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From the Philippines to Jefferson House, Nightingale Award Recipient Gives Her All

April 21, 2017 By Hartford HealthCare

The Jefferson House 2017 Nightingale Award recipient traveled more than 8,000 miles to pursue her dream of nursing. Helen M. Funari, BSN, RN, AANAC, RAC-CT, grew up on a small island in the Philippines, came to the U.S. in 1994 and for the past nine years has worked at Jefferson House as the Minimum Data Set coordinator. In this role, Funari conducts federally mandated assessments of patients, collecting and compiling essential data.

Helen Funari 2017 Nightingale Award Recipient

In the Philippines, Funari originally received two psychology degrees, including a masters, and taught psychology. A board-certified teacher in the Philippines, she loved teaching but still wanted to be a nurse like her sister. After immigrating, she first worked in long-term care at a 450-bed facility in Queens, New York and eventually came to Jefferson House, located at 1 John H. Stewart Drive.

Funari, now a Berlin resident, said her love of caring for older people may have stemmed from her childhood when her maternal grandparents lived in her home. “I can relate well to older patients,” she said, noting that with her psychology background she understands the mindset, behavior and depression. “I love the elderly, talking to people with memory loss and reminiscing.”

Being an MDS nurse requires long hours tabulating data from different departments and not as much hands-on care. “Helen makes a complicated subject like coding easy to understand for our CNAs. She has become a resource for other MDS nurses and thrives on additional education for herself in her field,” said Susan Vinal, Jefferson House executive director. “Helen has developed tools for staff use that comply with the ever-changing requirements of CMS and will tweak those tools as needed so as to be user friendly for the nurses or CNAs, yet not varying from requirements.”

However, Funari still values one-on-one with the patients and enriching their lives. She has been an enthusiastic participant in Jefferson House’s Glee Club that joins staff and residents in several musical performances each year. “It is clear how much Helen loves our residents,” commented Vinal.

Her medical expertise and nurturing nature has also been vital on numerous mission trips she has taken to the Philippines with several surgical and medical teams. Together, the professionals provide free surgeries and medical assistance to the poor and indigent, which she finds rewarding.

Funari has never sought recognition – she was shocked to win the Nightingale Award - but she treasures a thank you note that she received in 2008 from a short-term rehabilitation patient that she cared for. “Nursing is one of the most rewarding professions anyone could have. I get a feeling of fulfillment being there for people from all walks of life and being a part of their journey to recovery. I feel I can always make a difference in people’s lives as a nurse.”

Hartford Hospital