For 18 years, Isolina (“Izzy”) Pistolessi has worked as a nurse at Kaiser’s Falls Church Care Center, but she has done so much more. On the job, she is a mentor to other nurses, conducts outreach to the community, promotes public health, educates and cares for patients, and serves as a Local 400 shop steward. Off the job, she is a volunteer and leader with the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, and a union activist who recently participated in Local 400’s Lobby Day.
And now, she is being presented with Kaiser’s 2016 National Extraordinary Nurse Award!
This is a rare honor, and she is only the second nurse from Kaiser’s Mid-Atlantic Region to receive this recognition. She will be flown to California in May to accept her award.
“I’m very fortunate to work for Kaiser Permanente and do the work that I love to do—caring for patients and nurturing other nurses so they become better,” Izzy said. “And I’m proud to serve my co-workers as a shop steward. To receive this honor is a complete surprise—but it’s also wonderful.”
Izzy is engaged in so many activities, it’s hard to know where she finds the time. At Kaiser, she works in the internal medicine/family practice clinic and she teaches a class in diabetes to Spanish-speaking members every other month. “I talk about how diabetes affects your body, how to take medication, how to better care for yourself, how to identify symptoms, and how to keep track of your blood sugar so you don’t wind up going to emergency room,” she said.
As a member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, and secretary this year, Izzy and members of the organization have been involved in community programs like Feria de la Familia, a program where they provide blood pressure screening to members of the community and offer information on how to improve their health to underserved communities.
“I also participated in a program, inspired by Michelle Obama, called Movimiento,” she said. It is also sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. “A group of us spent a day at a Washington, D.C., public school, where we did a health fair and we taught children about proper nutrition, what foods to eat and the importance of exercise, as well as doing some exercise during the health fair,” Izzy explained.
Other organizations that Izzy has volunteered with as a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses’ D.C. chapter include the National Kidney Foundation and the American Diabetes Association, doing blood pressure screenings and education.
Izzy has also volunteered with the Fairfax County Medical Reserve Corps for the past 12 years. Started in the wake of the 2001 anthrax scare, the Medical Reserve Corps brings together medical professionals and community members to respond to public health emergencies in their communities.
Izzy became a shop steward approximately nine years ago. “I was asked to take on the role because they knew that I was vocal and passionate, and I had raised concerns that people had brought to my attention,” she said.
As shop steward, she works to resolve issues that arise, assists nurses with concerns, and engages in member recruitment. “I did new member orientation for a time,” she said. “We talked about not only the representation you get, but the benefits too—especially the free continuing education support that’s so important to nurses.” She also served as delegate in national Kaiser bargaining during previous contract negotiations.
Izzy participates in many Local 400 actions. She went to a Safeway store in Maryland prior to the most recent contract negotiations to let her sisters and brothers know Kaiser members had their backs. “I always shop at Safeway and Giant,” she said, “and I always wear my Local 400 pin. I wear it on the job at Kaiser, too, and it often leads to interesting discussions with my patients.”
She described her participation in the March 23rd Lobby Day as “a wonderful experience. I’d never done that before. The last time I’d been to the Capitol was a field trip when I was a junior in high school.”
“Lobby Day was well-organized and we made our presence known,” Izzy said. “We voiced our concerns and the representatives and senators we spoke with were glad to hear from us. It might have been a coincidence, but it was great that the day after we did this, the Republicans scrapped their bill to undo the Affordable Care Act. It was a worthwhile experience and I’d do it again.”
At the Lobby Day, Izzy spoke from first-hand experience about the patients she sees who gained health insurance for the first time thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and about immigration and her own remarkable life story. She was born in the Dominican Republic, but at age six, her family fled the country because the lives of her politically active parents were threatened during a time of upheaval. They first moved to New York and then settled in Northern Virginia, where her father worked for the Organization of American States and the World Bank.
“The point I made to members of Congress was that like my family, immigrants come to this country to seek safety and opportunity, not to steal or kill,” Izzy said. “I had tears in my eyes when I saw the news on TV about people who were being raided. I, too was once an immigrant and others should have the same opportunities.”
A parent of three adult children, with one grandchild and another on the way, Izzy lives in Fairfax City with her husband. She is deeply proud of all that she does to help her patients and people throughout the community improve their health, and equally proud of how Local 400 helps members improve their lives. She is, by any definition, extraordinary!