If my health ever decides to go south, I would hope that health care professionals like Fran Altrich and Thelma Hansen would be available to take care of me...stat.
Altrich and Hansen have served with a personal touch the health care needs of countless patients at the Stevens Community Medical Center. They are pretty laid back about the whole experience and more than modest about their contributions that together span more than a century.
Altrich, who announced her intention to retire just prior to our conversation for this story and retired July 1, worked 52-1/2 years for the hospital and clinic. Hansen, whose retirement may be sometime "in the future," is still going strong after 51 years. Yet neither recalls having to complete an employment application prior to being hired.
Her mother had a friend, Altrich recalled--Clara Hvitsand, who was then superintendent of nurses. Altrich arrived at the clinic for the job and took a few classes on taking care of patients.
"I started on the floor for about 10 years as a nurse's aide with patient care, then moved to central supply," said Altrich, where she sterilized instruments for the hospital, operating room and clinic for the next 42-1/2 years. She liked working with patients, but recognizes that "it's so important that the equipment be clean and sterilized."
Hansen graduated from St. Paul's agricultural campus in 1955, which offered then one of 13 nursing programs in the state. Her first job as an LPN was in Morris, where she worked for a year before marrying husband Donald in 1956. After a few years in Minneapolis, the couple returned to live in Cyrus and she returned to work in pediatrics at SCMC.
"I like taking care of babies," Hansen shared. "The majority come out singing their song; each birth is a miracle. I wash them and weigh them."
"Hers is the first 'TLC' they get," added Altrich.
Both Altrich and Hansen recalled the changes in patient care over the course of their careers.
"We used to work one on one with six to eight patients," said Altrich, "we had all day to take care of them. Now baths are done by 11:30 or so and care is given for the rest of the day."
Years ago patients stayed in bed and their work included a lot of bed care, both remembered. "[Patients] were almost like family members, they were [in the hospital] so long." Today patients are "up and at 'em, we get them moving earlier," which both see a plus. "They have less trouble with blood clots and being so weak," they agreed.
Altrich and Hansen prefer the personal touch for their patients versus technology. Although they recognize the necessity for computers, "too much time is spent on them," in their opinion. Among other changes they've witnessed over the years are Xrays that are now stored on disks instead of film and the outsourcing of the food service and laundry duties as opposed to completing them in house.
"I remember that during a snow storm, we stayed and did everything," said Altrich. Occasionally, in such an emergency, it was a custodian and Altrich who tended to "anything that needed to be done."
Six administrators have headed the hospital during their tenure: Martha Stahler, Don Finn, Paul Boutow, Bob Rose, Ron Jacobson and current administrator John Rau.
With such demanding jobs, Altrich and Hansen enjoy a variety of pastimes outside of work. Altrich, who has one grown daughter, lives with husband Jerry in Donnelly. She knits, crochets, needlepoints and sews clothes, along with gardening. She especially enjoys raising sheep, in addition to goats and chickens. In her retirement, "I may raise dogs again, great Danes and cockers."
Altrich volunteers at the hospital and her church, sews for the Salvation Army and has taken a trip with Assumption Church youth to London, Rome and Canada to see the Pope. Hansen golfs, bowls, crochets, reads and cooks in addition to volunteering for Trinity Lutheran Church in Cyrus. "She makes the best popcorn cake," said Altrich.
"I went skydiving three years back. It was fantastic, I'd do it again," said Hansen.
Altrich and Hansen are quick to credit their workplace for "letting them be employed this long. We'd like to thank the hospital for many years of enjoyable time," said Altrich on behalf of both of them.
"We enjoy working with staff and patients," said Hansen. "We become a family, you get to know the doctors well," added Altrich.
"If you feel the call to help people, this is the place to come," said Altrich. "It's been a great joy to work here."