Bev toasts 40 years of Portland nursing

BEV McIlroy, honoured recently for 40 continuous years on nursing at PDH
Friday, 7 December 2012
For a nurse who has spent the past 13 years helping patients with drug and alcohol problems, Bev McIlroy makes what some might see as a rather startling confession: “There’s no one in Portland who enjoys two standard drinks more than I do.”

The problem, as she sees it, is alcohol abuse. Binge drinking, slamming down the booze with the express purpose of getting wasted — that’s the issue and in her view, it’s doing the most harm of any substance abuse in Australia today.
“Portland’s no different than any other community,” she said. “What I have noticed as a nurse is the rise in the number of women since the 1980s and ’90 drinking solely to get drunk. They are much more at risk now than a few decades ago.”
Mrs McIlroy is in a position to know: She’s been a nurse at Portland District Health for 40 continuous years, an achievement applauded recently at the hospital’s AGM with a special recognition award.

In that time, she’s immersed herself in the challenges of midwifery, palliative care, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, accidents and stress management before taking on the role of leading the Glenelg and Southern Grampians Drug Management Services team.

Of all those, the toughest challenge? “Definitely palliative care,” she replied.
“Nurses are called upon to offer intensive support to patients and their families alike. It includes hand-holding and providing comfort, helping them try to understand the unknown.”
And her stand on the thorny topic of euthanasia?
“I have formed a view, as all nurses have. And I am keeping that view to myself.”

The worst aspect of being an HIV nurse, Mrs McIlroy recalled, was the suddenness with which the disease entered the community, wreaking deadly havoc in the days before treatments were even imagined, let alone tested and perfected.
“It came out of the blue,” she said. “Fortunately, Portland’s hospital was at the forefront of good care and we were lucky there was such integrity in dealing with it. We were also not as exposed to the epidemic here as in other places.”

That’s one instance where Portland’s status as a regional centre has worked to its advantage. But in terms of recruiting and retaining good nurses, the community’s distance from the big city has created issues of its own.
“Keeping our staff is much harder now than it was 20 or 30 years ago,” she observed. “For skills upgrading they have to go to Melbourne. Some do not come back. Luckily, nurses who stay can develop their own strengths here, and the cooperation among health services in Portland and Hamilton is very strong, so nurses can make a call or two and reach someone who knows us, and has faith in us.”

She also noted the “very significant contribution” of overseas-trained nurses in Portland, made possible, she said, by the fine local mentoring and training they receive here.
“If there are gaps in their training, we can make sure they are up-skilled quickly,” she said.

After 40 continuous years at PDH (45 years of nursing overall), Bev McIlroy has no thoughts of retiring.
“I’ve got to keep working to finance my bucket list,” she laughed. “I adore my holidays in Bali and I have friends all over Australia I want to keep visiting. That’s the thing about nursing, the very good employment conditions that make our holidays possible.
“But ultimately, it’s about helping people.
The strength of nursing has shone through in Portland, and they are very much part of the community. Nursing brings to this community the qualities of reliability, skills and commitment.
That’s why they say, when the going gets tough, you’ve always got nurses.”

Story by STEVE ROBERTSON, Portland Observer Picture by KIRSTY HILL, Portland Observer

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