Monarch Caring Comm Award Web Banner Image
Monarch Caring Comm Award Web Banner Image

Monarch Caring and Community Award –
2022 Specialty Hospital Recipient

Cathy Hitch
Respiratory Therapist, Kindred Hospital Albuquerque

Since joining Kindred Hospital Albuquerque in 2014, respiratory therapist Cathy Hitch has been a breath of fresh air for her patients and teammates. Cathy’s bedside manner reflects her compassion and dedication ‒ a sentiment echoed in those she has mentored in her 40 years of service. On November 2, 2022, ScionHealth recognized Cathy as a 2022 Monarch Caring and Community Award recipient for delivering phenomenal patient care and helping foster a culture of excellence. The award is our company’s highest honor, designed to showcase the truly exceptional caregivers amongst our 79 specialty and community hospital campuses across the country.

Congratulations, Cathy, on becoming an inaugural Monarch Award recipient, and thank you for being a standard bearer for the care we provide our patients and communities.

Albuquerque Respiratory Therapist Named Monarch Award Recipient

Spend just a few minutes with the 2022 Monarch Caring and Community Award recipient Cathy Hitch, and you’ll want to edit the axiom to “those who can, teach.” With 40 years of experience as a respiratory therapist, including the past eight at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, and a desire to spread compassion, knowledge, and joy to those around her, Cathy’s commitment to her patients and teammates exemplifies traits befitting the highest honor ScionHealth awards to its exceptional caregivers.

“Just being named the one [finalist] out of the four [nominees at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque] was like, ‘That’s great, that’s neat,’” Cathy said, but when she was recognized as an inaugural recipient of the Monarch Award from nearly 300 nominations nationwide, she was shocked. “That’s not real,” she said with a smile as wide and bright as a New Mexico blue sky. “It’s very humbling.” A Virginia native, Cathy began her career as an equipment tech at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk. Originally, she wanted to be a doctor, but the timing wasn’t right. “I’ve always wanted to help people; I found [respiratory therapy] by accident,” she chuckled. Cathy got her specialization certification in pediatrics and spent the better part of three decades in the field.

Cathy joined Kindred Hospital Albuquerque in 2014, making her way into adult care. She loved the size of the hospital and the treatment team. “It’s small and more intimate. It’s like a family,” Cathy said. “You get to know the patients really well.” Making the transition to a new population meant new challenges, but Cathy’s ability to build bonds with those under her care was evident from the onset.

“I come from a pediatric world,” she replied. “We always did special things for our patients, so I just happened to carry that to the adult world.”

A Testimonial to Compassion

Elaine Allen, Director of Respiratory Therapy for Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, originally hired Cathy and has witnessed that ability to establish those relationships firsthand, especially with patients facing substantial challenges. For Cathy, that capacity to connect is borne of trust and constancy.

“Some of our patients have developmentally delayed medical conditions. [Cathy] is just able to calm them,” said Elaine. Being on a ventilator can be traumatic, and when coupled with other complicating factors, these situations become potentially more volatile. “People that may be pulling things, pulling out their trachs, or scratching staff, she can just go in, and it’s like the ‘Patient Whisperer,’ I guess I could call her,” explained Elaine. “[Cathy is] just awesome with our patients. She just goes above and beyond.”

What many would describe as going above and beyond is commonplace in Cathy’s bedside manner and approach. “I kind of get to know how they feel,” explained Cathy. “I have a patient right now who, for the longest time, he was afraid to come off the ventilator. So my goal with him was to build trust.” While others may have attempted to wean the patient off earlier, Cathy demonstrated patience.

“I let him go at his own speed and let him know I was going to be there,” she said. Cathy kept her word, holding her patient’s hand during his first heated trach collar treatment. “He ended up trusting me, so now when he needs that reassurance, I’m the one he wants, because he trusts me and he knows that I’m not going to let something happen to him.” 

Maintaining close connections is at the heart of Cathy’s success.  “That’s what she does with people,” reiterated Elaine.

One way that Cathy connects to patients and celebrates their successes is the “Cathy Dance,” which is well-known throughout the hospital. “You have to meet a goal to get the happy dance,” Cathy said with a laugh. “It depends on how my patient’s doing, and if they like it or not. Sometimes it’s like their little motivation.” Cathy’s range of engagement, from tender to silly, is all driven by taking the time needed to know those who are under her care.

Lisa Cochran, CEO of Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, shared another anecdote about one of Cathy’s patients, one that was top of her list when nominating Cathy for the Monarch Award.

“He was here [as a patient at Kindred] for quite a long time. He was an author here in New Mexico and had written a number of books,” said Lisa. Once Cathy discovered that the patient was a writer, she went out and tracked down one of his books. Lisa continued, “Cathy would sit with him and read his book to him — both while she had a free moment when on duty and she would come in on her days off as well and read to him. It brought him so much joy.”

Cathy remembers the terminal patient fondly. “I would read his book to him, and he would quiz me on it, to make sure I knew what he meant by what he wrote,” she recalled. Cathy said making the most of those moments when the writer was on a break from treatment made an indelible mark on both of them — a shared space that erased barriers between caregiver and patient.

From Therapist to Mentor

Cathy also carried her love for education with her to Kindred Hospital Albuquerque. She has always had a passion for training and mentoring others, and while working in pediatrics, Cathy went from orienting new hires to becoming a department educator. Her reputation as a trainer followed her to Kindred Hospital

“When I came [to Kindred] my former supervisor, Polly, was clinical director at Pima [Medical Institute], and she convinced me to become a clinical instructor,” explained Cathy. For several years, Cathy spent one of her days off at Kindred Hospital in the classroom, teaching future therapists.

The best teachers possess a mix of empathy and insight, with lessons forged on the anvil of experience, but tempered by knowing their students. “A lot of it is trying to pass on what you know to them, but letting them grow their way,” Cathy said. This foundational building block is a lesson Cathy stressed in her teaching.

“It’s a like a house,” she said. “You know the roof is great, it’s nice to have a pretty roof, but if you don’t have a good foundation, the roof means nothing, because it’s going to be where the foundation should have been. So you need to start from the beginning, learn what you need to learn, take your time with the patients, and treat each one as a person.”

While she may not be in the classroom currently, Cathy still serves as a mentor for others at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque. For Cathy, it’s her students’ light-bulb moments that fuel her as a teacher. “That’s so exciting…when it all comes together,” she said. “They add the little bricks, and it starts making a whole picture.”

Her supervisor Elaine often sees that picture being formed when respiratory students rotate through Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, many asking to shadow Cathy. “Her students just really love her,” Elaine said. “…She just takes the time to teach and mentor.”

Impact, like time, accumulates with a gradual momentum. The lives that Cathy has touched over her tenure at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque are the best testimonials that can be offered to ScionHealth’s inaugural Monarch Award recipient. “I try to teach my students that you learn something from everybody and that you never stop learning,” Cathy said. From the bedside to the classroom, from patients to staff, Cathy is a student of a life well-shared. “I learn from them way more than they can learn from me.”

Nearly 300 caregivers from ScionHealth’s 79 hospitals across 25 states were nominated for the Monarch Caring and Community Award, which includes a cash prize, framed certificate, and crystal award. Cathy Hitch and Doug St. Clair, a paramedic at Palestine Regional Medical Center, were the 2022 recipients.