Tagged as nurses


Local 400 Nurse Retires After More Than 50 Years

Local 400 member, Joyce Graham, is retiring in May after more than 50 years working as a nurse.

Joyce Graham says, “I like to be where the action is.” If anything, that’s an understatement. But it goes a long way toward explaining why she has kept working as a nurse at Kaiser Permanente into her late 70s, and is only now retiring this May.

“People have been coming up to me for years, asking me when I was going to retire,” Joyce said. “But nursing is not for wimps. I told them I’m working on making the Guinness Book of World Records. But then I saw on TV that there’s a nurse here in D.C. still working in her 90s. I’m not going to top her, so I figured it was time for me to do other things.”

But the decision wasn’t easy because she loves nursing, her employer and her union so much. “It’s so nice to take care of people and see them get better, it’s rewarding,” she said.

“I’m just going to miss her—she’s a true inspiration for nurses,” said Louise (Lu) Casa, a Kaiser shop steward, nurse practitioner, and longtime colleague and friend of Joyce. “Ever since I’ve known her, she has been a role model. Whenever anything was needed, Joyce was right there. She would help her colleagues, and go out of way to make sure Kaiser patients were properly cared for. She’s remarkable and the younger nurses all look up to her.”

Joyce Graham graduated first in her class at the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Nursing.

Joyce’s more than 50 years in nursing have been marked by a constant drive for self-improvement and desire to learn new skills—so much so, that she was a member of the first graduating class of the University of the District of Columbia’s School of Nursing. And she finished first in her class!

Making her achievement all the more remarkable, Joyce was working as a surgical intensive care nurse at the Washington Veterans Hospital at the same time she was getting her degree—and taking care of her teenage daughter and 18-month-old son, too. “I worked the evening shift from 3:30 to midnight. I got up very early in the morning and tried to prepare dinner for my family before I left to attend school. In between my morning classes and work, I would try to get a few hours of studying in.”

Little wonder that Lu Casa marvels at Joyce’s “amazing energy.”

Joyce started working as a licensed practical nurse in Pittsburgh in the early 1960s. In 1965, she moved to Washington, D.C., and was hired at the VA hospital. After receiving her nursing degree in 1978 and becoming a registered nurse, she moved to internal medicine at the VA. Then, in 1986, she went to work at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, and later at the Washington Hospital Center in their postpartum wing. In 1992, at the encouragement of a friend from her VA Hospital days, Joyce joined Kaiser. She first worked in Advice and then moved to Rheumatology, working at Kaiser’s North Capitol Street and West End Health Centers.

Throughout this time, she conducted regular CPR classes to ensure that staff were certified in this life-saving procedure. She also served as lead nurse for Specialties (all departments other than Internal Medicine) and was responsible for ensuring that all clinical assistants were cross-trained to work in whatever department needed them.

“Joyce is always growing and changing in our profession,” Lu said. “When we opened our Capitol Hill office, our Dermatology Department launched a new therapy called PUVA that uses ultraviolet technology. Joyce was already in her 70s, but she embraced it and became a PUVA nurse.

“She’s someone who really rolls with the punches,” Lu added. “She’s a great patient advocate. And she never misses a day of work—she’s a perfect nurse.”

Joyce has always been a dedicated Local 400 member at Kaiser, too. “As a shop steward, whenever I needed help getting information out to our members, Joyce would help me,” Lu said. “She was like an undesignated steward’s assistant. And she would speak up to management if they were trying to do things she thought were wrong. She was always about making sure patients got the best care.”

Joyce moved from Pittsburgh to the District of Columbia in 1965 and worked at the VA hospital while she pursued her nursing degree.

“Our union’s done a good job,” Joyce said. “Kaiser’s Labor-Management Partnership is a good idea. [Local 400 Board Member] Jaki Bradley and Lu Casa work so hard for us and I’m really proud of them.”

Joyce’s colleagues all testify about her infectious spirit. “She loves to joke,” Lu said. “Joyce was famous for her baking and one April Fool’s Day, she brought in something that looked like one of her wonderful chocolate cakes. When we cut into it, we found it was a box with frosting spread all over it.”

“I like pulling pranks on people,” Joyce admitted. “I like humor. And bringing in food.”

Joyce is also known for her humility. “At Capitol Hill, we have to park offsite and take a shuttle to our offices,” Lu said. “We tried to get Joyce onsite parking to make it easier for her since she’s in her 70s. But she said, ‘No way—I’ll go to the parking lot like everyone else.’”

In retirement, Joyce has no intention of slowing down. “There are so many things I’d like to do,” she said. “I’ll be busy with work at my church, as always. I like to travel and I love going to museums and parades downtown, as well as movies. There’s so much to do and see.

“But I will miss my job,” she noted. “I really like Kaiser Permanente. It’s a great place to work and a great place to get medical care—you can’t beat it. I like their philosophy and how they treat their employees. And I love my colleagues and my profession.”

Local 400 Member Presented with National Nursing Award

Izzy Pistolessi, Kaiser nurse and union shop steward, shares her healthcare expertise as part of the Local 400 Lobby Day on March 23, 2017.

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.

Local 400 shop steward, Izzy Pistolessi (first row, far left), also volunteers with the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. (Photo via Nahndc Chapter Hispanic Nurse Facebook page).

“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.

Isolina (“Izzy”) Pistolessi has worked as a nurse at Kaiser’s Falls Church Care Center since 1999 and has served as shop steward since 2008.

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!