The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

May 4, 2014

Raleigh General’s chief nursing officer makes impact on patient care

Beckley, West Virginia, might not have been in Alene Lewis’s long-term career goals when she became a nurse in 1976, but the Georgia native is right at home in her new position as vice-president and chief nursing officer at Raleigh General Hospital.

Lewis has spent the whole of her adult life in one of the nursing profession’s many channels, and for a lot of that time, she’s been learning about patient care, management and the business of modern medicine.

She was a registered nurse for just four years before heading back to school to become a nurse practitioner, and by the time she was 25, she was a nurse manager, or in 1980s terminology, a “head nurse.”

As she noticed other industries like aviation and manufacturing were using computers to increase productivity, Lewis went back to school again, this time in business productivity management. Lewis said the health care industry was slow to change to computer technology, and at first used them for only charge entries for supplies and lab work.

Now, the entire industry runs on electronic management, with patient records available to all health care providers and prescriptions sent electronically from doctors’ offices to pharmacies.

Lewis next went to Georgia State University and got a master’s degree in health care administration, with an emphasis in finance.

A move to New Mexico, a different set of circumstances, and Lewis was back in school to get her master’s in nursing.

If there’s a theme here, it’s one that has been a controversial topic since she first donned her nurse’s uniform.

“What is the right education for a nurse? That debate still goes on,” Lewis said. “I really thought when I graduated in 1976 I knew everything I needed to know. Young and naive. While I was technically sound, I made good decisions in patient care, but I didn’t necessarily understand all the science.”

Her understanding of the profession and how it is practiced and managed is much broader now.

She’s traded days in infant and pediatric care, which she did for a dozen years, for charts and graphs, for reports and budgets.

“At the end of the day we have to make the bottom line so we can continue to (provide health care) to our service area,” she said.

Part of that means knowing where 425 nurses at Raleigh General are going to be staffed, knowing what patients need to be  discharged or moved to another unit, knowing what new products should be evaluated and coaching nursing directors in different departments through a particular challenge.

“No two days are alike,” she said. And she does miss those baby days of nursing, but realizes that she’s where she needs to be for now.

“The job I’m in affords me to make a much bigger impact,” she said.

 — E-mail: ppritt@register-herald.com

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