SYRACUSE — Melinda Bowens, a mental health therapy aide at Hutchings Psychiatric Center who was hired in March 2021, has already started making a difference at her workplace, recently saving a patient’s life.
While she is a new employee at Hutchings, Bowens is an experienced health care worker. She previously worked at St. Luke’s Hospital in Utica for 22 years before getting laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Never having been without a job before, Bowens applied to just about everywhere she could think, but it was Hutchings that called back first.
Still living in New Hartford, she gladly commutes 100 miles round-trip daily to her job that she calls a blessing.
Saving a patient’s life
In Hutchings’ linen room, Bowens was approached by a patient who was acting irritably. He asked her for two pillows. She agreed to give him the pillows, but said she had to put the pillowcases on first.
After the patient left, a nurse suggested she go check in on him.
“I went to his room,” Bowens said. “The door was shut and the lights were off and he was sitting with the vinyl part of the pillowcase over his head.”
Not knowing how long the patient had been suffocating himself under the pillowcase, she pleaded with him to stop and called out for help. When a nurse arrived, she and Bowens worked together to physically remove the pillowcase.
“It was traumatic for me,” Bowens said. “I’ve worked in health care where [I had] worked with the deceased, but actually catching someone trying to take their own life and someone dying of sickness is totally different.”
Because of her health care background, Bowens said she has been able to cope with the situation a little more easily than other people may do. She hopes that each day is getting a little better for the patient.
“I know mental health is not easy; it’s stigmatized,” Bowens said. “Now that I came into this job, I truly understand that some people can’t help what they’re going through and it’s our job to help them through it.”
While Bowens doesn’t want any credit for her actions, her story is just one of many CSEA members have experienced while working at mental health facilities and just another reason why keeping public mental health services funded is so vital to communities across the state.
Keep our mental health services funded
CSEA Hutchings Psychiatric Center Local President Tina Mara said a number of employees are working 16-hour shifts five days a week and that many departments are short-staffed — an issue she suspects is the case across many facilities across the state. Many employees are feeling the strain of understaffing.
“I’m super proud of what Melinda did,” Mara said. “It’s not every day we get to recognize an employee for doing their job. I wish I could recognize all of our employees because I feel like they all need to be recognized. They work hard.”
— Nicholas Newcomb