Veteran night nurse at Mount E: ‘No matter how bad the situation we do not turn cases away’

Nurse manager Lee Gek Huay has been with the hospital for 39 years now, almost from the day it opened.

Sponsored| Zhangxin Zheng| December 28, 10:03 AM

Tucked slightly behind the main Orchard Road shopping strip, the Mount Elizabeth Hospital (more frequently referred to by most Singaporeans you might know as “Mount E”) has since its establishment in 1979 become an institution in Singapore.

Photo of Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s façade taken in 2014.

Photo of Mount Elizabeth’s façade taken in 1979.

Indeed, what draws patients from as far as the Maldives and Bangladesh to Mount E isn’t just its prime location, but the accolades it has won through its world-class healthcare over the past 40 years.

These include being the first private hospital to do kidney and cornea transplants, as well as holding the record for the highest number of successful open-heart surgeries and neurosurgeries in Singapore’s private healthcare sector.

Having said that, it isn’t only the well-to-dos who are served at Mount E — something veteran night-shift nurse manager Lee Gek Huay can certainly attest to.

Drunkards, drug overdoses, slash wound victims — none are turned away

One of the first things Lee shares with me is that “a lot of drunkards come here eh.”

Some of these can be emotional and hard to subdue, but Lee has her own way to calm them down.

“I listen, I take note and say ‘thanks for your feedback’ and I say, ‘we will follow up with action’… (but) actually, it’s mainly about talking to them. I bring them to the office and talk to them, see what’s their problem so we help them to solve (it).

This is a challenge to me. If they have complaints, (and) I go and manage to pacify them, I’m quite happy.”

Lee also tells me about “funny, funny cases” she encountered over the last 39 years, like drug overdose patients and those who come in with slash wounds after what seemed to be gang fights in the vicinity.

Thankfully, she says, she sees fewer of these today compared with minor cases like fever, diarrhoea and lacerations (deep cuts).

Regardless, Lee beams with pride as she declares that nurses on duty during Mount E’s night shifts have never turned any cases away.

“We cannot divert cases. Any case comes in, we have to admit, even if we have no bed we have to arrange something.

For us, we are very proud that we have never diverted any cases.”

Adding that extra human touch

Through the stories of her experiences at the hospital, Lee also reveals an exceptional aspect of Mount E’s staffers — their interpersonal skills.

She says, for instance, that no matter how busy she is, she will always have time for patients.

She recalls one incident when she had to spend two hours to listen to a patient’s complaint — this, by the way, also happens to be about the amount of time Lee usually takes to complete a round of ward checks.

But she has no qualms in doing so, as she works with the goal of not just helping patients recover from their ailments, but also that they will feel satisfied leaving the hospital.

Building strong rapport with patients is particularly challenging and important to a hospital that welcomes more than a third of its patients from around the region.

To serve culturally diverse patients well, Mount E equips their staff members with necessary communication skills.

There are cultural workshops, for instance, conducted by translator-tutors for their nurses. Through these workshops, nurses can pick up patients’ native languages. Mount E’s Chief Executive Officer Noel Yeo also learnt some Bahasa Indonesian from one of these workshops.

There are also courses in counselling, empathy, bereavement, mediation and complaint management that help Mount E nurses handle difficult conversations.

Like a family

After working in Mount E for almost four decades, Lee says the hospital — and the people in it, of course — feels more like a second family to her. Certainly, her colleagues keep her going as well, she adds.

Old photos of Lee and her colleagues.

A gathering of doctors and nurses from the A&E department in 1981.

Nurses taking a group photo with the Christmas tree at Mount E’s lobby in 1982.

They include the consultant-doctors and even the CEO, Yeo, whom she says she can look to for help even during the night shift, no matter how late it is.

“All of them are very nice, my seniors and juniors. They are very helpful. Sometimes we don’t know everything, you know, then I call the girl (Lee’s younger colleague) to help and they are very willing to help me.”

Lee’s night shift starts at 9pm and ends at around 8am the next day.

She says she usually takes a quick breakfast at the cafeteria with her colleagues after their shift ends, or sometimes they all troop out to Lucky Plaza to enjoy some nice Malay food.

“This is my second family, I think I spend more time here.”

Lee (second from the left) and her colleagues.

Working at Mount E constantly piques her curious mind, she adds, as another reason for her being able to stay put in her job for so many years.

In fact, she first joined Mount E only a few months after its opening “out of curiosity and better pay”.

Over the years, she has done time in the surgical ward, the X-ray department, the minor operating theatre, Accident & Emergency (A&E) and Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the last of which sent her through an in-house intensive nursing care course taught by the nurse educators at Mount E.

1981 Lee and her colleagues at the minor operating theatre.

Why didn’t she ever stay put in a particular department? Lee says she is someone who can’t stop moving and all the experiences she has had in her career were “very interesting”.

“I just want to try and see new things,” she says.

Even now, there still is much for the 63-year-old to learn, with new equipment and systems introduced by the hospital every now and then.

For example, in November, Mount E introduced an artificial intelligence system that churns out hospital bill estimates with increased efficiency and accuracy. Along with the hospital’s move towards digitalisation and greater automation, there are also cleaning robots around to alleviate cleaners’ workload.

“Every year, I can see something new come out (in the hospital), even the pump also,” Lee quips. “We have a competency checklist, so we must learn how to use the equipment and take a test.”

Despite the strong camaraderie and supportive work environment she enjoys, what matters most to Lee is still the well-being of her patients.

When asked what makes her happiest at work, she responds without hesitation, “When you see patients recover and go home.”

With such passion and drive at work, it’s clear Lee has no intent to quit anytime soon.

This sponsored article celebrates Mount Elizabeth Hospital’s 40th Anniversary and the writer is glad to have met someone as inspiring as Lee.