At VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice, we’re not just nurses and other clinicians. We’re teachers, planners and friends. We’re here to make sure you are well-informed, equipped and confident in your wellness journey. At the same time, we’re all on a journey of our own. Here are just a few stories from us about who we are and why we love what we do.

A pocket dictionary and mom’s nursing pin

“My mother was an RN. Both my sisters and my brother-in-law are nurses. I went to school to be a kindergarten teacher but I called my mom two years in and said I wanted to switch to nursing. She cried. She said, ‘You were the one I always knew would be a nurse.’ Now, 33 years later, I love it just as much as I did then. Every day I get to teach, just not kindergarteners. I see people in their environment. I’ve been to squalor and I’ve been to mansions, but at the end of the day they’re all just people who need help. At an old job, 99 percent of my patients spoke Spanish so I had to learn on the job. I carried a pocket Spanish dictionary with me and I really became fluent in medical Spanish. People appreciate the effort. As a nurse, they’re always happy to see you. I see the good the bad and the ugly but even on my worst days, I still know I’ve made a difference.”
A wife, mother and daughter, Patty Tsou lives with her husband and 86-year-old father, for whom she is a caregiver. Every year on National Nurses Day she wears her Ona M. Wilcox College of Nursing pin alongside her mother’s St. Raphael School of Nursing pin. She is pictured (right) in 1985 alongside her mother’s photo from 1952.

A big-hearted, golfing “Nonnie”

“I come from a big, Italian background and we’re all about the love. I have one grandson who is my whole heart. But a nurse is just who I am. I started out my career as a medical transcriptionist, but when I became frustrated with the health care a loved one was receiving, I decided to jump in and make a difference myself. I just love my patients. I love to talk to them, not just about clinical stuff. That kind of empathy, I feel, is half the job. I became a nurse later in life so my children were part of it. They sacrificed so much – weekends, holidays – for my love of nursing, but I think when you start out sacrificing for something but it becomes who you are, that’s the best. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Taking the time to get to know her patients is critical to Laurie Gondon Barnabei’s kind of care, though she said that, as well as her patients may know her, they still might be surprised to see her during off hours on the golf course, the place she finds her bliss. She is one of VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice’s two 2018 Nightingale Award recipients.

Outdoorsy and on the run

“My father always told me I should be a nurse. I originally got my degree in nutrition, but I moved to California and there I got a degree in nursing. It suited me more than nutrition did. I was a pediatric nurse in California, but when I moved home I was a single parent and needed flexibility. I started here when it was still the Branford VNA and I really took to the homecare environment. I like the diversity of the work, meeting people in their homes and forming personal connections. Now, I’m married and I have three kids. My youngest is going off to college. I just turned 60. I’ve run three marathons in my life and I wanted to run the New York Marathon for my 60th but I didn’t get in, so I’m just going to run one on my own around here. It’s going to be my One Woman Marathon. My husband is going to make T-shirts.”
Ellen Cretella-Connell is an avid outdoorswoman and yogi who loves to run, kayak and ski, among other things. Her husband, a Branford High School teacher and track and Cross Country coach, is her biggest supporter.

A mom on the go

“I’ve been with VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice for 12 years now and I’ve been a nurse for almost 20 years. I love being able to help someone when they’re most vulnerable. There are always those patients that are kind of reluctant at first, but once they get to know you, they almost become part of your family. You are just literally doing basic things to help them and they are so grateful for everything. I have three kids. My time outside of work is all about them and my time at work is all about the patients. It’s nice to be able to put people’s minds at ease when they’re scared. And it is scary right after you’re sent home from the hospital. Everything is new and to be able to take away their fear is rewarding.”
Jennifer Kuczynski is one of VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice’s two 2018 Nightingale Award recipients. A mom of three kids, ages 15, 12 and 9, she is always on her way to dance classes and sporting practices and events. She loves to read, travel and hang out with her dog.

The Mama Bear

“I was 27 when I went back to school. I started as a home health aide and I knew right away I wanted to do homecare. I love the one-to-one ratio. When you’re with a patient, you’re with a patient, you know what I mean? I’m also a special needs mom and, being a mom, I think you take your job as a nurse more personally. Patients are not just patients, they become my family. I’m a mama bear with my son and with my patients. If they have a wound, I want it healed. If they have a disease, I want them to learn to be self-sufficient with it. Sometimes it takes a little tough love but it’s worth it.”
Sue Jankovich has been with VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice for 23 or her 25 years in nursing. She loves to travel with her son, Peter, age 19, and her husband, John. Peter, who has Down syndrome, is an active Special Olympics athlete and will graduate high school this year. His mom is a Special Olympics coach. Sue and John are pictured with Peter when he was honored by the Special Olympics this year.

Crafting memories

“Homecare was not my favorite rotation in nursing school. I’ve been a Registered Nurse since 1992 and I worked at a hospital for seven years, the last three years in the ICU float pool. After that, I was fortunate to take eight years to stay home with my three kids. When I returned to nursing, I decided to give home care another try. When I moved to Madison, I knew VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice had a great reputation and so I began working here, eventually moving into a new role of admission nurse. I see 12 patients a week to set up their plan of care. I absolutely love it. It’s different every day. Patients are coming home so much earlier than they used to, so I need to be adaptable and creative and use my assessment and critical thinking skills. It’s a challenge but I know I’m making a difference. After being in the field so long, I don’t know if I could work in the four walls of a building. I’m energetic and self-motivated to make things happen. I want to make the patients I see feel cared for and give them hope that this is only short term and we’ll get them back on their feet.”
Sheila Rubino knows her work with patients creates lasting memories, which is an important part of her process. She spends her free time with her husband, Jay, and children, ages 18, 17 and 15, and has a passion for scrapbooking to preserve their memories together for years to come.

Pint-sized supporter

“I love the flexibility of my job because the most important thing to me, aside from being a nurse, is being with my daughter. I wanted to be in a field where I could help people. I actually started off in social work and moved into nursing. My godmother was a nurse and that might have had something to do with that decision. I started my career in a hospital and I left there when I had my daughter, who is 4 now. I had always been interested in the VNA. It’s interesting to see this other side of care from working in the hospital. There, you discharge a patient and think, ‘Now what?’ Here, we work to keep them home and safe and I love that aspect of it. I try to explain to my daughter that I go and give people check-ups and she understands when I have to call patients so she gets what I do.”
Amy Gambardella has been a nurse for 10 years. She spends her free time with her family and loves to take her daughter, Grace, to the park and, now that the weather is finally nice, to the beach.