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WESTERLY – Mabel Payne, who has worked as a nurse at Westerly Hospital for nearly half its existence, will celebrate her retirement later this week, capping a tenure that saw her touch the lives of countless patients, their families and co-workers.

“I can never remember ever wanting to be anything other than a nurse,” Payne said during an interview on Tuesday.

Payne graduated from the University of Kentucky, in her home state, in 1968 with an associate degree in nursing. While she was working at Ireland Army Hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky, she met her husband Jack, a native of Westerly, who had been drafted into the Armed Services and was serving as a medic.

The couple soon married and moved to Westerly. Mabel went to work at Westerly Hospital, which was founded in 1925, for a brief stint that ended when they moved to Boston, where Jack studied for a law degree at Suffolk University Law School. While Jack studied to become a lawyer, Mabel pursued her primary professional passion – women’s health – serving as head nurse of labor and delivery at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

In 1973, the Paynes moved back to Westerly. Jack commenced his law practice, and Mabel went back to work at Westerly Hospital, where she has been ever since. She started as a per diem nurse and then became evening supervisor before moving to day supervisor. She then became head nurse of Westerly Hospital’s Women’s Health Center, which she helped open.

Payne points to her work in the Women’s Health Center as her proudest professional achievement. The center promoted patient-centered care through single-room maternity care. Previously, women and their infants were shuffled around and cared for in separate areas of the hospital.

“That’s my passion – women’s health. I do not know where it came from. It’s always been an interest of mine. I guess you could say I’m a women’s advocate,” Payne said.

As head nurse of the center, Payne helped Westerly Hospital become the second hospital in the state to have midwives on its staff and the 56th hospital in the country, out of 6,000 eligible hospitals, to become accredited as a “Baby-Friendly Hospital.”

Payne, a mother of three, helped bring hundreds of babies into the world.

“Birthing a baby is just a blessing. Every time that happens for a woman it’s a miracle. It’s just the most special event you can have and it’s very rewarding to be part of that and to be part of someone’s family who has had a baby , “she said.

Doctors and nurses involved with the center developed programming that included teen pregnancy prevention, Lamaze childbirth education, breast feeding classes, fatherhood classes on infant care, and care for women and couples who lost children.

“Our physicians were very helpful. We did not do this by ourselves; it was always as a team. They were always there with us,” Payne said.

Along the way, Payne earned a bachelor’s degree in science degree in nursing from the University of Rhode Island and at one time or another served as nurse manager or interim nurse manager of every department in Westerly Hospital, with the exception of the emergency department and the intensive care unit. care unit.

The Women’s Health Center was closed and obstetric services stopped when the hospital fell on financial hard times and was eventually purchased out of receivership by New London-based L + M Hospital. Payne and Jackie Desmond, a nurse who worked in the center who serves as head of the nurse’s labor union, worked to help the center’s employees find new positions in Westerly and New London. Payne was offered and accepted a new position – nurse manager of clinical systems.

“I was surprised and happy I was offered the position, and I wanted to make sure all the staff was in a place that they wanted to be. I met with the union and every employee that we had,” Payne said.

About four years ago, Payne accepted yet another new role – manager of volunteers.

“I would say they are probably one of the greatest groups of people to work with. They love the community and they love the hospital. They are phenomenal,” Payne said.

Although she does not yet have firm plans for her retirement, Payne said she is looking forward to having additional time to spend with her five grandchildren and to visit family members back home in Kentucky. The transition to retirement will likely come with an adjustment, she said.

“This will be the first time in 49 years that I have not worked full time,” Payne said.

She selected a day of significance, May 12, to be her last day at the hospital.

“It’s Florence Nightingale’s birthday. It’s a special day. I thought it would be nice,” Payne said.

Nightingale is considered to be the founder of modern nursing. Payne received a Nightingale Award in 2014. The awards are given annually to nurses who have demonstrated excellence in nursing care, professionalism, innovative / clinical practice, a collaborative nursing environment and improving the health of the community.

Over the years Payne has become an integral part of the fabric of Westerly Hospital. It is a place she knows well.

“Westerly Hospital is a warm community hospital. It is a family and we take care of one another. We help our patients – whatever their problems are. We get to know them and reach out and make contacts for them. That’s something you are not going to see in bigger hospitals in cities, “Payne said.

dfaulkner@thewesterlysun.com

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