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Chief nursing officer at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital working hard to ‘give back’ to Rockaway community

St. John's Episcopal Hospital
St. John’s Episcopal Hospital executive Hermelina Zabala looks back at her 30-year nursing career in Far Rockaway as part of National Nurses Week. (Photo courtesy of SJEH)

National Nurses Week has special meaning at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, where few will ever forget the refrigerated trailers that were parked outside at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic because the morgue was filled to capacity.

The medical staff and administration rose to meet the challenge at the only hospital serving the densely populated and medically underserved populations of the Rockaways.

“Nurses Week is a celebration for all the team members who are resilient experts through the COVID surges. Everyone deserves to be recognized and toasted for all their expertise, their hard work and dedication to the patients and their families,” St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Hermelina “Lin” Zabala said. “Episcopal Health Services St. John’s Episcopal Hospital is more than grateful to each and every nursing team member. We prepared a very nice celebration for every team member and nursing leaders of the EHS SJEH organization.”

St. John's Episcopal Hospital
Photo courtesy of SJEH

Zabala was appointed chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services in March, 30 years after receiving a St. John’s recruitment brochure in her native country of the Philippines. In 1988, Zabala left her family and friends to take a chance at establishing a life in the United States and the hospital arranged for her to live with a family in the Rockaways for six months while she adjusted to her new life and career at St. John’s.

“As a young sheltered immigrant growing [up] in a strict Catholic environment I found that the community of Far Rockaway has a lot of potential to grow and I saw that as I stayed at St. John’s all these years,” Zabala said. “I learned to embrace the community. It made me grow as a person and as a nurse. The diverse community made me realize how we can coexist and learn from each other. The community has been kind to me and I’m here to give back and perform respectful, safe and compassionate care to the community of Far Rockaway.”

During her three decades at St. John’s, Zabala has held various roles including staff nurse, nurse educator, nurse manager and associate director of nursing. She brings all of that experience to her executive position now.

“I came to this role with a lot of leadership and real-life experience from all the positions I held previously,” Zabala said. “It’s a challenge to meet the expectations of everyone and most of all the expectations of our patients and their families. The expectation of the nursing team and our executive leaders. So far, I have been welcomed by my peers. I’m learning about each of the other services that I currently lead. It fascinates me how every single individual I meet for the past month proved to be an influence on how I develop the whole patient care services.”

National Nurses Week is from May 6 to May 12.

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