Byram woman to retire after 22 years

Byram resident spent 22 years at hospital

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  • Cathy Church with Steve Proctor, Matheny president, left, and Gary E. Eddey, MD, vice president and chief medical officer.

— Cathy Church’s arrival at the Matheny School and Hospital, now the Matheny Medical and Educational Center, 22 years ago was spontaneous.

“Really by accident,” she said.

However, the fact that she stayed for more than two decades before deciding to retire this September, was no accident.

“Once I actually got to Matheny,” Church said. “I found it was such a comfortable environment. It’s an uplifting place. The connection you have with the patients here, you feel it every day, no matter what discipline you’re working in. Everybody gets that connection.”

Matheny is a hospital and educational facility for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities.

In 1993, Church and her husband were living in Staten Island, where she was working full-time in a long-term care facility, but they had a summer residence in Cranberry Lake in Byram.

“I had seen an article about Matheny in the paper, and Peapack was exactly halfway between my two homes, so I just took a ride up here. I was hired as a primary nurse, and I decided to make the switch,” she said.

Seven months later, Church was asked to take over the management of the personal care assistant staff. Matheny’s patients need assistance in many areas such as eating, transferring, bathing, dressing, oral hygiene and toileting. Personal care assistant's play a unique role in providing for the most basic care of the patients.

“I loved working with the direct care staff,” Church said. “They’re the unsung heroes. They make everything else happen for the patients; they are involved in every aspect of the patients’ care.”

Once Church realized she was going to stay at Matheny, she and her husband moved to nearby Basking Ridge and then settled permanently in Cranberry Lake in 2002.

Church became a chief nursing officer in 2006 and, under her leadership, the PCA department became a more integral part of the nursing department.

“When I came in,” she said, “the PCA department operated as its own entity. It had its own organizational structure, its own supervisors. It wasn’t as connected with nursing as it should have been. We had to make changes to make it more unit-based. The nursing supervisors now manage the PCA schedules and all the logistics.”

Another important development under Church’s watch was the establishment of a transition nursing care program. In July 2011, Matheny received a $300,000 grant from the New Jersey Health Initiatives Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to create, with the cooperation of acute care hospital partners, a model to improve transitions to and from acute care hospitals for adults with chronic neurologic disabling conditions. The grant period ended in June 2013, but, based on the program’s success, Matheny has continued to fund and expand it by broadening it to include children and by creating a division within its nursing department which will integrate its specialized resources to improve transitions during all healthcare encounters.

“To be able to have a nurse from here communicate everything about our patients to the providers in another facility is wonderful,” said Church. “We can educate the staff at the acute care hospital about the care of our patients, and it’s been great for the nurses back here to know what’s happening in the hospital. It’s been a tremendous program and something I hope they’ll always be able to do. We’ve received a lot of accolades from families. We think it’s a great model that could also be used in nursing homes, for example.”

Morristown Medical Center is Matheny’s partner in this program.

Nursing at Matheny, Church emphasized, is different from acute care hospitals.

“Because you’re handling everything about patients’ wellness from beginning to end," Church said. "They’re not coming in for an acute problem, getting that fixed and being discharged. You’re dealing with all of the associated conditions they have, to keep them well. You’re not going to cure them, but you want to keep them well, so they can be involved in everything Matheny has to offer to the extent it’s possible. You’re really looking at them in a very holistic way.”

Church began her career as a recovery room nurse at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, where she also worked for several years in the pediatric burn unit.

She has a BS in healthcare administration from St. Frances College in Brooklyn and an MS from Long Island University in public administration.

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