Patient Care Administrator: An RN Leadership Role
Hospice is a calling for the best nurses. The desire to care for patients comes from the heart, and often there is a personal aspect to it. That’s certainly true for VITAS Patient Care Administrator Sandra Melendez, RN.
Sandra was not permitted to say goodbye to her grandfather in the hospital before his passing. “That wasn’t right,” she says. “No one should die alone.”
That heartbreaking experience had a formative impact on Sandra’s career, and VITAS patients today benefit from it.
Finding Her Path to Hospice Nursing
Not long after her grandfather’s passing, Sandra was volunteering in a NICU when she had the realization that she could make a career out of caring for people.
Hospice is a calling. It has to be in your soul.
“Nursing just made sense to me: biology, compassion, caring, taking care of others, and making a difference. That's how I came to be a nurse.”
An RN for some 25 years, Sandra moved into hospice 15 years ago. She has now seen the benefit of hospice firsthand: Her grandmother had the opportunity of entering hospice before she died.
Compared to the experience with her grandfather, “it was night and day. My team took care of my grandmother in my mom's house. All her children and her grandchildren were there. She knew she was loved.”
That experience has helped her relate to patients’ families and her staff. “Being on the other side gives you a whole new appreciation for what hospice care is, what the hospice team does.”
Role of PCA
When the opportunity to join VITAS as a team manager arose about three years ago, Sandra knew it was time to take the next step in her hospice nursing career. Then, in 2020, she was promoted to patient care administrator (PCA) for VITAS in South Jersey.
“The patient care administrator is the head clinical person for the entire program,” she explains. “We are the ones responsible for making sure there's quality of care, making sure that the whole team has the tools they need for success.”
While Sandra has less contact with patients in her role as PCA, she is still a nurse at heart. “When I do get out with the patients, it's nice. I never say I'm a patient care administrator because to me, that's just the title. I'm a hospice nurse.”
Fostering a Culture of Teamwork
In her role as PCA, Sandra prides herself on being a present, approachable leader who supports and nurtures her team members. The team environment is built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect and a shared passion for the work.
“When you build trust and establish relationships, people will want to work for you. They'll go above and beyond because they know you appreciate them. I think that goes a long way. People want to feel cared about, appreciated, and acknowledged. We're a family. We take care of each other.”
Communication is key, she says. “We talk every morning. We discuss any questions, concerns, problems, issues, [or] hot topics. And then, at the end of the day, we circle back.”
Discovering Your Purpose in Hospice
Says Sandra, “I often tell my staff that hospice is a calling. It has to be in your soul. It's not like the hospital, where you clock in and clock out. Your day ends when your patient is comfortable and the families feel comfortable.”
There’s nowhere else Sandra would rather be. “I've seen a lot, I've done a lot. And I believe in sharing that information,” she says. “I feel as though I shine being in a management role. I'll take care of you as long as you take care of the patients. My job is to make sure you have the tools that you need to be able to take care of them.”
“I wouldn't do anything else,” she adds. “If you're looking to work within a team, then hospice is where you want to be.”