Random Acts of Caring

At Community Medical Center, staff go the extra mile to bring cheer and comfort to patients.

The moment a patient settles into a labor and delivery room at Community Medical Center (CMC), Donnamaria Adelizzi-Diaz, RNC springs into action. “I pop into her room and say, "Hi, I'm Purpledonna and I'll be your server today," the 64-year-old labor and delivery nurse says with a giggle. “ The patient needs to know right off the bat that I'm not her typical nurse."

That she isn't. Adelizzi-Diaz, known informally as “Purpledonna," has been caring for—and calming the nerves of—patients in the critical care and maternity units since 1979. “Back in those days, nurses wore white—short white dresses, white stockings, white shoes, white hats," she recalls. “But I was young and rebellious. I'd tie a purple ribbon in my hair or throw on a purple sweater." When nurses started wearing scrubs in the 1980s, Purpledonna dyed hers purple on Easter Sunday.

Today, Purpledonna doesn't always wear purple, but she does swoop around the maternity unit with her lavender oil, which she sprays in labor and delivery rooms. “The unit is a busy place with a lot of excitement, and I've found that the lavender oil calms everyone," she says. “The minute the doctors and nurses step into the room, they relax somewhat and all of their energy becomes focused on my girl." The lavender has a similar effect on anxious patients." They relax and turn their attention to delivering their babies. Purpledonna also offers to play ocean sounds or Reiki music, which evokes relaxation, to ease childbirth-related anxiety.

Over the years, Purpledonna has forged connections with many patients. She can still recall the young single mother with preeclampsia she cared for throughout her last trimester of pregnancy and delivery. The patient needed a stress test every week during her last trimester, and she was very nervous during the birth, which went smoothly. “For the longest time, she came to the hospital every year to see me with her baby," says Purpledonna." She also remembers the fearful expectant mother she soothed during Hurricane Sandy. Sometimes, in her hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, a woman will come up to her on the street and say, “You're Purpledonna. You delivered my baby!" While Purpledonna has been deluged with grateful letters from new moms over the years, she says she feels grateful, too. “Every birth is a miracle," she says. “I feel privileged every time I'm allowed into a patient's room."

A much-loved Halloween tradition

The radiation oncology Department in theJ. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center also goes above and beyond for patients. Every Halloween, the department is transformed into another world, whether it be ancient Egypt or The Wizard of Oz. “We want to make patients forget, at least for a day, why they are here," says radiation therapist Marilyn Clayton, who, along with her colleague Maureen Engle, is responsible for the Halloween decor.

In 2018, when patients walked into the waiting room, they were greeted by a scene straight out of ancient Egypt, complete with floor-to-ceiling cardboard pyramids, camels and even a sarcophagus. The front desk receptionists sparkled in Egyptian harem girl finery, while other staff members and physicians dressed as Pharaohs, Egyptian princesses and, yes, mummies. While Clayton and Engle begin crafting their masterpieces at home as early as September, all hands are on deck the night before. All Hallows' Eve. “The entire staff helps us put everything together," says Clayton. “We know our efforts have paid off when we see the looks of awe on patients' faces as they come in on Halloween morning."

Radiation Oncology staff members and physicians have been dressing up since 2007, but they didn't start decorating the space until 2014 “We saw how much patients loved it, and we decided to take it up a notch," says Clayton. That year, the department was transformed into The Wizard of Oz. The following year, the decor was pirate-themed, followed by Batman and Gotham City and the Renaissance era. In 2019, the theme was the 1950s.

The Halloween fest lifts everyone's spirits. “The entire hospital staff drops by to see what we've done," says Engle. “We have patients who finished treatment years ago and pop in to take a quick tour. But the highlight of my day is when I talk to a patient who's thrilled to be able to participate in Halloween—even if he or she didn't feel well enough to decorate. For one day, they come here and they're not thinking about cancer. They're just having fun.

Making a difference in patients' lives

At Community Medical Center (CMC), staff members are focused on delivering not only top-notch medical care but also improving patients’ well-being. “Every day, we try to make a difference in patients’ lives,” says Fatima Alves, MHA, CPXP, Director of Patient Experience. Here’s what patients can expect:

  • Birthday celebrations. Patients receive a balloon, puzzle book and a card signed by Patrick Ahearn, Chief Executive Officer of CMC. If they don’t have any dietary restrictions, they are served a cupcake at dinner.
  • Veteran appreciation. Patients who identify themselves as veterans are given a hand-knitted red, white and blue blanket made by CMC volunteers, a star from a retired flag with a poem, an American flag in a stand and a framed certificate of appreciation.
  • Anniversaries and weddings. No request is ever too much for CMC staff members. They have acknowledged patients’ anniversaries and even hosted a wedding ceremony at the hospital.