Meet Nursing Hero Wonica Cross

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When we showed the description to some of ‘ patients and their family members and to her co-workers, each one’s face brightened up. “Yes, that’s Wonica!” several exclaimed. They also welcomed the opportunity to recognize a truly exceptional nurse.

The patients and staff from the West Park Health care Centre Chronic Assisted Ventilatory Unit (CAVC) are delighted to nominate Wonica Cross, RPN as a Nursing Hero. Wonica came to West Park in 1980 and worked on four other West Park units until June 2004, when she joined CAVC.

Patients on CAVC need lifesaving mechanical ventilation support 24/7, and for as many as 40 of them the unit becomes a permanent home. The patients depend on the staff for almost all their daily activities, and staff members say a person “has to have something special” to work on the unit. Wonica has that something special plus even more.

Wonica is completely dedicated and committed to patients and not only to the ones assigned to her. It’s her personal responsibility to see that all patients are taken care of, and this care includes even small details. Patients call her pleasant and attentive to their needs and feelings. She never seems to be in a hurry or to rush. At the end of the day, she makes sure they are comfortable, their surroundings are safe, and everything they need is available.

Wonica will do anything for a patient. At the end of a shift, when coats are on and purses in hand, if she sees a patient needing help or looking sad, she doesn’t think twice about what time it is or whose responsibility it is, but goes to the patient to see what she can do. The shift can’t end and she can’t leave until she knows the needs of all patients are met. She’s also generous in other ways -sometimes buying shampoo, body wash, and other toiletries and supplies for patients or even using some of her own money so a patient won’t miss out on an ice cream treat.

Patients find her encouraging, supportive, and easy to talk to. One patient summed it up as, “I like the way she does her job.” Another patient called her “motivating” and commented that her positive attitude “makes you feel positive” and that people like her make living in a hospital environment bearable and even enjoyable. We can think of no higher praise from someone who calls a hospital his home. This same patient added that if he were not living at West Park, he would feel fortunate to have Wonica as a friend.

Communication is one of Wonica’s outstanding skills. She listens carefully and asks patients questions that respect their dignity: Are they ready to be washed or dressed, or would they rather wait until later? What would they like to wear? She uses the appropriate tools and her own sensitivity to reach out and respond to the patients who can’t communicate verbally. She carefully watches their eyes and how their expressions change and knows what they are feeling and what they want to say.

She is a keen and empathetic observer. If she notices any changes in a patient, or sees anything that might be concerning, she goes immediately to the unit’s charge nurse, who says her assessments are invariably “right on.”

Family members are grateful to Wonica. One called her a “gem” and commented that Wonica treated her mother like a member of her own family. Wonica “does everything a family member would do” and never seems to forget anything. She even taught the family member the best way to soak her mother’s feet. This family member added that as soon as her mother sees Wonica, she immediately smiles. Wonica’s co-workers call her “awesome.” Just as she is with all patients, she’s helpful and respectful to all staff, even giving up her break to help a co-worker. She’s a team player in every sense, and even the patients know that everyone wants to work with her. As one co-worker put it, “If I’m ever sick one day, I’d want her to be my nurse.”

Wonica leads as she works- humbly, subtly, and effectively. She doesn’t talk about what she does, but leads by example and by action – “buddying up” to mentor and help a new nurse adapt to the patients and the unit, supporting a struggling co-worker, and teaching and sharing what she knows. Students, as well as both new and experienced nurses, are comfortable going to her for help or with questions.

When we talked with patients, family members, and co-workers, we were struck by the similarities in what they said. They all saw her as a caring person- representing the best in the nursing profession – and talked about her kindness, compassion, gentleness, and tact, as well as her calmness and composure. No one had ever seen her flustered, angry, or even in a bad mood. No one had heard her raise her voice, utter a harsh word or complaint, or be involved in an argument.

A constant theme was Wonica’s professionalism. Some CAVC patients live on the unit for years. Bonds between patients and staff are strong, and staff members are often patients’ links to the outside world. Yet Wonica manages to remain simultaneously empathetic and professional. When a patient died suddenly and unexpectedly, the staff and the other patients were devastated. Wonica was one of the first nurses who immediately stepped in and, after hugging another nurse, fought back her own tears and did what had to be done. One patient who witnessed them said simply, “You guys are amazing.”

Thank you for considering Wonica Cross for this well-deserved honour.

Nominated by:

The patients and staff from the West Park Health care Centre Chronic Assisted Ventilatory Unit(CAVC).