care nurse?
The residents have wonderful stories. Listen carefully. Learn about the person they were before they knew you as well as the life they lived that helped shape the individual they’ve become: a parent, a teacher, a laborer, someone who loved to travel, a homebody with lots of pets. Take the time to know them, to value their thoughts and their humanity. The residents teach me so much about the world, about life and about myself.

What effect has COVID-19 had on you as a nurse?
It was an incredibly difficult adjustment for all of us who work in the senior living industry. Yet, what will remain with me when this is all over is the remarkable spirit that shone so brightly from the people around me. I witnessed true examples of courage, leadership and teamwork on a daily basis. The entire experience, especially during the early stages of the outbreak, had moments of sheer heartbreak, including residents who lost loved ones and were unable to attend the funerals or even wave goodbye. However, despite these and the many other uncharted challenges, the Village team pulled together and said to each other — in spirit and in actions — “We can do this!” Our day-to-day duties required our continually shifting gears, thinking outside the box and being flexible as we fought to keep residents safe and, in many ways, became their families when they could no longer see their own loved ones. Looking back, we may someday wonder how we did it — the long hours, the weeks without a day off, the constant concern over residents’ emotional and physical needs, the non-stop determination to keep the virus at bay — but we will always know why. Because we love our residents and they needed us. What COVID-19 has proved to me is that when you take an already passionate and dedicated team of people and put them in a situation like that, amazing and inspiring things happen.