Still nurs­ing af­ter 50 years on the job

The Napier Mail - - FRONT PAGE - ME­GAN HUNT

Laugh­ter is the key to a long ca­reer in nurs­ing for Hawke’s Bay woman Cath Hel­lyer who be­gan work five decades ago.

On Thurs­day Hel­lyer cel­e­brated her 50th year work­ing for dif­fer­ent it­er­a­tions of Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, only the third per­son to achieve 50 years since long ser­vice records be­gan in the late 1990s.

She be­gan in July 1966 at Napier Hos­pi­tal in the days when nurses served an ap­pren­tice­ship­style scheme and lived in hos­tels un­der the con­trol of a ma­tron.

The ma­tron was re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing their work and there were strict cur­fews.

‘‘We had a salary with no pe­nal rates, and had one day off a week. We all were re­quired to live in the hos­tel. No flat­ting till you were 21-years-old, and if you got mar­ried or preg­nant you left,’’ she said.

‘‘When I was young there was nurs­ing, teach­ing or sec­re­tary work. I would have like to be an arche­ol­o­gist but it wasn’t avail­able to women.’’

De­spite pick­ing nurs­ing from a nar­row range of op­tions she has en­joyed her work.

She later com­pleted sur­gi­cal, med­i­cal and ca­su­alty en­dorse­ments, then worked in Napier Hos­pi­tal’s ca­su­alty or emer­gency unit.

‘‘I nursed the first AIDS pa­tient in New Zealand. This dis­ease was un­heard of , hav­ing two lines writ­ten about it in a med­i­cal text book.

‘‘In 1975 I mar­ried Graeme and Ka­t­rina was born in 1978. My maiden name was Brown so I was called ‘ Brownie’ and still am called this by older doc­tors.’’

Her role in the nurses’ union has also been a defin­ing as­pect of her ca­reer.

‘‘My union in­ter­est started early on with dis­cus­sion of ros­ter­ing of days off with man­age­ment when I was about 19. I do not like to see staff dis­ad­van­taged or be­ing ‘used’ so I learnt to speak up.’’

Fol­low­ing harsh re­struc­tur­ing of nurses in the late 1980s and early 1990s she be­gan tak­ing part in con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.

From 2004 to 2015 she was one of five ne­go­tia­tors for the New Zealand Nurs­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion’s col­lec­tive con­tracts.

She now works in the dis­charge lounge at Hawke’s Bay Hos­pi­tal, or­gan­is­ing what pa­tients need be­fore they leave and has to plans to re­tire just yet.

‘‘I en­joy work­ing with pa­tients and staff. I also en­joy the laugh­ter we all share.’’


Hawke’s Bay woman Cath Hel­lyer says her union work has been a defin­ing as­pect of her ca­reer.

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