Outstanding Nurse Retires
“Treat people like they are your family.”
Bertha Flagg was a senior in high school when her English teacher and mentor asked what she wanted to do with her life, and unlike many of us at that age, Bertha knew exactly what she wanted to do: she wanted to be a nurse.
With some help from her mentor, she registered for classes at the University of Maine at Augusta, and as the youngest of 13 children, she became the first to attend college.
After graduation, she began her career in the per diem pool at Franklin Memorial Hospital, eventually taking a full-time position with St. Mary’s, working 12-hour night shifts on the dialysis floor. Bertha found her true north in nursing, and going above and beyond for her patients came easily to her.
In 1993, Bertha found her home here with Androscoggin Home Healthcare + Hospice and relished the opportunity to care for patients in their homes, though it did come with some new challenges for her. She remembers going to the office each morning and grabbing six to seven charts for the day. She would leave a list of that day’s patients with the office and head out. If any of her patients canceled, the office staff would call her most recent visit to see if she was still there to receive the message, and she wasn’t always caught in time; however, advancements in technology were not far off.
Soon, they moved to pagers, then Palm Pilots, and now tablets and cell phones. These tools facilitate easy access to patient information and medical records and provide ease of communication, greatly improving patient care efficiency.
Some technological changes were more troublesome for Bertha, like the Palm Pilot, but she regarded others, like the VAX, which extended daily wound care by three days, as “a work of art.”
Whatever the job threw her way, Bertha never lost her passion for providing care. Lisa Avery, Androscoggin’s Director of Home Health Services, remembers a time when a new patient had just been discharged from a lengthy hospital stay. The local food bank generously donated an 18-pound frozen turkey to the patient, and Bertha had the compassion and forethought to realize this patient was in no condition to prepare and cook such a meal. She left immediately to pick up a small load of groceries for the patient and coordinated weekly shopping trips with our volunteer department.
Julie Tracey, R.N. and Clinical Manager shares memories of Bertha using her weekends and off hours to help patients clean their homes and bring them lamps and other household items to help aid in her care and their comfort. “Bertha sets the bar high,” Julie remarks.
She finds so much joy in being approached by former patients and their families, even in the grocery store; hearing them say, “You probably don’t remember me, but you took care of my mother,” is her favorite reminder of how impactful her work has been.
Out of everything Bertha did for her patients, she believed the most impactful way to help someone was to educate them. She was not only there to help treat and dress wounds or other illnesses; she empowered her patients by educating them to care for their ailments and even live with their illnesses. She also believed educating the patient’s family and friends was equally important. This may involve teaching them about wound care, medication administration, symptom management, and any other specific needs the patient may have.
Outside of the patient scope, Bertha also taught other nurses how to treat each patient like they were their own family. By the end of her career, it was evident that Bertha had not only been a nurse but also a teacher.
And, so, with kindness and guidance from her teacher, Bertha embarked on a 38-year nursing career, “loving every minute of it” and returning the favor over and over again.