Every day for two weeks, a 15-year-old girl boarded a bus and took a bumpy ride to a medical center where her beloved grandfather, John O’Hara, was a patient.
In the early 1970s, though, visitors had to be 18 years old to go into the intensive care unit and the young girl was turned away. At the time, Cherie Gorby, Memorial’s new chief operating officer, did not know that she was experiencing a defining moment in her life – a moment that would shape every day that followed.
“Two weeks I tried to get in there, and I noticed that something happened every day at 3 o’clock. All the attention seemed to go to the core, and people left the nurses’ station, and I took it as my opportunity to see him,’’ Gorby said.
The tenacious girl darted into the room, and when John O’Hara laid eyes on his young granddaughter, whom he helped raise, he began to sob. Cherie began to cry, too. Seeing her grandfather connected to a nasal-gastric tube, a chest tube and a Foley catheter is still a vivid memory for her.
“Then his nurse came in, and she said she was going to call security and my grandfather didn’t want to have security called on me,’’ she said. “And, I said, ‘Can’t you just give us 10 minutes?’ ’’
Gorby did not have enough time to say good-bye before she left the room.
“I remember going out in that waiting room and saying, ‘I don’t know who these people are, or who makes these decisions, but I’m going to be a nurse some day and I’m not going to allow this to ever happen,’’ Gorby said.
On Christmas Eve, only a few days later, her grandfather died of cancer. He was 78.
Gorby has dedicated her life to patients, making their hospital or clinic experience one that is embraced with understanding, encouragement and compassion.
“The experience with my grandfather was long before the concept of patient and family centered care was developed, yet I knew I wanted something different for my grandfather and I. I knew care could be delivered differently, even at that young age,’’ Gorby said.
When she took the helm as COO of Memorial Hospital on May 2, it was a homecoming of sorts for Gorby. She spent 20 years at Memorial, from 1986 to 2006. She began as a staff nurse, then became a charge nurse, an assistant clinical manager and director of maternal-child services. She was promoted to administrator of Patient Care Services and COO. In 2006, she left Memorial, moved to Grand Junction, and then returned to Colorado Springs to become COO at Colorado Springs Health Partners.
Many employees have greeted her with hugs and well wishes as she makes frequent rounds to acquaint herself with the new Memorial. When she left, for instance, construction on Memorial Hospital North and the East Tower at Memorial Hospital Central was still underway. And though she was not working for Memorial when the hospital became a part of UCHealth, she watched the developments closely, always holding Memorial close to her heart.
“In my mind, this is the best partnership that we could have ever had, to have the influence of the university,’’ Gorby said. “I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Colorado, so I feel a kinship with the organization and so far, everybody seems very positive, upbeat and excited about the future. ’’
As COO, part of Gorby’s responsibilities will include oversight of the Master Facilities Plan, which includes expansion of services at Memorial Hospital North, continued renovation of patient rooms at Memorial Hospital Central, and strategic placement of primary care clinics throughout southern Colorado.
“It is wonderful to have a partner who believes in us. UCHealth has spent millions of dollars to help Memorial get to where we want to be,’’ she said. “There are so many programs and improvements that we are embarking on.’’
Gorby said she is impressed that patients have access to their medical records online.
“Think about how important that really is for the continuity of care – to have everything that has happened to you inside your record, and it travels with you. And, to have the same philosophy across UCHealth for the way care is delivered, and the connections that we have between facilities and physician to physician has improved care for Colorado Springs,’’ she said.
With deep roots in Colorado Springs, Gorby knows how important Memorial Hospital is to southern Colorado.
“We want patients to be able to access us easily. We want physician satisfaction, a place that is easy to navigate for physicians. I’d love to have doctors say that this is the easiest place to navigate, my patients are well cared for and I have the tools that I need to do my job – I can do it here.
“Patient satisfaction is so important. We want Memorial to continue to be a place where people really feel cared for. Even though we are a large hospital, this is a community hospital, and people feel loved here. I want our patients to feel that they are really cared about,’’ Gorby said.
She said that doing the “little things’’ for patients makes all the difference. While she worked as a nurse in the ICU, a patient headed to Denver for a heart transplant asked if he could see his dog.
“Infection control told me no,’’ she said. “Well, I got the dog up there. I thought it was a Chihuahua – it was a Chow. I had this little bag to put the Chihuahua in, but it was this huge Chow. I got in trouble over that, but I was always pushing the envelope.’
“Patients and families need to be together. At the worst times of your life, you need your family and if your family is your dog, then you need your dog,’’ she said. “I want to be family-friendly and a place where we embrace your illness with you, and help you through the most difficult times.’’
That philosophy is not new for Cherie Gorby. It’s wisdom that she gleaned at the age of 15 in the tormented quiet of a waiting room, outside the room of a man she still loves.