Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2017 Honorees
Pittsburgh Magazine highlights the unsung heroes of the health care field: our Excellence in Nursing honorees, chosen by our panel of distinguished nursing professionals.
(page 5 of 7)
Part of Karen Ricci’s job is listening to a lifetime worth of stories.
As a registered nurse hospice case manager with Allegheny Health Network Healthcare@Home, she loves hearing the tales that have shaped the lives of her patients. Ricci, 52, of Forest Hills, considers getting to know each person at this stage of life a great honor.
“It’s a privilege for people to welcome you into their homes,” she says. “They make you part of the family. So many people say, ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ but to me, I feel it’s an important function. I just feel really lucky.”
After earning her RN diploma from St. Francis Medical Center’s Professional School of Nursing, where she briefly worked after graduating, Ricci worked at St. Margaret Memorial Hospital (now UPMC St. Margaret) for a few years before taking a job in health insurance utilization management and case management with Intracorp, now Cigna. She had a knack for technology and later worked in supporting the clinical systems and in configuration and training at Pyramid Health then UnitedHealthcare. The desk jobs were ideal when she was raising her two children but Ricci knew she wanted more.
One day, she attended the kids’ swim practice and met another mom who was a hospice nurse.
“This may sound ridiculous, but it was like I had an epiphany,” Ricci remembers. “I thought, ‘That’s what I need to do.’”
But she still needed the convenience of the office job. She stayed for a few more years, but always told herself, “When I leave here, I’m going to be a hospice nurse.” The day she and husband Geno sent their daughter’s last college tuition payment, Ricci started to lay the groundwork for her new career. She took as many continuing education classes as she could related to hospice and palliative care.
Ricci’s experience extended beyond the classroom when she cared for her own mother, Ronnie Campbell, who had hospice care prior to her death 2009.
“That solidified for me that this is, in fact, what I wanted to do,” she says.
Ricci met her goal when Allegheny Health Network hired her in 2016.
“I think the rest of my career was a stepping stone to me to get to this,” she says. “There were things I learned from each experience, good or bad, that prepared me for this role, but this is where I ultimately wanted to get to.”
Ricci knows her line of work is not for everyone, but death is something she’s always felt comfortable talking about. Her grandfather was a funeral director — a career path her son followed — and the topic of dying was freely discussed in the family.
“I was always exposed to that,” she says. “I felt comfortable in extending condolences. That was always something that was on the forefront and talked about.”
Ricci sees up to six patients a day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but that doesn’t mean her day always ends there. Ramie O’Brien, hospice operations manager and Ricci’s supervisor, remembers when Ricci went out at 9 p.m. to be with a new orientee who needed help.
“She always goes above and beyond,” says O’Brien. “She is a leader to the staff and a really good patient advocate. Whether that means she sees eight patients a day because she had two emergencies or had to attend to the death of a patient and she doesn’t get done working until later, she’s dedicated.”
Ricci says her work ethic is rooted in something she heard in church the day before she began her job with AHN: “Take time to be present in the hour of need.” She wrote that on a piece of paper and looks at it daily before seeing patients or interacting with her co-workers.
Ricci becomes emotional when talking about the patients who have touched her life, including the man with 11 children, each of whom took turns caring for him and treated Ricci as one of the family. She recalls the 96-year-old veteran, who, in his 70s, became a golf starter at one of the local courses.
“He worked until he was 95 years old,” she says, choking up at the memory. “I just had a great relationship with him and loved to hear his stories.”
It’s those stories that let Ricci know she’s found her purpose.
“I’m glad I found this niche and it’s welcomed me,” she says.