‘Inspired by bravery’: Paula Agrodnia, a life lost too soon, among Seacoast nurses honored
By: Karen Dandurant
Paula Agrodnia was a career nurse with Portsmouth Regional Hospital for the last 24 years and earlier with Wentworth-Douglass Hospital for more than a decade. She worked right up until the last few weeks of her life, which was dedicated to nursing and family until her death April 28 at age 56.
“I went to her calling hours and … the attendance was so huge, that they did not close the hours until close to 8 p.m.,” said Lynn Robbins, a spokesperson for the hospital. “It was a huge affirmation of the person – and nurse – that Paula was. We celebrate her memory.”
It’s National Nurses’ month, a time to highlight their work, particularly this past year as their role intensified in the coronavirus pandemic. Seacoast Media Group is recognizing Agrodni and others for their contributions.
After high school, Agrodnia attended the University of New Hampshire, where she began her pursuit of her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, according to her obituary. After obtaining her bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1986, Agrodnia began her career as a registered nurse at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover.
In 1997, she accepted a position at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, becoming associate director of same day care. She won multiple awards, including PRH Nurse of the Year in 2010 and the Nurse Mentor Award in 2016. She was instrumental in many improvements at PRH such as a Clinical Ladder Program, which promoted nurse education and career advancement.
While battling cancer during the final years of her life, Agrodnia continued her passion for nursing.
“Paula was instrumental in promoting nurses at Portsmouth Regional Hospital by starting the Clinical Ladder Program,” said Nancy Vatistas, RN. “She also promoted advanced degrees and certification in nursing. Paula was a leader and a mentor to all of us. Many of us would say Paula was our best friend.”
Paula Jean Agrodnia, 1964-2021
“Paula was exceptional in all senses of the word,” said Erin McCarthy, RN. “She encompassed compassion, fairness, open communication, patient advocacy and an unbiased approach in problem solving, fostering collaborative teamwork and working relationships. Paula was extremely passionate about professional development, helping fellow nurses accomplish their goals, and empowering them to be the best in their profession through specialty certification, joining professional organizations and obtaining Clinical Ladder status. Paula not only was a constant in nursing leadership, and mentor to all that knew and worked with her, but one knew just working with her that she was a genuine, loving and caring person, and her smile could light up any room. I was not only blessed to work with her all these past 24 years, but blessed to call her my friend.”
Nurses are the backbone of medical care
“Our nurses bring professionalism, compassion and expertise to their work every day. I would add creativity to that list. I am so impressed by how our nursing colleagues have kept patients and families engaged and cared for under the exceptionally difficult circumstances brought about by the pandemic,” said Dr. Rick Hollister of Core Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, president of the medical staff and medical director of the intenstive-care unit at Exeter Hospital.
“During the first wave of the COVID pandemic, before we had widespread testing or vaccines, I remember one of our ICU nurses, Kelli (Hardy), putting on her PPE to sit with a COVID patient with delirium. She was in the patient’s room for hours. Kelli did what was needed to keep her patient safe, no questions asked. I’ll never forget it. This is just one of countless examples of going above and beyond that I have witnessed this past year. As a physician, I am inspired by the bravery and fearlessness that our nurses have shown during the largest public health crisis our country has faced in 100 years.”
For many people entering the medical field, it is because of family tradition. That’s not the case for Grant Mauer, RN at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.
“In high school, I was really interested in medicine and in science,” Mauer said. “When it came time to decide what to pursue, it seemed my choices were engineering or nursing. I could not see myself behind a desk all day, so I went for nursing. I did a couple of job shadows. It drew me in. I knew I could go in so many different directions with nursing.”
Mauer is an emergency room nurse now but he started on the cardiac care floor.
“The med surge experience I gained was valuable,” said Mauer. “Pre-pandemic, in December 2019, I was looking for a change. I came to the emergency department and I liked the chaotic aspects. Then the pandemic hit. I came here when the world shut down and I loved it. I love emergency medicine, and there is so much more I can learn.”
Colleen Pelletier, assistant nurse manager and Mauer’s supervisor, said he is a kind, patient person, qualities a nurse must have.
“You can see he really cares about his patients,” said Pelletier. “His wit and humor often carry us through the day.”
Mauer said his first COVID-19 patient had come to the hospital after traveling through five or six airports, through East Asia.
“He had GI symptoms,” said Mauer. “It was so crazy, not really knowing what was going on. We reached out to Mass General, who we are affiliated with. We knew this was something big and scary. It was also exciting. We did OK, because we had great communication, from the top down. That’s what I love, working closely as a team, working toward what hopefully is a positive outcome. It is not always that, but that is always our goal.”
“Grant is a great team player,” said Pelletier. “He is always asking his co-workers how he can help them. He is calm under pressure and communicates well with the rest of the staff.”
Mauer said what he enjoys most about his job is that he can make people feel comfortable.
“They might be facing the worst day of their life,” he said. “But, I care, and I can impart that to them. I can help.”
Dawn Gerrato, RN, began her career at Goodwin Health as a primary care nurse. When the COVID-19 pandmic hit, she became the COVID nurse.
“When Goodwin, Families First, Greater Seacoast Community Health got a federal grant to hire a COVID nurse, I applied for the job,” she said. “I got the job and on my first day, I got sent home for 14 days to quarantine because I had an exposure.”
Gerrato came to her career later, after raising a family.
“I was always in health care in some fashion,” she said. “I started as a medical assistant, then a CNA, for 17 years at Edgewood. After I raised my family, I went back to school. I got an associate’s degree as medical assistant, worked for a year and wanted to keep going. Goodwin supported and inspired me. I went for an associate nursing degree. I plan to keep going. I love learning and I love being a nurse.”
During the pandemic, Gerrato was initially tasked with providing medical authorization for phase 1B of the vaccination rollout.
“Then I began to triage cases,” she said. “We set up an area outside, a respiratory clinic. We have two negative pressure rooms for when we need to bring a patient inside, through a separate entrance. Right now, we are seeing a lot of school-aged children as they go back to school. I field a lot of questions about vaccinations for kids and help with vaccine clinics.”
One good thing to come from the pandemic, said Gerrato, is that it forced everyone to get really used to telehealth.
“We had been talking about the use for years,” Gerrato said. “The pandemic forced our hand, as we tried to find ways to continue offering the same quality of health, in a safe way. I think it is here to stay, and I am glad about that.”