Beloved community nurse Carmen Berry off on retirement

Monday, August 13, 2018

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“WORKING with Food For The Poor Jamaica has taught me how to show love in the real meaning of the word,” explained Nurse Carmen Berry, the outgoing head nurse at Our Lady of the Poor Clinic (OLPC) in Kingston. “It has taught me how to love people, especially the less fortunate.”

Nurse Berry has been serving the community with quality, compassion, love and dedication for the past 14 years — ever since Food For The Poor opened its clinic on the grounds of St Joseph's Hospital in Vineyard Town. Now the longest-serving nurse at the clinic is preparing to hang up her stethoscope and retire this year.

She originally worked with the South East Regional Health Authority, and was doing evening sessions with St Joseph's, which was at the time owned by the Catholic Church. Seeing something special in Berry, the matron referred her to work at the then newly established OLPC in 2004. At first Berry was reluctant to leave her government job; however, after careful thought and review she decided to pursue the opportunity and “never looked back”.

The clinic's population has grown since the doors opened in 2004 and is fast outgrowing the physical facility. The expansion of the clinic is a priority for Food for The Poor as it provides much-needed health care to a vulnerable population.

“When we get the space everything will fall in place,” said a hopeful Berry.

The OLPC serves a great need in several low-income, and often fractious communities in Kingston including Allman Town, Franklyn Town, Windward Road, Mountain View and Rockfort.

“We care for everyone!” said Berry.

Even though most of the patients are senior citizens with non-communicable diseases who cannot otherwise afford health care, the clinic also provides care to a good representation of other age groups.

Berry remembers the day when a troubled young lad was threatening to hang himself from a tree in front of the hospital. When alerted by the security, she ran out of the clinic and, in her own soothing way, and with assistance from other members of the community, succeeded in talking him down. Once they were able to get the boy back on his feet, his parents were called and they were all invited into a session with the doctor at the clinic and referred for counselling. The OLPC subsequently made sure to get the young boy enrolled in school.

“He still comes by the clinic once in a while to show his progress,” she said with her contagious smile.

Berry heads a team which includes Nurse Norma Reid and Nurse Vivene Barrett, both of whom are as committed as she is to their patients.

“We all lean on each other,” said Reid, and added Barrett: “...With fairness and compassion.”

Bursting at the seams, the OLPC sees between 25 and 30 people on a slow day, starting at 7:00 am up to about 3:00 pm.

“Every morning starts with a devotional,” said Berry. “Returning patients will often assist us in going over the rules, as they take pride in the clinic and feel that it's a part of them.”

Nurse Aneisha Martin will be Berry's replacement. Martin now shadows her predecessor, following, as best as she can, in her footsteps.

“Just be their friend,” said Berry, offering advice to Martin. “Once you are their friend, it's always good. Show genuine concern. It makes a world of difference to people who are not feeling well, physically and mentally.”

When Martin came on board, Berry, knowing her patients, took the initiative to break the news to them that she was going on retirement. She felt it was important that they heard the news from her lips, so that they would understand that it was just the fact of where she was on her journey.

Meanwhile, Berry has committed to returning to the Our Lady of the Poor Clinic and participating in several activities and outreaches during her retirement.

“My patients, they have been a part of me — as if they are my family,” she said.

“Sometimes they just want somebody to talk to, to give them a hug, a listening ear.”

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