The Real Story: Courtney Clarke, RN
Courtney Clarke is a nurse at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset Kentucky and her efforts to help a patient and protect her kids during treatment made such an impact that she was recognized by the state’s governor. The Federation’s new campaign is embarking on a mission to tell The Real Story of hospitals through the eyes of patients and caregivers. Courtney’s story is our first. Learn more about The Real Story at fah.org/TheRealStory.
Speaker 1 (00:05):
Welcome to Hospitals in Focus, from the Federation of American Hospitals. Here’s your host, Chip Kahn.
Chip Kahn (00:14):
Hospitals aren’t just the four walls of a building, they are integral parts of a community infrastructure, as are the caregivers who live in the community and support this critical resource that makes the community stronger. The Federation is embarking on a new campaign to tell the real story of hospitals through the eyes of patients and caregivers. And that is where we begin today, with the compelling story of a caregiver who went above and beyond to meet the needs of a patient and her family. Healthcare providers and clinicians start every day, ready to deliver high quality, compassionate care to all who come through the doors of their hospital. These caregivers from respiratory therapists, to emergency room technicians, to pharmacists, and especially nurses make a difference in the lives of their patients. Sometimes it is the care. Sometimes it is through small acts of kindness, like making sure there is ice water next to the bed, or lending a listening ear when someone is lonely or scared. These are times when individual caregivers are called to do something bigger and become true healthcare heroes.
One of those heroes is joining me today, Courtney Clarke. She works at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset, Kentucky. And Courtney’s efforts to help a patient and protect her kids made such an impact she was recognized by the state’s Governors. It is a tale of true caring, true community service. This is the kind of nurse you want in your corner. Courtney joins me today to help us tell the real story. Thanks for being here.
Courtney Clarke (01:55):
Hey Chip, thank you so much for having me. This is truly an honor, I appreciate it.
Chip Kahn (01:59):
Great. Well let’s just get started. How long have you been a nurse?
Courtney Clarke (02:04):
I’ve actually been an employee at Lake Cumberland Regional going on 10 years. But I kind of want to tell my journey here at Lake Cumberland because I think that’s really important too. I started as a CNA or a nurse’s aid and Lake Cumberland helped me get through school. So they paid for my LPN program, they also paid for my RN program as well. So they helped me advance in the medical field, which was my dream. But as far as being a nurse, like you had said, I have been a nurse for almost seven years.
Chip Kahn (02:37):
Gosh. So what inspired you to pursue the career and go through all those years of training?
Courtney Clarke (02:44):
It’s kind of funny, my mom has always said she knew that I was going to be a nurse or somehow be a caregiver, even from when I was a young child. She tells the story all the time, to me it gets old, but to others they sure like to listen to it and get a kick out of it. But my mom said, “You always had such a big heart, even from the time you were a very small child. If anyone fell or scraped their knee, you were the first one to run. And if they had blood, that didn’t bother you. You were okay with that. And you were comfortable with that.”
But she tells the story of when I had brought a frog to my mom and my mom’s like, “Okay, what would you like for me to do with this?” And I was throwing rocks and accidentally threw a rock on this frog and it had a little cut on it. So I brought the frog to my mom and I asked for needle and a thread because I wanted to sew it back up. So I can honestly say, for as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed lending a hand. Whether it be to someone sick or whether it’s just being a listener. I enjoy giving back to others.
Chip Kahn (03:53):
That’s just a great start for us today. So glad to hear that this has been something that’s always been with you. I mentioned earlier that there was a day a little while ago where you went above and beyond the call of duty. Can you tell me about how that day started and how you got into helping that day?
Courtney Clarke (04:14):
So what started as a typical day, I was in my office doing some of my daily routine work and I received a phone call from the Emergency Department Director who said they had an interesting situation and the patient was going to be admitted to my department and we were going to have to accommodate for this family. The department that I worked in at the time, we admit anywhere from probably 12 to 15 patients a day. So there’s often a lot of scenarios that we have to navigate through how to help this family or this patient in certain situations. So to me, I just thought it would be another small little bump in the road and would be fine.
Then she started explaining to me that the patient was a mother who had only been in the area for about two weeks. And the biggest concern for her was her children. Her children were actually… It was during school of hours so the children were at school. But she told the ER that she was going to need to leave soon to pick her children up from school. And the doctor strongly advised her not to leave. Her blood levels were so critically low that they feared if she had left there was a strong chance that she may not make it back. There’s always parameters and numbers as far as what is considered normal or abnormal and hers were critically abnormal just to paint a better picture.
So the patient was actually going to leave. She was like, “I don’t care about myself. I need to go to my children.” So I was able to go down and had a discussion with her and we actually were able to work something out and get approval from the patient and the school that an employee here was able to go get her children from school for her. Which typically we have to be careful about how we handle situations like that. We don’t normally go pick a patient’s children up, that’s a touchy area. But under the circumstance we contacted our quality department, it was okay from their standpoint also. We just knew that we had to help this patient, this mother get her children so she could worry and focus on herself because that was truly the most important for us at that time was getting her taken care of.
Once we got that part ironed out, I contacted our environmental services because our rooms on this department typically just have one bed, it’s a standard hospital room. We had to accommodate for the patient and her three children. So we were able to round up some extra beds, so we put four beds in the room. I contacted dietary services to let them know that we would need an additional three trays sent up per meal while she was present in the hospital. They brought up all sorts of snacks and drinks so that the children would be as comfortable as they could be while they were here. So once the children arrived from school, they were a little emotional, as in not expecting to see their mom laying in a hospital bed. Because a few short hours ago, to them she appeared fine. So we were there to support them and comfort them during those moments until they collectively got themselves together.
Chip Kahn (07:41):
So Courtney, clearly as you pointed out, this would’ve been traumatic for any family. But them being new to the community, it must have been a particular difficult situation for the kids. And the mother must have been very stressed.
Courtney Clarke (07:57):
Correct, yes. And like I had mentioned, they had only been here locally for two weeks. They moved, they had just moved from another state. Her husband was currently deployed at that time in Afghanistan. He was an active member in the military. So he could not be there for her also, which I think added an extra stressor for her. She actually was able to FaceTime her husband and I got to speak with him during the admission portion of her stay. And I explained to him what we had going on.
Chip Kahn (08:31):
So you really provided, you and the others at the hospital, really provided the complete backup for the family while the mother was in the hospital. Obviously this is an unusual situation. How far did you carry it? What did you all do for the kids?
Courtney Clarke (08:47):
Yeah, so I’m a mother too, and I think that’s why this tugged at my heart string maybe just a little bit more, because I put myself in her situation. I would want my kids, even though in an unfamiliar situation and area, I would want my kids to try to continue on as much as normal, see because that’s important for kids. So I arranged transportation. I would take them to school in the mornings, I would pick them up from school. So I rallied up with a couple extra staff here at the hospital and we went to some stores and got them some clothing, some toiletries, things that they would need for them to get ready for school here and just things for them to feel as comfortable in a hospital as possible, which is usually not very easy to do.
Chip Kahn (09:34):
I guess the hospital administration must have really been flexible to let the kids up on the floor. I assume that was unusual too?
Courtney Clarke (09:40):
Right. And as I mentioned, with the safety and quality end as well, this isn’t something that we normally would allow. But under this certain circumstance, all forces had to come together. Everybody had to pull in and we had to find a way to accommodate for this family, especially being new members to the community. What a way to really show and set an example of, you’ve come to a good place. We’re here, we’re going to take care of you. Whether you’re in the hospital or whether I see you out at Walmart, I’m going to shake your hand and give you a hug. So we really had to set the bar high, especially for this family and this situation.
Chip Kahn (10:20):
Well that’s really terrific. Particularly with the father serving in the military, it’s particularly difficult, I’m sure, for the family and the fact that he couldn’t come back. How did it all come out in the end?
Courtney Clarke (10:32):
So in the end, the patient was discharged three days later. She did have to receive a few blood transfusions and have a procedure, but all was well with her. Also how this came full circle is, the patient was from a different country. And we have a member here at the hospital whose wife is actually from the same area. So with the patient’s permission, I said “I know someone who is from the same area that you are, and if you would be willing, I would love to get you all together.”
That way she had someone that she could reach out to. Maybe feel a little bit more comfortable than maybe me or someone else. So it was really sweet to see the employee’s wife come in and when they met, because the patient was still in the hospital at the time, the bond and connection, you would’ve thought that they had known each other for years. They just hugged each other’s necks, they were both crying, and it was such a sweet and surreal moment as I seen that bond happen. And I felt a little bit better about myself,. Knowing that once she left here, even though her husband was still away, she now had a forever friend that would be there for her
Chip Kahn (11:50):
Courtney, that’s such a wonderful heart fulfilling and heart wrenching story, what this family went through. As I mentioned, the Governor cited you for this. How did the Governor find out? What happened there?
Courtney Clarke (12:02):
So several weeks after the patient was discharged from the hospital, the CEO of our hospital brought to me a letter and he was like, “This is addressed to you.” And I thought, “Oh my, what could this be?” But I opened, and to my surprise, it was a letter from Governor Andy Beshear, it was thanking not only me, but our hospital and community for helping this family during that time. So the husband, like I had mentioned, was deployed in Afghanistan. He reached out to the Governor via letter, commending and thanking this hospital and organization for what we had done to help her.
So it was a nice gesture, it was just the cherry on top I think to the whole situation. And it was nice to get that recognition because nurses do this on the daily. I’m honored to have done this and I would do it a million times over, but nurses around, not only in the nation, but the world, we do this on a daily basis. We go above and beyond for our patients. Not in the same way, but in other ways. So it’s nice every now and then to get that recognition, to know that, I had done something really good.
Chip Kahn (13:14):
Well, much deserved. And Courtney, I understand you got another letter, not just from the Governor. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Courtney Clarke (13:21):
Yes. So the patient’s three children wrote the most heartfelt letter I think I’ve ever read in my lifetime. Just thanking me for all that I did for them. I will say, every time I read it, I actually have it hung and I see it every day as I come in and out of my office, but I can’t help but get tearful each time that I look at that. Because of the bond that we have created since then, I consider those kids almost like my own. I would move heaven and earth. I would do anything for those kids. So it was such a sweet and kind gesture. And I will say they’re some of the sweetest kids that I’ve ever had the honor to meet.
Chip Kahn (14:05):
Well, that’s just a terrific story. And so appreciate your service Courtney for providing a situation where, one the patient could be cured, but two the patient could be made to feel part of the community that they live in. Let me ask you another question. How do you find… And clearly there was flexibility here on the part of your hospital managers. How is it working for an integrated system like Life Point Health and how does that enable you to be a better nurse?
Courtney Clarke (14:39):
Kind of how I had mentioned at the beginning, some think if you work for a big corporation, you’re just another person, you’re not really considered to be anything other than a number. But with Life Point, and I can say, especially here at Lake Cumberland Regional, you are more than just a number. You are a person, you’re identified as that person. And they truly look out for you and your best intentions all the time. And if it hadn’t been for this hospital, at the time I couldn’t have afforded to go to nursing school unless I had got student loans or some additional assistance. So I appreciate them and I feel that I couldn’t work at a better organization or facility.
Chip Kahn (15:25):
That’s great. And to close out Courtney, as you know, we are currently going through a period of shortage in terms of frontline nurses in much of the country. What would you say to someone who’s considering going into the nursing profession? Because we’re going to have to encourage men and women to get into that pipeline so that we can increase the number of nurses we have available in hospitals.
Courtney Clarke (15:52):
I would say, just do it. Follow your heart, that’s what I did, and it didn’t lead me astray. It led me to right where I needed to be. Nursing school I will say is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s definitely doable. You have to have a good support system and team with you, but if you’ve ever considered it before, and if you ever feel that in your heart or in your gut that’s what you’re meant to do, then that’s what you should do, you should follow that
Chip Kahn (16:18):
Courtney, again thank you so much for your service to your community. I’m honored to have spent some time with you, and it’s just so wonderful to hear a story, not only with a happy ending, but with a process that helped a patient, but more importantly, helped a family get through a very serious illness.
Courtney Clarke (16:36):
Thank you Chip.
Speaker 1 (16:43):
Thanks for listening to Hospitals in Focus from the Federation of American Hospitals. Learn more at fah.org. Follow the Federation on social media at FAH Hospitals and follow Chip at Chip Kahn. Please rate, review and subscribe to Hospitals in Focus. Join us next time for more in depth conversations with healthcare leaders.