Meet Nursing Hero Helen Yoxon

Helen (Florence) Yoxon

Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)

Nursing heroes: are they born or are they made? Perhaps nursing heroes show up just when you need them most.

It was late April 2020 when reports began surfacing of the dire situation in the city within long term care facilities hardest hit by the pandemic. The homes were struggling. Residents were suffering and dying.  Staff were off sick or exhausted from the demands. Our facility was asked to support a local long term care facility meet the needs of the residents. Yikes, we are a pediatric hospital! What do we know about caring for the elderly? Where do we start? “How Can I Help?” came a cry from Helen Yoxon, our well-loved and seasoned Nurse Manager of our Palliative Care program and also Manager at our sister facility, Roger Neilson House, a pediatric palliative care home. Before we knew it, Helen’s charismatic enthusiasm and gentle but firm power of persuasion had a plan taking shape. Using a list of interested volunteer staff, Helen called each staff individually explaining the situation, the roles she was trying to fill and worked with the staff to find a suitable schedule. Managers who were reluctant to release staff to volunteer for long term care were won over by Helen’s relentless determination, positive attitude and her passion to help our elderly. Within days, Helen had built a schedule. She called staff before their shift and after their shift. She asked “How did it go? How can I help you? Do you have what you need?” A site visit soon followed. “I want to make sure the staff are ok and that they feel safe. This is all so new for them. I want them to know someone is there for them.”

Soon after, Helen was a regular presence in the home spending afternoons supporting the leadership and the staff.  As new leaders from the long term care corporate office arrived on site to support the home, Helen introduced them to staff and updated them on work to date and work still outstanding. She rounded on the units checking on staff.  When she saw staffing gaps she worked with our adult hospital partner and called staff to help fill the need. She helped identify opportunities for improvement for instance identifying low inventory of critical supplies and making calls to secure what was needed. She delivered PPE to the units and even helped housekeeping staff hang newly washed curtains. Helen continued her on-site support even through the weekends.  For five  weeks she was at the home almost seven-days- a- week, tireless in her dedication to make a difference for the residents. “I want to see this through. This is so important!”  she said.

As the outbreak wore on, Helen began to see the toll the experience in the home was taking on the residents, staff and families. She rallied a Social Worker colleague to provide support to grieving families. Helen also attended family council meetings. She arranged debrief sessions for staff to give them the opportunity to talk about the challenges of caring for residents – the living and the dying. Many of the hospital staff volunteering for the long-term care assignment were early in their career. Helen encouraged them, helped give perspective and ensured they knew the work they were doing was valuable and extremely important. Helen recognized the staff had to collectively grieve the passing of colleagues during the pandemic. She worked with spiritual support to arrange a memorial. In preparation, she bagged debris left over from the winter and called in a gardener to help prepare the grounds. The ceremony was simple, touching and extremely important to the staff. It would not have happened without Helen’s compassion, leadership and hard work.

While it took a team from our facility, our adult partner hospital as well as staff and leaders from the long-term care facility to help the home declare the outbreak over, Helen was the glue pulling the pieces together. She inspired all of us with her hard work, commitment, resolve and resiliency. She was respectful and professional in all her dealings. She exemplified compassion and kindness in her attitude towards resident care and staff support. She showed grace under pressure. Helen left the home in a stronger place and truly went above and beyond the call of duty in her support during a very challenging time.

Helen,  as a seasoned RN will retire one day. She will look back on her years as a front line RPN, RN, unit Care Facilitator, Trauma Coordinator and Manager. She will remember the young nurses she supported and the patients and families she consoled. She will remember the time she spent in a long-term care facility during the 2020 pandemic. These will be chapters in the story of her nursing career. But Helen will also be a chapter in the lives of those she touched during COVID-19. Long-term care team members, leaders, residents and families will remember Helen. Her pediatric and adult hospital colleagues who were asked to help the long-term care facility will remember Helen. We will all remember and we will be grateful that Helen came by with her hero cape just when we needed her most.

Nominated by:

Mary MacNeil
Director Nursing Practice, Education & Clinical Technology,  Simulation Program, Vascular Access Team and Scheduling Office CHEO