Career in compassion concludes

November 14, 2000

Career in compassion concludes


Shirley Keller used a prescription for compassion to forge a 48-year nursing career in Washington County.

The Hagerstown native, who retired from her position as director of nursing at Julia Manor Health Care Center in Hagerstown on Oct. 31, opened the eighth floor of Washington County Hospital as head nurse there in 1955.

Keller oversaw the county's top medicine aide during her stint as director of nursing at the now-defunct Garlock Manor Health Care Center on Prospect Street - a first-ever honor for that facility, she said.

Two of her Julia Manor nurses were voted the county's top licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and one staff member was honored as the top certified nursing assistant (CNA) in Washington County, Keller said.


She helped turn the problem-plagued Garlock Manor into a deficiency-free facility for three years in a row before leading that center's patients and staff through a smooth transition into the newly opened Julia Manor, she said.

Keller opened the second floor of the health care center on Mill Street just prior to her retirement.

She said she has witnessed amazing advances in medical technology and the increasing stranglehold of insurance agencies and regulations.

But she said these milestones along her career path pale in comparison to her hands-on work with patients.

"A smile or a response from somebody who hasn't responded is the biggest reward of all," said Keller, 67. "A hug is unbelievable."

Less than one week after her retirement, she was back at Julia Manor swapping smiles and stories with her former co-workers and patients.

"I'm really going to miss it," Keller said. "These people are part of my family."

As a young nurse, she said she never thought she'd find such satisfaction from working with geriatric patients.

Keller's passion for elderly care was ignited during her nearly 12 years as evening supervisor and then assistant director of nursing at Homewood Retirement Community in Williamsport.

After working at Washington County Hospital and serving as a private duty nurse, she discovered that nursing home work still offered the opportunity for personalized care that other acute care facilities were abandoning, Keller said.

As federal and state regulations increased and insurance companies began "clamping down" in the 1960s, Keller said she watched hospital staffers "lose their insight for compassion."

She knew there was no place for her in the "cold" environment that she compares to an automotive body shop, she said.

Many hospitals today focus more on saving money by providing "assembly line" patient care than on the personalized health care that first attracted Keller to the profession, she said.

"It's sink or swim now, not just in Washington County, but in any hospital," she said. "You just cringe when (insurance companies) say, 'We can't pay it.' There's no longer any freedom for the physicians or the nurses to provide care without justification."

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