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Hospital, longtime employee celebrate 40 years

TORRINGTON – This week, Community Hospital in Torrington will celebrate four decades of providing medical care to the area ­– and employee Vaneta Kerns has been along for the duration.

Kerns works as an emergency room staff nurse and trauma coordinator at the local facility. She began her medical career in Torrington in July 1976, and the hospital opened at its current location in March 1977.

“I worked three years in Cheyenne, then got married and moved up here,” Kerns said. “I had my daughter (at the old hospital – on East 20th Avenue), and my son up here.”

Kerns recalls working 3 to 11 p.m. on the day the hospital moved to its current location at 2000 Campbell Drive.

“Every ambulance in Goshen County was moving patients,” she said. “The fire department was helping … it was very hectic that day, but we made it. 

“We really didn’t have a plan, we just knew we were going to move,” Kerns said. “We were putting surgical patients in the same room with medical patients … then they brought all the charts, and we had to match charts with patients. It was a very hectic evening.”

Since settling in on the hill, Kerns has been right there, watching four decades of change in the medical field as technology, science and regulations advanced.

“Electronic health records (are a big change),” Kerns said. “When I started here, dayshifts charted in blue or black ink, evening shift in green ink, and night was red ink. You could smoke at the desk, and the patients all had ashtrays.”

Smoking on the campus is now expressly prohibited.

“At the old hospital, we were much more relaxed,” Kerns continued. “In the evenings, if we were quiet, the ward clerk would cut hair – patients, staff.”

Kerns added the old hospital was connected to the nursing home by a tunnel, which led to a few eerie occurrences.

“Back then, an RN (registered nurse) could pronounce someone dead – you didn’t need a doctor,” she said. “Sometimes you’d have to walk down that tunnel in the night to pronounce someone dead.”

Additionally, the area’s two ambulances were based out of Torrington’s two funeral homes.

“They were not qualified to start IVs, but they picked (the patients) up and brought them in,” Kerns said. “We didn’t have IV pumps, and we ran some pretty big medications, just by counting the drips. You’d never do that today. 

“And our x-rays – when I first started here, you’d get the report in about four days,” she said. “Now you usually get them in 20 minutes.”

Kerns said the most rewarding aspect of her career with the hospital has been the patients.

“We had a set of triplets born here many, many years ago. That was very exciting,” she said. “We also had a very active (intensive care unit) back then. We’d get really sick people, then get to see them go home.”

Kerns has not only witnessed advancements, but actively participated in improving patient care throughout her tenure at Community Hospital. About 20 years ago, she was instrumental in starting the first certified trauma program in the state, for example.

“Every Wyoming hospital is now involved,” Kerns said. “We have a cast of people who get the patient taken care of much quicker – they receive more definite care. We have specific protocols, and the care is much, much better.”

Community Hospital went through the re-certification process in May and secured its spot as a top trauma center for another four years.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Kerns reflected. “I don’t always agree with the politics, but the patient care is always good.”

Although Kerns plans to retire next July, she hopes to continue to work at the hospital on a part-time basis. And as for Thursday’s rededication ceremony, the 40-year employee will be on campus – but perhaps not at the event itself.

“I’ll be here,” Kerns said. “But if there are patients, I won’t be at the open house and big celebration.”

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