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Local health care problem solver passing the torch at Dryden Regional Health Centre
By Chris Marchand
There are few who can claim to have shaped health care in Dryden to the degree that Darlene Furlong has.
After 45 years in roles ranging from nurse to VP of Patient Care Services at Dryden Regional Health Centre, Furlong celebrated her retirement last week with a grand send-off from staff.
Assuming her post will be Doreen Armstrong-Ross.
Beginning her career at DRHC in 1969 as a maternity nurse. Furlong says the introduction of a teaching element in her nursing work marked the true beginning of her career’s shift from the grind of everyday nursing to painting ‘the big picture’ of health care in Dryden.
Her role in the administration evolved into ‘quality improvement’ role. She says some of her earliest wins were in evolving the delivery of addictions and mental health services as well as more closely integrating them into DRHC. Furlong also played a role in establishing 24 hour regional crisis safe beds as well as the somewhat controversial residential de-tox program.
“There were lots of challenges,” she said. “They (Mental Health and Addictions) were very separate and distinct from the hospital, a community based program. We were trying to de-stigmatize mental health. Parking over there and going into that building, everyone knew where you were going. When we restructured over here we had this whole wing empty. So I went to Toronto and convinced them to move the program into the hospital. It was the right thing to do.”
Moving to the role of Chief Nursing Executive, Furlong recalls the frustrations of local cancer patients in accessing treatment, which prompted her to explore the possibility of a satellite chemotherapy unit at DRHC.
With support from DRHC doctors, the unit started small and evolved into the service it is today.
Furlong helped address a local nursing shortage by working to establish the local Bachelor of Nursing program — a collaboration between Confederation College, Lakehead University and the Dryden Regional Health Centre. The program has graduated two classes of nurses and took a third uptake in 2014.
Furlong even had a hand in Dr. John Porter’s local orthopedic surgery program.
“We were sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and talking about doing knee arthroscopies and I asked him, ‘could you do total knee replacements in Dryden?’. He said, ‘I don’t see why not, if we had the right equipment. From there I went back to Wade and Andrew (Skene) and he (Porter) wrote a letter and we forged ahead to start building that orthopedic program which has since gone regional. We’ve really grown our specialty programs over the years. For a small community we have services that you just wouldn’t anticipate. To the credit of this organization we’ve embraced opportunities to try different things and make them work.”
DRHC CEO Wade Petranik says Furlong has had a hand in most things the hospital would call feathers in their cap. A lot of it, Petranik says, comes down to solving local problems with solutions that may be largely untested.
“We’ve run so many pilots, I think could land a 747,” says Petranik. “One of the reasons that Darlene and I work so well together is that we’re both born and raised here. The connection is our love of the community and we want to give something back. Darlene has a passion for Dryden and it’s so important that leaders in the community have those ties. I think the success of our management team is that we’ve had people here for so long. They’re here because they feel connected.”
In her retirement, Furlong says she will remain a surveyor for accreditation Canada and will help inspect health care facilities in Bermuda and Brazil and make recommendations. She also looks forward to spending more time with family living in the southern U.S. and her winter retreat in Phoenix, AZ.