Celebrating and Recognizing Nurses
Alfredo G. Evangelista, Assistant Editor and Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Contributing Writer
Almost every Filipino family has someone working as a nurse or studying to be a nurse or knows a Filipino nurse. Nursing remains as much a calling as a profession. The American Nurses Association theme this year for National Nurses Week is “Nurses Make a Difference” while our neighbors up north, the Canadian Nurses Association are using “We Answer The Call.” Both themes capture the key role nurses play in our health care system, something illustrated daily during this pandemic.
National Nurses Week is now an entire month. Traditionally, it ran from May 6 through May 12, ending on the birthdate of Florence Nightingale, the “Founder of Modern Nursing.”
Maui is fortunate to have an active chapter of the 43-year-old Philippine Nurses Association of America, Inc. (PNAA), whose President’s message this month is “You Make a Difference.”
Organized and installed in May 2019–several months before the pandemic outbreak—the mission of the Philippine Nurses Association Maui Hawaii (PNAMHi) is to “uplift the positive image of the Filipino as a nurse; uphold the social welfare of its constituent members; promote and support professional excellence through education and community involvement; and contribute to significant outcomes for healthcare and society,” according to Christina “Lucy” Porte, the inaugural president of PNAMHi. The Maui Chapter became one of 55 chapters of the PNAA, which represents over 5,000 members nationwide.
On May 29, Angelina “Angie” Saiki will be installed as PNAMHi’s next president at a Gala Night dinner at the Maui Beach Hotel, along with the rest of the PNAMHi Board of Directors: Jeny Bissell, President-elect; Monica Natividad, Vice President; Veronica Sagun, Secretary; Aileen Concepcion, Assistant Secretary; Jeanylyn Onnagan, Treasurer; Mary Jane Asayo-Paet, Assistant Treasurer; Christina “Lucy” Porte, Auditor; and Directors Erwyn Bala, Rowena “Nikki” Baysa, Christine Gumpal, Rose Tumacder and Mary Jean Guira.
In just three years PNAMHi made significant contributions to Maui, including participating in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life; Maui Fil-Am Heritage Festival Health Fair; Christ the King Church Health and Wellness program; Christ the King Church Annual Bazaar First Aid Station; the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church Ka ‘Ohana Kitchen and Binhi at Ani’s Bayanihan Feeding Program. PNAMHi also supported Binhi at Ani’s monthly Bayanihan Food Distribution from its inception in May 2020.
PNAMHi also played a significant role with testing and vaccination clinics at Wailea Pharmacy, Paw, Mauliola Pharmacy, Department of Health, St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church, University of Hawai‘i Maui College and Binhi at Ani Filipino Community Center.
PNAMHi was also in the trenches fighting COVID-19 misinformation in the Filipino community.
“The members of PNAMHi have been instrumental in our Health & Wellness Program,” said Melen Agcolicol, president of Binhi at Ani. “Our Bayanihan Food Distribution, our Bayanihan Feeding Program and our Bakuna at Binhi at Ani Filipino Community Center needed support from the nurses and they have consistently supported Binhi, along with many other volunteers from our community.”
“I can’t change the world but I can make a difference in someone’s life,” explains Marceliza “Marcie” Luwalhati, a member of PNAMHi. Public Health nurse Jeny Bissell, who has been a nurse for thirty-four years, looks back at her career and says “It’s been a great journey, I met wonderful people in their darkest and brightest moments. I want to think I made a difference in someone’s life and I left them in a much better place.”
Bissell admits nursing was not her first career choice. “I wanted to be an accountant but I had a change of heart in college after a boring and uninspiring economics professor,” she explains. Similarly, Luwalhati wanted to be a psychologist but her family did not have the financial means to support her.
Other members (Sofia Cabias, Dione Cabias, Angelina Saiki) say it was the white uniform and cap that attracted them. Today, the uniform is more practical—scrubs in multiple colors. (Even the nursing students at UH Maui College have different color scrubs for each year: teal for the first-year students and burgundy for the second-year students.)
Sofia Cabias and other nurses came to the United States to seek a better life. The 1965 Immigration act opened the doors for family reunification and professionals like nurses to immigrate to the United States. Nurses educated and trained in foreign countries such as the Philippines, however, still had to pass a written exam to practice.
By the mid-1980s, Hawai‘i was experiencing a severe nursing shortage and statistics predicted Hawai‘i’s aging population would continue to rapidly increase. Then State Representative Romy Cachola introduced House Bill 2330 in 1988 wherein the Legislature determined [T]here is a need for a program which would immediately increase the number of licensed nurses in the State. There are many graduate nurses in Hawaii working as licensed practical nurses, nurses aids, ward clerks, doctor’s secretaries, and other similar nursing related work, who have not yet passed the written examination required for the commission on graduates of foreign nursing schools, or the written examination required by the state board of nursing, or both. The time demands of their occupation and other socioeconomic pressures prevent them from otherwise being able to prepare adequately for the licensing examinations. With some concerted assistance from the private sector and the State, these graduate nurses may be able to pass the written examination and become licensed nurses.
HB 2330 was signed into law by then Governor John Waihe‘e as Act 212, establishing a two-year pilot program called “Operation Nightingale” to design a review and training course to enable graduates of nursing schools to pass the required written examination. Operation Nightingale was later extended for another two years.
Bissell estimates about 75 percent of the Maui chapter members received training in the Philippines.
The pandemic exposed the continuing need for more nurses. Although UH Maui College offers a two-year Associate Science degree (ASN) which attracts approximately150 applicants, UH Maui College can only accept about 40 students due to the lack of faculty and the current budget. A significant number of the applicants and students are of Filipino ancestry.
“The nursing students at UH Maui College are doing well despite COVID,” said Assistant Professor Feliciana “Fely” Domingo Sales. “With COVID, we changed a lot of the teaching methods and many of our clinical partners closed their doors. We did a lot of simulation and initially we were worried at the lack of hands-on-clinicals but we were happy with the results of the high passing rates of the NCLEX exam.” Sales, who was born in Hawai‘i, received her Bachelor of Science from Northwestern College in the Philippines and has been teaching at the UH Maui College Nursing school for over fifteen years, where she is the only faculty member of Filipino ancestry.
Sales’ story is typical of the obstacles faced by foreign educated nurses. When she returned to Hawai‘i in 1996, she could not practice right away and had to start as a nurse aid while successfully proving her BSN from the Philippines was equivalent to a BSN in the United States. Sales initially took the LPN exam and passed and then took the RN exam and passed. She worked at Hale Makua for nine years and became the Charge Nurse. While working at Hale Makua, Sales received her Masters from the University of Phoenix.
Like Sales, many other nurses continued their education while working full-time. Monica Elaydo Natividad, the first Registered Nurse First Assistant of Filipino ancestry at Maui Memorial Hospital, achieved her BSN at Chamberlain University while working full-time. Sannah Kelly Evangelista, who started at Hale Makua, transferred to Maui Memorial Hostpital and is now at Kaiser, recently completed her BSN through online courses at Colorado Technical University. Both Natividad and Evangelista are beneficiaries of the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust.
The sheer determination of Sales and other nurses to excel, achieve and improve themselves despite the challenges are classic American dream stories. And they have not gone unrecognized, especially by the doctors.
“Each year during the week of May 6–12, we recognize the incredible individuals who work in the nursing profession for National Nurses Week. This year is even more remarkable as we emerge out of the devastating COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Errol Buntuyan, the Physician in Charge of Kaiser Maui’s Primary Care. “Nurses have endured an overwhelming amount of risk, work and sacrifice to care for our island community. At Kaiser on Maui, our nurses COVID tested and vaccinated countless numbers of patients, fielded tens of thousands of advice calls and e-mails, and provided direct patient care and supported their physician partners in the ambulatory clinics and MHS facilities.”
Buntuyan, who is also the president of the Philippine Association of Maui Doctors, says it best: “We are extremely grateful for our nurses as they continue to provide compassionate, kind and thoughtful care to all their patients. We appreciate and celebrate you!”
Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business start-up and consultation, nonprofit corporations, and litigation. He has been practicing law for 38 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica.
He is looking forward to attending the Installation Banquets of the Philippine Nurses Association of Hawaii on May 14 and the Philippine Nurses Association Maui Hawaii on May 29.
Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran contributed to this story.