She’s ready for a medical leave

Aria Health nurs­ing su­per­visor Phyl­lis Clapier ends an en­joy­able ca­reer to em­bark on the next chapter of her life. She and hus­band Wayne, a pas­tor, are hit­ting the open road.

Frank­ford and Wissi­nom­ing are go­ing to miss Phyl­lis and Wayne Clapier — not just so­cially but spir­itu­ally and phys­ic­ally.

For the last 40 years, the Clapiers have been look­ing after their com­munity and its in­hab­it­ants with un­matched ex­pert­ise and de­vo­tion — Phyl­lis as a nurse at Aria Health’s Frank­ford Cam­pus and Wayne as pas­tor of Wissi­nom­ing Bible Fel­low­ship Church.

Now, they are fi­nally em­bark­ing on a new, mod­estly self-in­dul­gent stage of life as a well-de­served res­pite from dec­ades of self-sac­ri­fice.

“My hus­band is a min­is­ter, and the reas­on we lived here is be­cause we wanted to live with the people of the area,” said Phyl­lis Clapier, who re­tired last month from her job as nurs­ing su­per­visor at the former Frank­ford Hos­pit­al, a long­time land­mark in the lower North­east.

Wayne Clapier will soon re­tire as lead­er of his church, leav­ing the con­greg­a­tion to his young as­so­ci­ate pas­tor, Justin Hunter.

After that, there’s little telling where the Clapiers will end up.

“We are go­ing for an ad­ven­ture — at least for a year,” Phyl­lis Clapier said. “We’re go­ing to drive across coun­try for at least a year.”

Their ini­tial des­tin­a­tion will be El­lens­burg, Wash., about 100 miles out­side of Seattle, where their daugh­ter and son-in-law live.

But no mat­ter how far they travel, Phyl­lis Clapier will al­ways re­mem­ber with fond­ness her ex­per­i­ences at Aria and its people.

Now 64, she was born in Kens­ing­ton and raised in May­fair. After at­tend­ing Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln High School, she entered nurs­ing school at the old Pres­by­teri­an Hos­pit­al in Uni­versity City at age 17 and gradu­ated when she was 20.

After a year on the nurs­ing staff at Pres­by­teri­an, she landed a job at Frank­ford to be close to her hus­band and grow­ing fam­ily.

“We got mar­ried and lived in Frank­ford, one block away (from the hos­pit­al), for ten years,” she said. “Then we moved to Wissi­nom­ing, eight blocks from the hos­pit­al, where we’ve lived for thirty years.”

When Phyl­lis began her ca­reer, she earned $3.03 an hour plus a 35-cent dif­fer­en­tial for work­ing the night shift. She worked nights of­ten so that the couple wouldn’t have to find day care for their three young chil­dren.

They ren­ted their first apart­ment for $85 a month, in­clud­ing util­it­ies.

The couple later had a fourth child.

Nowadays, nurses gen­er­ally wear col­or­ful scrubs while on duty. But back then, starched white Nurse Ratched-style bibs and ap­rons were the stand­ard, along with those ri­gid poin­ted caps that were unique to each nurs­ing school.

The work was a lot dif­fer­ent then, too.

“I just re­mem­ber that the pa­tients were not as old and not as sick, gen­er­ally,” Clapier said. “We had a lot less pa­tients, and a lot less pa­per­work was re­quired.”

Those dy­nam­ics al­lowed nurses to de­vel­op closer per­son­al re­la­tion­ships with pa­tients.

“I miss spend­ing that much time with pa­tients,” Clapier said. “A lot of bed­side time has been cut in­to. That’s (hap­pen­ing) all over.”

Clapier didn’t start her ca­reer with the ex­pressed in­ten­tion of be­com­ing a su­per­visor one day, but it happened any­way. Her re­li­ab­il­ity, ded­ic­a­tion, will­ing­ness to learn and in­ter­per­son­al skills made her a nat­ur­al choice for lead­er­ship roles.

“I’ve worked in just about every de­part­ment in the hos­pit­al,” she said.

At one point, the hos­pit­al trans­ferred her to its new­er Tor­res­dale Cam­pus. After a while there, Clapier asked to re­turn to the Frank­ford Cam­pus to be closer to home.

“I called the su­per­visor down here and asked if they had any open­ings,” she said.

The as­sist­ant night-su­per­visor po­s­i­tion was avail­able. She took the job.

Two years later, in 1989, a drunk­en driver killed Clapier’s daugh­ter. The grief-stricken moth­er’s co-work­ers were in­valu­able in help­ing her through the time of tragedy.

“The staff gave me a col­lect­ive hug,” she said meta­phor­ic­ally.

Among their many skills, nurses must learn to be­come ex­perts at cop­ing with death and sad­ness.

“It’s very emo­tion­ally de­mand­ing,” Clapier said of her pro­fes­sion.

“I drive in­to work at night, and I see the people in the (neigh­bor­hood), and I say a pray­er for them. There’s nev­er enough time, love or money (to help them).”

The view in­side the hos­pit­al can be equally as dis­heart­en­ing.

“We’re not a (cer­ti­fied) trauma cen­ter, but our ER does trauma so well. I’ve seen them save count­less lives — people who’ve been shot and stabbed,” Clapier said.

Oth­er de­part­ments in the hos­pit­al present dif­fer­ent sets of chal­lenges. A hos­pit­al is the last place that many older pa­tients want to be, of­ten for fear that they may die there. Most would rather spend their fi­nal days at home.

“The frail eld­erly are a chal­lenge, mov­ing them from a com­fort­able set­ting to an­oth­er set­ting,” she ex­plained. “We do everything we can to make them feel safe and se­cure. It’s not un­usu­al to have one-on-one su­per­vi­sion.”

Clapier’s days of that kind of pa­tient in­ter­ac­tion ba­sic­ally ended when she be­came the full-time nurs­ing su­per­visor in 1997.

“I’m man­aging people more than pa­tients. I care about the nurses so much, and I care about pa­tients, so if I take care of (the nurses), they’ll take care of pa­tients,” Clapier said.

Even as a boss, the work re­mained hard. In con­junc­tion with an em­ploy­ee-well­ness ini­ti­at­ive, Clapier began wear­ing a pe­do­met­er while mak­ing her rounds. She ended up walk­ing about five miles per night.

In her time at the hos­pit­al, she has seen many changes in the nurs­ing staff. Nowadays, it’s more di­verse than ever in a cul­tur­al sense, with nurses hail­ing from many parts of the world, in­clud­ing East­ern Europe, In­dia, the Far East and South Amer­ica. The di­versity re­flects the com­munity.

“We were al­ways mul­ti­cul­tur­al, but that has ex­pan­ded tre­mend­ously,” she said. “We al­ways have a trans­lat­or avail­able. We have to em­brace cul­tures.”

In hon­or of her re­tire­ment, a few of the nurses com­piled a col­or­ful scrap­book for her with dozens of pho­tos and heart­felt notes.

“I feel I’ll really miss the new­er ones be­cause I haven’t had as much time with them,” Clapier said.

She re­mains su­premely con­fid­ent that they will con­tin­ue the noble work without her.

“Nurs­ing is still one of the most trus­ted pro­fes­sions in the U.S. in all of the polls that you see, and I’m very proud of that,” Clapier said. ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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