Debbie Hill joined the candy striper volunteer program at what was then Cortland Memorial Hospital as a high school student in the early 1970s. Only a week into the program, she was asked to join the staff.
Little did she know she would find her career in the halls of her community hospital, thanks to the interest from a mentor.
“I don’t know what she saw — what she found so fascinating about me — but she wanted me to become a nurse’s aide,” Hill said.
Fifty years later, Hill is retiring.
“I’m going to miss everybody here, but I have to go and take care of my family,” Hill said. Her husband and sister-in-law have health issues, and the role of caregiver is one Hill is very familiar with.
For 30 years, Hill has been a unit clerk, helping keep the nursing staff organized, communicating the doctors’ orders and patients’ needs.
“I take a lot of phone calls from the patients’ families, give messages to the nurses,” Hill said. “When I first started, the patients and families were so appreciative of their care, and they made sure to keep coming back to our hospital. What really made me feel good was a patient requesting to come back to your floor — so it really made me feel like there’s something here that they want to come back to, to be taken care of here.”
Hill has been a presence at the now Guthrie Cortland Medical Center long enough to see many patients, nurses and doctors come and go. She spent this week saying her goodbyes, but wants her nurses to know she’s only a phone call away.
“No doubt, Debbie has been one of the most wonderful individuals to work with — you couldn’t ask to work with anyone better,” said Mary Wright, vice president of nursing services at the hospital.
The two women have worked together since the 1980s. “She’s going to be greatly missed and we all wish her the best — but she better come back to visit.”
Hill promised Wright she’ll stop by to visit.
“What I’m going to miss most is the people in here,” Hill said. “I’m always going to remember the time I had with Mary, because she always helped me when I needed it, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be a team.”
Hill has been training her replacement and giving last-minute advice to the nurses before she leaves, Wright said. “If they’ve been taught by Deb, they will do their jobs well.”
Hill’s biggest piece of advice for her coworkers and future caregivers: Treat patients like their families.
“That’s what we’re here for — to take care of people, make them happy, make them comfortable,” she said. “When I leave here, I just hope to see this hospital keep going for the community, for the people.”