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Community Spirit

Patient Care Still A Focus For Longtime Nurse

Emelia Harley, UPMC Chautauqua vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer, is pictured this week inside the hospital’s emergency department. Harley has been a nurse for nearly 40 years. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

In her nearly 40-year career working inside hospitals, Emelia Harley has seen just about everything.

COVID-19, however, proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime battle for first responders, especially at the onset of the pandemic when it appeared local hospitals may be inundated with patients and supplies becoming scarce. Those days have since passed as hospitalization rates in Chautauqua County have remained low and personal protection equipment plentiful.

Those early days still stand out to Harley, UPMC Chautauqua’s vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer.

“COVID was a game-changer,” she said with Nurses Week approaching. “It was a very, very difficult time, and it pushed everyone to their limits. I’m very proud of our team here who jumped in feet-first. Really, everyone just gave their best — not just here in the hospital, but in the community.”

Harley graduated from Jamestown High School in 1977. When it came time to picking a career, Harley knew she wanted to do something that would “give back to the community.” She said, “Nursing is one of those careers, and it’s a joy, that you can pick multiple specialties. You can choose different shifts and move into different specialties.”

Harley stayed close to home after high school, attending Jamestown Community College where she received her nursing degree in 1979.

After moving away for a few years, Harley returned to Jamestown and began working as a registered nurse at WCA Hospital in 1983. During her tenure, she has worked in just about every department, including the cardiology and intensive care units. She also served as a nursing supervisor for a few years.

Harley took a five-year hiatus before returning to the Jamestown hospital in 2000 in the emergency department. She then began a track to upper management, and currently oversees hundreds of employees.

The city native was asked of her career as a nurse, specifically what has changed in the last 40 years and what has remained the same.

“Ultimately, what has stayed the same, it’s that we’re a community hospital,” she said. “It’s the reason I enjoy being here, and I’m not just saying that. It’s the opportunity to make sure patient care is a focus. We’re caring for our friends, our family, our community. That, in and of itself, has stayed the same. We’ve kept that focus, and that hasn’t changed. Our focus has only gotten stronger.”

Of course, the nursing field has evolved in the last four decades. For one, Harley said, “The role of nurses has changed. It’s been tech-driven health care changes. There are almost changes every minute, and with COVID, millisecond to millisecond. It’s constant change.”

In her early years inside the hospital, Harley said it appeared as if significant changes came much slower. The pace of that change, driven by recent advances in technology and medicine, as “definitely ramped up.” Case-in-point, she noted, is how fast viable vaccinations to COVID-19 were developed and rolled out across the world.

“It usually took years to get vaccines on the market,” she said.

With Nurses Week approaching, Harley said it is important to recognize those who continue to put in the hours and help others. She said at the beginning of the pandemic there were several events to thank local heroes.

“This work,” she said, “they’ve been doing it every day. They give 100% to their friends, neighbors and our community.”

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