Being a nurse at Hartford Hospital was Bernadette Warren's greatest passion in life, one to which she devoted more than 60 years.
When she died in January 2007, David Crombie, M.D., former chief of General Surgery and a Hartford Hospital historian called Bernadette "a true icon in the modern history of Hartford Hospital."
A loyal advocate for the institution, its doctors, and its patients, Bernadette left a legacy of commitment, hard work, compassion and generosity. Beyond service, her involvement also encompassed exceptional philanthropy, including a generous bequest to the Hospital.
Such legacy gifts from visionary individuals through the years have advanced Hartford Hospital's tradition of excellence. Their thoughtful planning has helped shape technical expertise and quality of care in a meaningful way - and that's exactly what Bernadette had in mind when she planned her gift.
She earmarked her bequest for Hartford Hospital's Henry Low Heart Center, recognized today as one of the nation's premier cardiology programs. Such acclaim reflects the dedication and expertise of a highly-skilled cardiac team, coupled with comprehensive services including: a 24-hour catheterization lab operated by physicians who do nothing else; a dedicated angioplasty ICU; extensive cardiac surgery experience, including robotic surgery; and leading-edge imaging, including the first VCT Lightspeed Scanner in the state.
Having known and worked with Henry B.C. Low, M.D., the Center's namesake, since he was a resident, Bernadette "wanted to help him in his efforts to improve patient care and help other doctors advance this cause."
"Bernadette felt that doctors made the hospital through their dedication, their sacrifice, long hours with no complaints, and total commitment to caring for patients," said Dr. Low. "She was committed to taking care of them, creating an environment to enable them to do their best work on behalf of patients, and she could be counted on 24 hours a day."
Bernadette got used to long days in the 1940s when patients had longer stays. She once recalled, "You worked. You worked evenings, you worked nights. You did whatever was needed to help your patients."
She brought that ethic to her first job as a nurse on the surgical floor after graduating from the Hospital's School of Nursing in 1944. She soon became head nurse, working collaboratively with surgeons like Hartford Hospital's first surgical resident, Dr. John Reed. He was struggling so at the time that Bernadette would bring him fresh chicken from her father's butcher shop in Cromwell.
The nursing staff also benefited from "Mother Advisor," who provided advice - and, quite often, the resources - to help solve personal problems. More than one student nurse made it through school with Bernadette's help.
"She was a true friend to everyone," added Dr. Low, "concerned with the welfare of each and everyone in the Hartford Hospital family, from the president on down."
For much of her career as nursing supervisor on the evening shift, Bernadette managed every decision affecting patient care with courage, wisdom and humanity. Her nursing colleagues quoted her as saying, "You need to run it (the hospital) as though you own it."
"Bernadette cultivated the growth of Hartford Hospital during her professional life in the manner one cultivates a garden," Dr. Crombie noted. "The hospital was very special to her and she had the courage to act and make decisions to keep it special."
For more than 150 years, bequests and other legacy gifts have been the lifeblood of Hartford Hospital, providing much-needed resources to sustain its margin of excellence in many areas of health care delivery. Among those now is a thoughtful gift from an extraordinary woman who has left an indelible mark on the institution in which she strongly believed.