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Health nurses were assets to community

GAYS MILLS - I have to admit, I was among the Crawford County residents who were completely floored with shock to find out Gloria Wall and Judy Powell had left our health department.

Through my work at the newspaper, I’ve gotten to know both ladies pretty well. I’ve called to get their opinion for stories on everything from flu shots to poisonous parsnip. 

They’ve always been there to lend their expertise to not only me, but also anyone in the community.

When my little boy came back with a slightly elevated lead level due to exposure to some paint in the house, it was Judy who called and followed up with me. She told me about her personal experiences, and shared all the knowledge she could about abatement, dietary changes to help his body detox, and reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. When his lead level went down right after we eliminated the source, it was also Judy who rejoiced with me.

When Thatcher was taken to his first WIC appointment, Judy and Gloria were there, remembering his announcement from the paper. They also commented approvingly on his chubby thighs and my choice to breastfeed him, before ensuring that I was able to navigate the county administration building and had access to a well-testing kit.

When Thatcher was carried off in the ambulance at 4:30 a.m. recently, Gloria was there taking his vitals and talking softly to him, because, if you weren’t already aware, Gloria is also a dedicated member of the Ocooch Mountain Rescue Squad. She spends her Saturday nights at the station in case she’s needed.

If you called Gloria at her office in Prairie, and didn’t catch her directly, she offered several other numbers including her home line where you could catch her.

Over the years, they both have called Charley and I, as well as many other community members, to get a variety of ideas for how they can serve the community better. They wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything when they were making their plan for tackling public health for the year.

The point being that the service and dedication to Crawford County that has been provided by these two women is astonishing.

Public health nursing isn’t a glamorous job, from what I can tell. Nor, really, is nursing in general. It’s not only difficult, trying, but also often times overworked, and underpaid—not to mention short-handed.

The Wisconsin Center for Nursing noted, “In Wisconsin and across the country, one of the greatest workforce challenges facing the health care industry and employers as a whole-is a shortage of registered nurses.” 

In other words, it’s going to be tough to replace the two women that were lost.

The county cited the firing of Judy Powell for time theft. Wall has been “retired,” but that situation is linked to giving Powell the permission to take that vacation time.

In reading the story that Charley wrote, the whole situation just doesn’t sit right. The entire board wasn’t fully informed of the reason for the vote to terminate Powell. To me, getting handed a piece of paper with “two or three sentences on it and the names of two people,” sure doesn’t tell you a lot when you’re expected to decide a veteran county employee’s fate.

As reported in last week’s story, “The issue appears to be Powell taking her vacation time past the deadline with the permission of her supervisor Wall. Judy Powell explained as an 18-year veteran of Crawford County Public Health Department, she is entitled to 151 hours of vacation. As the year and a three-month extension on the deadline approached, she had only used 60 hours of her 151 hours. So, she went to Wall with the problem. As the director of the department, Wall waived the use of the vacation past the deadline, because she believed the matter fell under doing what is necessary to run her department.

So to reiterate my point about nurses, if you know a nurse, you know they’ve been overworked, usually from the minute they graduate from nursing school. Judy Powell seems to be no different, working long hours to get done what needed to be handled, which I’m sure led to her never taking much of her vacation time.

Why did the county basically force one pillar of our community into early retirement and end things with the other in a way that made her look like a criminal?

To reiterate the question raised in the story “Is taking an earned vacation past a deadline with the permission of your supervisor theft?” Especially when you typically go above and beyond the call of duty? It’s difficult for many of us to wrap our heads around that. From those with whom I’ve talked, and feedback from the story on Facebook, the general feelings about the county’s decision are not very positive.

Although I hope Gloria enjoys her retirement, I am sad for her that it had to come about this way. And I am deeply disappointed that Judy Powell is being made to look like a criminal- something she most certainly is not. I don’t know too many people that are as straight shooting as Powell, and also endlessly realistic, practical and compassionate.

Judy Powell is everything we could hope to have in someone serving our community. Although I am sad she will no longer be serving our county, I wish her the best in her future endeavors. Wherever she lands, they will be lucky to have her aboard.

I do strongly feel that Crawford County made a huge mistake pushing out two veteran registered nurses who were not only knowledgeable, intelligent women, but also incredibly passionate about the health and wellbeing of their community. The county will be extremely hard-pressed to find anyone to fill their shoes, if they’re able to find anyone at all.