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Historic celebration for Providence facility

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Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Hospital
Kathy Mezzanotte, RN, began her career as a Rhode Island Hospital nurse in 1963 and now works as a per diem float nurse at the facility.

The research process for Barbara Riley, RN, MS, NEA-BC, has been both fascinating and eye-opening.

While looking back over the long history of Rhode Island Hospital, one of New England’s oldest facilities, RIH’s CNO discovered that her predecessors had a rather meager beginning.

“We found documents from the 1870s when hospitals didn’t have nurses, they had attendants, and many of them were men,” said Riley, who has been at RIH for 10 years. “Nursing was not looked at as a profession, it was an employment that didn’t need anything beyond a strong back and good moral character. Now we are looking at nursing students who don’t even get into programs without at 3.5 GPA.”

Riley is proud of how far RIH has come, both in recent years and through its storied history. The Providence facility kicked off its 150th anniversary celebration in November with the unveiling of its Legacy Timeline, which commemorates many of the hospital’s milestones since it opened in 1863.

As part of this year’s celebration of its 150th anniversary, the hospital unveiled the Legacy Timeline of historic moments in the facility’s history.

“It’s really been an interesting process,” said Riley, who also is serving as co-chairwoman of the celebration committee. “We’ve had an archivist going through things. We’ve had conversations with the alumni association. We found out when it started they recognized a need to have nurses and started a nursing school [in 1882]. There were 17 students enrolled in that first class.”

RIH employs more than 7,200 people and is the state’s largest hospital and only Level 1 trauma center. It has been at the forefront of many significant technological advancements involving operations and treatment.

In recent years, Riley said the hospital undertook the journey to achieve Magnet status, and she feels nurses have been instrumental in that process.

An artist’s rendering from the hospital’s archives shows how Rhode Island Hospital looked in its early days.

“There is a lot of infrastructure in place and procedures to get managers to a certain level,” Riley said. “We have encouraged nurses to go back [for schooling]. Our goal is to get 20% of our registered nurses certified. Five years ago, we had 1%.”

Kathy Mezzanotte, an RN who works as a per diem float nurse two days a week, has been with RIH for one-third of its existence. She started in the ICU in 1963, and has seen extensive changes in her 50 years there.

“When I started, we just had the main hospital and the Jane Brown unit, with private rooms that were really nice, like in big hotels,” Mezzanotte said. “Now we have the Co-op Building, the Bridge Building and a new emergency room. There are four buildings I float to. I enjoy taking care of people and working at Rhode Island Hospital. There will be a time when I step back, but I haven’t felt that tap on the shoulder yet.”

The other major changes Mezzanotte has seen at RIH involve technology.

In a 1938 clipping from the Providence Journal newspaper, three student nurses are pictured taking instruction from the hospital’s Superintendent of Nurses, Edna G. Myers, RN, at left. The students nurses were from Providence’s Pembroke College.

“There were different nurses who retired because of the computer,” Mezzanotte said. “When they brought computers in, one of my daughters asked me if I knew what a mouse was. I had the experience in nursing that I could help others out if they helped me with the technology. If it wasn’t for the hospital, I wouldn’t know how to use a computer or text.” •

Joseph Stevenson is a freelance writer.

LEARN MORE at RhodeIslandHospital.org or by following @RIHospital on Twitter.

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