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Veteran Harrison nurse receives distinguished career award

Kay BuitenveldHarrison Medical Center’s longtime employee, Kay Buitenveld, received a Distinguished Career Award at the end of March from the Northwest Organization of Nurse Executives. Buitenveld, who has worked at Harrison since 1978, is currently the director of acute care and has several units under her supervision, including women and children, surgical, orthopedic and complementary therapies.

“I feel very honored to receive this. It’s like getting your diamond ring for an engagement — it’s like the pearl in the oyster,” she says. “I’ve never been the pearl, more like the sand in the oyster. This is very special.”

The staff at Harrison who nominated her said it would take an entire novel to describe the impact Buitenveld’s career made and described her as a person who “lead by example rather than policy.” “Staff and managers emphasize Kay’s ability to delegate and get results, her uncanny interviewing skills — always finding the most compassionate and caring nurses, her gift of delivering a tough message with a soft touch and finally her winning smile that puts everyone at ease,” her nomination letter said.

Buitenveld got into the nursing field somewhat by happenstance. She worked as a CNA in a nursing home when a patient encouraged her to become a nurse instead. She followed that advice, enrolling into the two-year nursing program at Olympic College, then following up with a bachelor’s degree in health care and later a master’s degree in business.

She joined Harrison shortly after getting her nursing license, beginning her career at the hospital as a nurse on the night shift, and quickly was promoted to leadership roles. She became, in the words of one staff member, “a jack of all trades — part pharmacy technician, part labor nurse, part trauma nurse and full-time ‘fire fighter.’” About four years into her job, she took over a medical unit as supervisor, and her responsibilities expanded from there.

Credited with the creation of Harrison’s oncology unit, Buitenveld was instrumental in laying the foundation for today’s comprehensive cancer care at the hospital. She says she had a real passion for oncology care and when the oncologist on staff supported her idea, she made a business case to the administration for creating an oncology unit. Now, 100 percent of the staff who administer chemotherapy or bioagents have certification from the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) and about half have OCN certification (an accredited Oncology Nursing Certification).

About 10 years ago, Buitenveld helped fill yet another need: the Radiation Oncology Center. She was able to help design the center mixing input from providers with innovative design ideas such as quiet spaces, starlight access and peaceful setting. When it opened, the state-of-the-art center was the premier radiology facility in the area.

Buitenveld says what she has enjoyed the best in her more than 30 years in health care is the relationships with the patients, their families and staff. Although she has not been involved in direct patient care for about a decade, building relationships remains her daily focus, even through all the technological advances in the field.

Using a sense of humor has helped her regularly on the job. Even as she describes the challenge of giving up the oncology unit after 29 years, she says it was like being the mother whose babies grew up. She sometimes even got the “empty nest” feeling, she says. “The oncology unit has defined me as a person and has taught me so much,” she says. “I can think back over the years of so many things I’ve learned from the patients.”

She recalls a mother who slept on the floor next to her daughter because the hospital environment was not family-friendly. Buitenveld made sure that changed, so family and friends can stay overnight to be with their loved ones. She recalls sneaking in cats and dogs for patients who benefitted from pet therapy — until the staff got caught. That was the premise for launching the official pet therapy program, which is now part of complementary therapies at the hospital that also include art therapy, music therapy and aromatherapy.

A facilitator for the local breast cancer support group, Buitenveld was recently honored for more than 20 years of service to that group. Participants shared their memories in a book, each with stories on how it helped them cope through pain. That’s just one of the initiatives Buitenveld has had her hand in — she’s also helped start Bras for a Cause and Real Men Wear Pink, among other things.

Close to retirement, Buitenveld says patients will always be in her heart. “The patients is what all this has been about,” she says. “I wanted to make a change.”

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