Gwinnett Medical Center registered nurse Gail Stroud, right, has been working at GMC since June 17, 1963. Stroud, the nurse at GMC for the past 50 years claims to have witnessed the parallel growth between Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Medical Center. Stroud provides a health status evaluation on register nurse Beth Parrott, left, at GMC in Lawrenceville on Aug. 7. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
Nurse works at Gwinnett Medical Center for 50 years
Registered Nurse Gail Stroud reflects on working at the Gwinnett Medical Center for the past 50 years.
LAWRENCEVILLE — It’s called the Warm Blanket Philosophy, and to Gail Stroud, it’s a straightforward concept.
“If someone’s cold and hungry,” Stroud said, “and you haven’t taken care of that, you don’t need to start talking to them about procedures and processes.”
Stroud has worked long enough in Gwinnett’s hospitals to remember a time when they didn’t have blanket warmers.
“So I did scorch a couple of them in the microwave,” she said with a laugh.
As her career has evolved, and the nursing industry grown and become more specialized, Stroud remains true to the fundamentals about nursing. She never watched or worried much about the clock, and has been known to stay after hours.
“I’m not coming because you say you’re paying me,” Stroud recalled telling a boss years ago, “I’m coming because you said you need me.”
There’s only one nurse that fits Stroud’s description, her colleagues and supervisors have said. In July, Stroud reached 50 years of service to Gwinnett’s hospitals, and was honored with 50 long-stemmed red roses from the Gwinnett Medical Center. Her career began with a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift on July 17, 1963, at Button Gwinnett, a 59-bed hospital where she worked as a nursing assistant.
Her job interview was conducted by the hospital’s administrator after she rode nine-tenths of a mile on a bicycle.
She now works as a a part-time clinical occupational health nurse, and a nurse in cardiology, as needed.
“When you watch Gail, you see almost instantly how much she loves what she does and how passionate she is about nursing in general,” said Janice Stewart, a staff nurse in risk management at GMC. “We sometimes ask, ‘Gail, when are you going to stop and smell the roses?’ and she says, ‘I smell the roses every day, this is what I want to do, and where I want to be.’”
Her family said it’s difficult to find anyone more dedicated about their career, and passionate about patient care.
“I’ve never seen anybody want to work as much as she wants to work,” said her son, Fred Stroud IV. “She really enjoys it, and anytime anybody brings up retirement, she almost gets offended. She wants to do it as long as she possibly can.”
During those 50 years, she’s worked in virtually every department but the neonatal intensive care unit. She’s worked in administration and, as a recruiter one year, Stroud hired 99 people.
While she typically works about 20 hours each week, Stroud rarely misses time because of illness. A recent bout with pink eye was her first absence in eight years.
‘I wasn’t going to be a nurse’
Before she made that bike ride that changed her life, Stroud was on the debate team at Central Gwinnett High and earned a scholarship to Emory University.
She didn’t have any career plans, and “wasn’t one of those people that grew up all of her life wanting to be a nurse.”
“I wasn’t going to be a nurse,” she said.
That was before her aunt, who was a nurse when Emory Hospital was called Woodruff Hospital, “kept telling me, ‘you’d like nursing.’” Her aunt was familiar with the profession after she took care of the Woodruff family that built the Coca-Cola fortune.
Four years after Button Gwinnett opened, Stroud finally listened to her aunt, and pursued a career in nursing. She obtained tuition assistance from Emory if she would work in a rural setting. In 1963, Gwinnett qualified.
“I fell in love with nursing in this county,” she said. “It’s just what I wanted to do. I’m glad she spoke up.”
Stroud earned a Bachelor’s of Science in nursing, and graduated in the last class to finish the program in five years before it was compressed to four. She jumped at the chance to return home, and working in that “rural” setting was a bonus.
“I didn’t come here because it was the highest-paying job by any means,” she said. “There was a lot more money in Atlanta at the time.”
‘This county could use it’
In the late 1960s, Stroud recognized that coronary care units were opening in smaller communities, but not yet in rural, farm communities like Gwinnett.
As director of nursing at Joan Glancy Hospital in Duluth, Stroud saw a need. Button Gwinnett had 79 beds, Buford General had 59 beds and Joan Glancy had 99 beds.
“This county could use it,” she said. “We’re just too small of a system. I said, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’”
So she walked to the sun room at Joan Glancy and measured the dimensions toe-to-heel, toe-to-heel. Stroud realized there was enough room for four coronary care beds, so she made a proposal to the Board of Directors.
An engineer later confirmed Stroud’s measurements, and before long, the first coronary care unit in Gwinnett opened at Joan Glancy.
“I love making the Rubik’s Cube smooth, and it turned out right,” she said.
That turned out to be foreshadowing for Stroud’s involvement in the growth of the hospital system in Gwinnett.
In 1981, Stroud proved to be an integral part of a certificate-of-need process to build a new hospital in the county. In the mid-to-late 1970s, Glancy sometimes had a 107 percent capacity and Button Gwinnett and Buford General were operating in the red, Stroud said.
The problem with the CON process was it was based on population figures from the previous five years.
“Well, if you’re the fastest-growing county in the United States, and you’re going on the previous five years?,” Stroud said. “What relevancy do they have on your future? We had a lot of trouble getting them to understand how big a hospital we needed.”
Because she was director of nurses at Joan Glancy, Stroud worked from the administrative side, but was also familiar with patient care — and crowded waiting rooms.
In her testimony and arguments during the process, Stroud used anecdotal evidence from the grocery store.
“Look at who’s in line, it is not a retirement community,” she said. “You’re going to see young people, mothers, pregnant women. We can’t possibly live on the average of 40 deliveries a month.”
The CON process is very conservative to guard against over-building and over-committing because officials don’t want empty hospital beds, Stroud said. But Stroud’s foresight came true as the new hospital, which opened in 1984, recorded as many births in the first few months as it was projected to in the entire first year.
As an administrator, she also recognized summer days in Buford when incidents on Lake Lanier made the emergency room a “nightmare.” And because there were on-call surgeries, the staffs in Duluth and Buford, as well as Lawrenceville, needed to know each other. So she coined a phrase called “save our system,” or “SOS,” to foster communication, and most importantly backup nurses in specific areas.
By the late 1970s, nursing specialities began, like labor and delivery and the neonatal intensive care unit.
As those specialties have spread, Stroud has diagnosed nurses’ personalties, and matched them with departments. She saw one nurse who made excellent first-patient contact, while another was not as compassionate, or didn’t excel at the Warm Blanket Philosophy.
Stewart was one of those nurses Stroud hired. Stewart said her first choice was to work in an operating room, and Stroud made sure Stewart stayed there for many years.
“She listens to what you’re saying, and picks up where your passsion is,” Stewart said.
One of Stroud’s gifts is translating technical medical terms into something the average person can understand. She compared a stress test to the New Year’s Eve ball drop in New York.
“We’ve got all those light bulbs burning, if we light up your heart with that isotope and one of those bulbs is dim, we know what vessel feeds that area of the heart,” she said “We’ve got an idea there must be diminished flow, they get it.”
Her colleagues have said she has as much energy as anyone around, even in a demanding job where her chair is hardly used.
Stroud’s next goal is to reach 55 years at GMC. Since her daughter lives near a beach, it’s like a bonus vacation every time she visits her 4-year-old grandson.
“I don’t see any voluntary retirement in her future,” her son said. “I think she would even do consulting. It’s not work, it’s fun. Why would you stop having fun?”
Asked if she would like to do anything that she wasn’t able to do the last 50 years, Stroud said she doesn’t want to stop doing something she loves. She’s not like the people who want to “hang it up” because they’re tired of working.
“I’m not tired of what I’m doing,” she said. “I don’t want to not be a part of it. It doesn’t just feed me, it has a lot to do with my identity. What would I do if I retired? Do I feel like this is keeping me from doing anything? No, I feel like this is giving me the opportunity to do.”