“It just runs in the family”

Published 11:21 pm Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nursing is a family affair for this three-generation trio. As close-knit as they come, these women frequently host large family gatherings at mealtime, and can often be found laughing, joking and supporting each other when they are on duty together at the hospital. Together they have more than 60 years of nursing experience.

Nursing is a family affair for this three-generation trio. As close-knit as they come, these women frequently host large family gatherings at mealtime, and can often be found laughing, joking and supporting each other when they are on duty together at the hospital. Together they have more than 60 years of nursing experience.

Three generations of nurses on duty together at St. Luke’s Hospital


Written by Michael O’Hearn

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Photos submitted by Kathy Woodham and by Claire Sachse


With National Nurses Week occurring May 6 – 12, three nurses are happy to have each other both as coworkers and as family members at St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus, N.C.


Linda Splawn, who has worked at St. Luke’s for nearly 19 years, has her daughter Tracy Cates and granddaughter Mandy Cates working in the same building with her.


Because it is typical for each of these nurses to bounce around the different departments at St. Luke’s, running into each other is a frequent occurrence. The trio of nurses is playful, always cracking jokes and are as close-knit as any family seen on a comedy TV show.


“I was working at a plant at the time and wasn’t really happy with what I was doing,” Splawn explained, about how she came to St. Luke’s. “I was talked into taking some CNA classes and I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to do that or not,’ but I did and I liked it. I was sitting with a lady at Ridge Rest for about four years before she passed away before coming here and I love it.”


Tracy Cates, who has been a certified nursing assistant since 1989, said she entered the medical field when her great grandmother was working at a rest home that had a lady living at the facility who needed a sitter on the weekends.


“I was older when I started in life, and my mom has been a CNA for about the last 20 years of her life that she has worked,” Tracy Cates said. “It’s just what we do, I guess.”


Since then, Cates has also worked at Ridge Rest and the Tryon Estates retirement community in Columbus before coming to St. Luke’s in 2003. Her daughter, Mandy, has been with St. Luke’s since 2006 after graduating from Polk County High School. She obtained her associate degree in nursing at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, N.C.


“My dad wanted me to become a nurse, but I would have rather done something with horticulture or agriculture,” Mandy Cates said. “Around here, there are not many jobs like that, though.”


“I was accepted into the nursing program right after graduating high school,” Mandy explained. “Had I not been accepted so soon, I might have ended up doing something different.”


Working together at St. Luke’s is something each family member says they love especially since they are a close-knit family outside the hospital too. On Mondays through Thursdays, their family has 12-person dinners at their grandmother’s house, for example.


“We’re a close-knit family and just being here has been great,” Tracy Cates said. “Mom said when I started working here that I had to behave. I better not embarrass her or say anything rude and I said okay.”


Mandy said having the knowledge that her mother and grandmother work at St. Luke’s Hospital was comforting to her when she began in 2006.


“That was a must for me, having someone I knew when I started here,” Mandy Cates said. “It made me more comfortable since it was the first job I had ever had. It was a comfort thing to me.”


The trio of nurses has even seen some of the same patients, which is always interesting to them because the patients will know who they are due to it being a smaller hospital.


“Because this is such a rural area, you get a lot of the same ones who might come in for different things,” Tracy Cates said. “You get to know them and you remember them the next time they come and how they are. That tells you that something here that we do matters and that we have exceptional care.”


Should an issue present itself where one of the nurses doesn’t know what needs to be done, they feel like they can turn to each other for guidance.


“The patients think that’s really cool if they’ve had each of us,” Mandy Cates said. “If I don’t know the answer to a question, I could say, ‘I’ll go ask my mom and I’ll be right back.’”


Linda Splawn said her nearly 19 years of being in the hospital system has brought her a lot of changes, especially when it came to technology and in the surgery room. She didn’t know how to work the electronic medical records system when it was introduced because computers never interested her.


According to Kathy Woodham, one of the biggest changes for nurses has been the EMR system use to keep track of their patients, introduced in June 2012. This change affected Linda, Tracy and Mandy who had all been used to doing all of their charts on paper.


“It was a huge transition for such a small hospital such as this,” Mandy Cates, who has worked in the Information Technologies wing of the hospital, said. “I am just OCD enough to have everything exactly the way I wanted it, and the EMR system flipped my world upside down.”


Tracy Cates said these changes and learning how to adapt to them are part of working at a hospital for a long time like her mother, Linda, who had charts hanging outside on the walls of the patients’ rooms.


“As things change, you have to learn to adapt whether you agree with the changes,” Tracy Cates said. “You have these nurses who started out however long ago with paper charts, and you documented everything by hand. I don’t know how it will evolve further down the line.”


The feeling of family both between the Cates and Splawn and throughout the hospital is something each family member said they enjoy having at St. Luke’s Hospital.


“The tradition wasn’t necessarily to be a CNA but to always to take care of family,” Mandy Cates said. “My great grandmother was a CNA. My mom is a CNA. It just kind of runs in the family, it’s like second nature.”

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National Nurses Week May 6-12

According to the American Nurses Association, National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6 and ends on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday (1820-1910). The English nurse became known as the founder of professional nursing, especially due to her pioneering work during the Crimean War (1853-1856). National Nurses Week was first observed in October 1954, the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s mission to Crimea.


According to Kathy Woodham, director of public relations and marketing for St. Luke’s Hospital, the hospital has a total of 126 nurses including RNs, LPNs and CNAs.


“The nursing team at St. Luke’s Hospital is one that this community should be proud of,” Cathy Moore, St. Luke’s chief nursing officer, said. “Their knowledge, their compassion and concern for patients goes above and beyond. I hear it from patients every day, and it makes me extremely proud that St. Luke’s Hospital’s nurses provide exceptional care.”


During National Nurse’s Week, St. Luke’s Hospital’s media and public relations assistant Cody Owens said the nursing team will celebrate with engaging activities, including fun and friendly competitive games. Massages and a cookout in the hospital’s courtyard will also take place.


“It’s always a great time when everyone from various departments can share a meal and laughter together,” Owens said.