Meet Nursing Hero Gabriella Golea!

Gabriella Golea, RN, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Healthnd in the Professional Practice Office.  They all speak of Gaby’s kindness and

As a nursing expert in the field of mental health nursing, Gabriella Golea, RN contributed much to the development of various nursing practices and policies at CAMH over a span of 30 years of dedicated service.  She helped establish CAMH’s very first Nursing Practice Council as a testimony to her belief that  nurses, regardless of their role across the organization, should have a say in decisions that affect their work life and the quality of care their patients receive. She has also been a strong advocate for the care of seniors with mental health and addiction issues, having played a pivotal role in establishing CAMH’s Geriatric Mental Health Program.

With the founding of CAMH in 1998, Gabriella (or “Gaby” as she has become known to staff and clients alike),  was charged by the Chief of Nursing at the time to develop a unifying vision and practice model for nursing within the organization’s interprofessional context.  This was no easy feat, since Gaby had to reach out to nurses across the four founding organizations that comprised the newly formed CAMH.  This was further complicated by the fact that some nurses and clinical areas did not have access to computers or e-mail. She connected with many nurses (and non-nurses too) the old-fashioned way–going out to meet them in person in their various units.

Once a new structure for nursing practice and expectations were drafted for the organization, Gaby participated in the development of ongoing education to help staff nurses adopt new practices and adjust to new expectations. As with any major change, some nurses were skeptical about, or slow to take up, new practices, which do doubt taxed both Gaby’s patience and resilience.  However, Gaby met each challenge with a cheerful demeanor and kept everyone focused on a common priority–excellent mental health care for all patients, families and communities.

Gaby then moved on to CAMH’s Geriatric Mental Health Program, a program that was floundering in the mid-2000’s.  Gaby worked tirelessly to raise practice standards in the program but also to attract both new recruits of all professional stripes, and additional funding to explore innovative interventions to support mentally-ill seniors outside the hospital and in the community at large.  Gaby helped to re-structure services using a playbook she called “creating a culture of care”.  Her playbook started with a simple vision:  “Everyone who touches the Geriatric Mental Health Program, whether a patient, a family member, a staff member, or a community member, leaves the program a better person”.  She regularly met with staff across units and outpatient clinics.  She shared their joys and cried with them during challenging or particularly trying times.  She attended countless weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, and recognition events of both staff and patients.  She also held the hand of a female patient with terminal cancer who died on one of the units–the patient had no family and did not want to die alone.  There were many other eulogies and memorials for patients and staff that Gaby attended; in fact, Gaby was often sought out to say a few words about the departed individuals because her words were always authentic, always kind, always compassionate.

In addition to her kind soul, Gaby has been an exemplary administrator. She recruited a superb management team and worked closely with them to define service priorities for the patient population in their care.  Gaby would often say that the 2 prerequisites she looked for in anyone she was recruiting was that they had to be nice and they had to be smart speaking to the need to have clinicians who were both human and compassionate in their approach to elderly patients, but who were also knowledgeable and armed with best practices and current skills in mental health elder care.

These issues are close to my heart because for the last two years of my mother’s life, I navigated the healthcare and seniors’ mental healthcare system in Toronto with her.  We experienced a system that was more about keeping people alive than about quality of that life.  I had heard about the great care that her Geriatric Mental Health Program had been providing.  I was initially reluctant to bring my mother to CAMH because I worked there, but, having exhausted numerous other care possibilities, I decided to approach Gaby.  From the start, I felt that Gaby had my mom and my family’s best interests in mind.  Gaby was always checking in with us.  No matter how busy her schedule, Gaby took the time to answer our questions, was always compassionate and sensitive to our needs. was always kind, caring and compassionate. I felt blessed that Gaby had entered our lives.

Her reputation in the geriatric mental health community extends beyond the walls of CAMH.  She was a founding member of the Nurses’ Special Interest Group within the International Psychogeriatric Association and her efforts contributed to new approaches to the care of seniors suffering from the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

I have also spoken to colleagues who have had the pleasure of working directly with Gaby and her team of professionals both in CAMH’s geriatric services and in the Professional Practice Office.  They all speak of Gaby’s kindness and compassion and steadfast focus on ensuring patient safety and quality of care in the mental health setting. I appreciate this opportunity to nominate Gabriella Golea in recognition of her contributions to improving mental health nursing practice and geriatric mental health nursing in our hospital, our city and beyond!

Nominated by: Aurora (“Rory”) Kohari