WELLSVILLE — Donna Bliven, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services, planned to retire when she reached her 44th anniversary at Jones Memorial Hospital last summer.
She started as a part-time nurse in August 1976 and looked forward to spending more time with her husband, Dennis, traveling, gardening and visiting her grandchildren.
But a global pandemic has a way of putting plans on hold.
“When COVID started in March, we were all so immersed in managing guidelines, precautions, and preparations that there was no time to look for my replacement,” she explained, adding that all her post-retirement trips and plans were also canceled, so it was an easy decision to stay on.
Now that her replacement has been found, Bliven is looking forward to retiring on Jan. 30.
“Donna has served the staff and patients of Jones with compassion and dedication for many years,” said Jones CEO Eva Benedict. “While we congratulate Donna on her well-deserved retirement, we will miss her commitment to mentoring emerging clinical leaders and her passion for ensure our community receives the highest quality of care.
“She graciously worked months passed her original retirement date when COVID threatened our community, we will be forever grateful.”
Looking back over her career, Bliven noted that her interest in nursing evolved gradually and started in high school when she volunteered as a candy striper at a local hospital. She started as a nursing assistant at a nearby nursing home, a position she continued after graduation and throughout college.
After earning her registered nursing certification from Alfred State, Bliven worked as a night-shift charge nurse at the Cattaraugus County nursing home.
“I always thought I would have a career in long-term care,” she said.
However, working days became a goal once she got married, so she stopped by Jones Memorial Hospital to pick up an application.
“I wasn’t dressed for an interview — I was planning on just picking up the application and dropping it off later — but they wanted to interview me immediately,” she said.
Bliven was hired part-time as a day shift nurse, until a full-time position opened on the medical-surgical (med-surg) unit. During her early career, she worked primarily on med-surg, but also spent time in the emergency room, intensive care unit and in stress testing, eventually moving into leadership as a head nurse on the med-surg unit — after passing the Civil Service test required at the time.
Bliven earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Daemen College and a master’s in health administration from Roberts Wesleyan College.
As the focus of patient care transitioned to outpatient services, the hospital merged the two inpatient units on the second floor and eventually closed the third floor to inpatients. At this point, Bliven was offered a different opportunity in the hospital, overseeing clinical pathway development and patient education, as well as case management. The position of ICU manager was added eventually.
Then, in 2006, Bliven became the chief nursing officer and VP of patient care services, which included oversight of the pharmacy, staff development and infection prevention, as well as the inpatient areas and ER. She has held this position for the past 14 years.
“I was attracted to nursing because I loved dealing with patients and their families,” she said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I wanted to make a difference.”
She credited the doctors she worked with early in her career — “Dr. Felsen, Dr. Coch, Dr. Cudahy, Dr. Sale” — were a major influence on the nurse she became.
“It was different then because you really got to know the doctors and had to earn their trust in your assessment and clinical skills and abilities,” she said. “They came in to round on their patients in the mornings and then left for their offices, leaving us to manage the patients.”
Her first nurse manager also gave her advice that she continues to pass on to new nurses.
“Nursing is a stressful job so it is important to have fun,” she said. “We need to laugh.”