‘It’s all about wanting to help people’
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‘It’s all about wanting to help people’

Maggie Kaplen’s $10 million gift to Englewood Health is for nurses

Staff wash their hands before putting on their full protective gear. (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)
Staff wash their hands before putting on their full protective gear. (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)

If you compare a hospital to a living body — a comparison you easily could make, given how it pulses with life — you could amuse yourself by figuring out which group is which organ. Doctors, administrators, technicians, cooks, transporters, aides — all vitally important. Who’s the brain, the lungs, the eyes, the ears, the spine, the fingers, the opposable thumbs?

There would be no question, though, about who’s the heart.

That’s the nurses.

In hugely generous acknowledgement of this basic truth, Maggie Kaplen of Tenafly has just made a $10 million gift to the Englewood Health Foundation. That gift follows many others that she and her late husband, Wilson (better known as Bill) made over the course of many years; they all were big, but this one is bigger still. It is, in fact, the biggest that the system — which has the institution that began life as Englewood Hospital at its core — ever has received.

The money will fund the Kaplen Institute for Nursing Excellence at Englewood Health.

She decided to make the gift before covid-19 made healthcare workers into frontline fighters, demanding that they all give even more than they usually do — which is a lot — while risking their own health, and possibly even their families’. But the timing of the announcement was not accidental.

“We had hoped to make a live announcement, instead of filming it on a phone,” Ms. Kaplen said. In other words, she’d hoped for a normal announcement, appropriate for normal times. “But hopefully this will uplift everyone. Maybe it will help nurses say, ‘Hey, I really am important. I am needed. And this is great.’”

Maggie Kaplen (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)

Ms. Kaplen knows about how important nurses are, and how hard and selfless their work can be, through firsthand experience. She was one.

“I did hospice nursing,” she said. “It was hands-on, and I loved it.”

Ms. Kaplen grew up in Bergenfield, living above the family business. It was a funeral home, her parents owned and operated it, and at times she helped out there. She isn’t sure now if her familiarity with the intensity and honesty that surround death made her choice to become a hospice nurse logical, but she’s pretty sure that it didn’t hurt. “I always felt that as a hospice nurse or as a funeral director you are dealing with the most intense part of life. As a hospice nurse, you’re working with people at the end of their lives; at a funeral home, you’re working with the living. The family. In a way, hospice provides the milieu for anticipatory grieving.”

Back when she was a nurse, decades ago, hospice care was provided at home, which gave her an even more intimate look at people’s lives, and an even deeper understanding of how sensitive, loving nursing can help both the dying patients and their families.

Based on her experience, and what she’s seen, what do nurses do? “What don’t they do?” Ms. Kaplen answered. “They do everything, from the most menial little thing to the psychosocial to the total care of a patient. And they do it with a smile, and with love, and with care.”

Why do they do it? “They do it because they care,” she said. “They do it because they care about humans and about the human condition. They do it because they love people.

A nurse prepares to work with a covid-19 patient at Englewood Health. (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)

“They certainly don’t do it for the glory, because there isn’t any glory in nursing. In most cases, it is underappreciated.”

Her gift is not for a specific program. It’s not something you have to apply for. It’s to increase the possibilities for nurses in all kinds of directions, depending on their own needs, talents, and interests. It recognizes that nurses crave professional advancement, while remaining in the field they love.

Maggie Kaplen understands that.

“Nursing is part of me,” she said. “It is my heart. And I also know that it really is a gift to the community, because whatever we do for the nurses has an impact on the entire community.”

Warren Geller is the president and CEO of Englewood Health. Right now, fighting the coronavirus, he’s in the midst of what he calls “a tsunami, and it our job just to keep moving to higher ground,” he said. “You hope that the trend changes, but so far it has not. It’s kept surging.”

It’s an extraordinary thing, he said. “For fifty percent of it, you can’t believe that this” — the illnesses, the deaths, the shortages of equipment and information, the economic catastrophe, the fear “actually is happing in our country. In our region.

“And the other half, the other 50 percent, so heartwarming. You just can’t believe the heroism that you see happening right in front of you.

Warren Geller (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)

“We do have what we need now, but it is hand-to-hand combat, just trying to chase down every vendor, procuring supplies. The county, the state, Governor Murphy and his team, and the federal government have been incredibly supportive.

“We have been partnering with other facilities and leaders in our region, and the camaraderie and coordination and communication have been excellent. We’ve been taking each other’s pulse, seeing what each other needs. We’re all faced with the same crisis, and you help each other where you can help.

“It brings out the best of all of us, when you are faced with a pandemic.”

The numbers of covid-19 patients are rising, and even with all elective surgery postponed, still there are other needs as well — babies are being born, even now, and people have heart attacks and cancer and other emergencies. Healthcare workers have to soldier through all of it; they have to give care and they too need protection. “It is my job to give people the safest possible environment to care for people, and to be cared for,” Mr. Geller said. “These folks are on the front line, and we want them and their families to feel safe. We need to protect them as best we can in a true crisis.

“And you can’t give them a hug. Sometimes you just need a good cry.”

Ms. Kaplen’s gift gives hope, so it made perfect sense to Mr. Geller to announce it now, in the middle of the pandemic. “We wanted to lift the esprit de corps,” he said. “We keep pushing positive messages through the organization. We started small, and we ended up with the piece de resistance.

“Maggie’s gift!”

Mr. Geller thinks about the announcement of the gift. “I was filming the message the other day in one of our corridors. I wasn’t wearing a mask for it, because I was talking — it was very brief — and they used a long boom mic. No one was within six feet of me. And you couldn’t believe how many team members stopped to say hello.

“To say something positive is very emotional.

“So that’s why I spoke to Maggie earlier in the week” — this was about moving up the timing of the announcement instead of waiting until the virus recedes and people can stand next to each other again. “I said to Maggie, ‘we don’t need a little shot in the arm,’ ” Mr. Geller said. “‘We need an explosive one.’

“And she said ‘Let’s do it!’

“She cares so deeply. She looks out not only for the nurse on the front line, but also for the kid who didn’t know that the opportunity exists.

“That’s what she wants — to lift the current generation while looking out for the next one. To offer educational opportunities, advancement opportunities, opportunities to collaborate on research.

“Maggie and her late husband, Bill, were health care visionaries.”

He talked about the Kaplens’ history of giving to Englewood Health. “They were a huge part of our transformation in 2009, when we opened the Kaplen Pavilion. That was our state-of-the-art emergency care center. And there’s also the 22-bed ortho-neuro unit. And the Wilson Kaplen Infusion Center.

“Look at Maggie’s vision. The emergency care unit is our face to the entire community. When people get there, they are scared, they need help, and they hear us say ‘We are there for you.’

“And we couldn’t do it without Maggie and Bill.”

So what exactly is Maggie Kaplen’s $10 million going to do?

“It will allow folks to continue to pursue their educational opportunities in advancing their certification, in participating in national research projects, in participating in national conferences, in really expanding beyond the walls of Englewood Health and looking at things nationally.

“It is also going to create a pipeline for new nurses to establish their careers in Englewood Health.

“It gives nurses the recognition that they deserve, and it gives them the opportunity to expand their efforts. It allows both existing and future nurses the chance to obtain new skills, tools, and education. It will allow our nurses to lead, and to reimagine nursing for years to come.”

It goes to what a nurse is.

At Englewood Health, to begin with, a nurse is someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “That’s who we recruit, because we are a magnet facility.” (That means that it is acknowledged as having earned acceptance in its magnet program by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.)

“I define our nurses as the heartbeat of our organization,” Mr. Geller said. “They’re caring, compassionate, and hardworking individuals who personify teamwork on a daily basis. We could all learn a lot from them.”

The crisis is demanding that nurses pivot away from their normal work to concentrate on the pandemic, but once it’s over, the nurses and the gift and the hope will remain.

Kathleen Kaminsky (ENGLEWOOD HEALTH)

Kathleen Kaminsky is Englewood Health’s senior vice president of patient care services and its chief nursing officer.

“This gift is the largest that I am aware of for nursing in a single hospital,” Ms. Kaminsky said. “It is an extraordinary gift, that allows us to reimagine the future of nursing.

“Englewood’s nurses have had a really long commitment to the highest standards of both safety and quality in patient care. And when you think about dreaming big in terms of the future of nursing, this gift will allow us to achieve our goals.

“It is for professional development, for everything from education to continuing education to achieving professional board certification to tuition assistance. It is a pathway from a bachelor’s degree to graduate work. It is a pathway for professional development. It is a pathway for folks who want to be nurses but may not have the financial means.

“We’re also looking to focus on clinical research, in terms of what is the right care to give; whether it’s about work environment or clinical practices, we will have the opportunity to do frontline research.”

That’s something that’s already happened at Englewood Health, Ms. Kaminsky added; “one of the nurses here is a nationally recognized wound care expert, who has done two decades of research on pressure injuries. She has written prolifically and presented nationally. That all started on the front lines.

“So when our nurses have questions, we not only want to encourage them, but we’ll be able to put resources behind it. We will help advance the science.

“We’re also going to focus on innovation. On being creative. On allowing nurses to reimagine different ways of providing care, of really encouraging creativity.”

All this means that nursing is what those of us who are not health care workers have always thought it was — it’s the field for people who care, who give care, who are next to the beds and in the operating rooms. The strong but gentle ones.

But there’s more. “When I was studying nursing, one of the things we often talked about was whether it’s an art or a science,” Ms. Kaminsky said. “Really, it’s both. The science is the research and the clinical management. The art is understanding the context we work in. The care we give is individualized to each patient. There has to be a good framework for innovation.”

Ms. Kaplen’s gift also will help in “taking care of our nurses,” Ms. Kaminsky said. “We want to make sure that we give them the tools to be able to care for themselves, and to come into work every day. We want to make sure that we take care of the caregivers, both their mental and their physical health.”

Ms. Kaminsky knows exactly what nurses want because she is one, and she knows exactly how nursing at Englewood Health works because she’s been there for her whole career (and through the hospital’s name changes). “I grew up in Englewood, and I was a unit secretary in the hospital in the early 80s, when I was in college,” she said. “Then I became a staff nurse, and kind of rolled through different positions.”

Why did she become a nurse?

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “It was a career day; someone who wanted to be a teacher brought in an apple and someone who wanted to be a fireman brought a fire truck. I wanted to be a nurse.

“I had relatives in Massachusetts, the mom and two of the girls all were nurses. It was back in the day, and they wore the starched white uniform and the cap, and they were such kind, compassionate people. I looked up to them as role models, and they influenced me early.

“It’s about wanting to help people. That’s what my internal motivation was, and it never faltered, all the way through high school.

“I think that’s what drives many nurses. And you have to want to do this. It’s not easy. They work hard, those nurses. They work extremely hard.

“I think that what drives them is compassion, the ability to care for people and to connect to them, to help patients and families navigate the very complex world of health care.

“It’s not an easy job.”

There’s a direct and visible line between Maggie Kaplen and Kathleen Kaminsky. They both went into nursing out of a strong desire — perhaps an actual need — to help people. They flourished on hard work; their heroics were both undeniable and at times invisible.

Now, Ms. Kaplen is giving a huge gift that Ms. Kaminsky will help oversee as both work to help the profession they love and the people who chose to dedicate themselves to it prosper. They will make nurses’ careers and their lives better, and what’s better for nurses is better for the community.

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