One Registered Nurse (R.N.) from the area is currently in her 50th year in the profession, and is still actively employed as an R.N. Supervisor at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. Mary Back, 71, a native of Elliot, Iowa, in Montgomery County, graduated from the former high school in that small community in 1955. After graduation, Mary began nurse's training at Jenny Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs, and received her nurses' diploma on May 28, 1959. Four days later, she received her Bachelors Degree in Nursing (BSN) from the University of Omaha.
A few months before her graduation from Nursing, she met Bobby Back, whose brother was the boyfriend (and future husband) of another nursing student, and the couple started dating and were married in November of that year. They are still happily married today, 50 years later, and have five children - Marvin, who now lives in Illinois; Cynthia, who lives in Fairfield; Bill, who lives in Cherokee; Jacob, now in Plano, Texas; and Dan, who lives in Blair, Nebraska. Mary and Bobby also have many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mary took her first nursing job, on the Pediatrics Unit at Jenny Edmundson Hospital, after graduation, and worked there until October of 1959. Following their marriage in November, she and Bobby moved to Northwest Iowa, where Bobby was working at Madison Silo. Mary worked at the Spencer Hospital for about a year prior to the birth of her her first child, and then started working part-time at the new hospital in Hartley, as well as doing some private duty nursing.
The couple started farming near Sutherland in 1961, and Mary had her first experience working in Cherokee that same year, working part-time on the night shift at Sioux Valley Memorial Hospital (now Cherokee Regional Medical Center). In the fall of that year, Mary started working at the Ward Memorial Hospital in Primghar, and worked there until that hospital closed in 1968. She then went back to working at Sioux Valley Memorial Hospital until the new hospital in Primghar, Baum-Harmon Memorial, opened, and she worked there as the Director of Nursing from September 1970 until August 1987, when she began working at the MHI in Cherokee. She assumed a Supervisory position in 1989, and has been working in that capacity ever since.
Mary says, as you might expect, that she has seen "lots and lots of changes" in the nursing field in her 50 years. Among the changes she has seen at MHI are the use of much less restraint and seclusion, largely because of better training in managing potential problem situations. The "Proact" System they now use, Mary says, has taught staff better ways to communicate with patients which can hopefully defuse a potentially explosive situation. She also says that all the wards are air-conditioned, and remembers when she first started seeing patients come out of their rooms at night with their mattresses to lay in the hall because their bedrooms were so hot.
One very noticeable change, too, are the much shorter lengths of stay for MHI patients, due to several factors, including improved medications, with fewer side effects than previously encountered; more outpatient services available in the community; and the Psychiatric Rehabilitation model program, which has been the model used at MHI for nearly 15 years now, and which deals with teaching patients how to live in the community and deal with their problems in an appropriate and effective manner.
Among the previous treatment modalities which have vanished over the years are Insulin Therapy, which was discontinued before Mary ever came to MHI, and Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT), which was used frequently in the 1970s and 1980s, but reduced over time. ECT is now used very infrequently, and when it is, the patient is sent to University Hospital in Iowa City for its administration.
Mary also remembers when all syringes used to be glass, and had to be cleaned in an Autoclave, where now they're all disposable. Another change is that at one time only physicians could read EKGs and other tests, but now the RNs have been trained to do that. Another improvement, she says, is the "Team Approach" used at MHI, where "no one person's job is more important than another's."
Mary and husband Bobby live on a farm in rural Sutherland in O'Brien County, near Dog Creek, just one mile from the Cherokee County line. They used to have chickens, hogs and other farm animals, but now have it down to some stock cattle and calves.
Concerning her 50 year career, Mary Back says,"Fifty years has gone by quickly." She feels that she is a "people person," and is "here because I want to be, not because I have to be."
In regards to her working future, Mary says she has no plans at this time to retire, saying that she plans to work "as long as I can carry my share of the work load."