St. Barnabas Hospital’s Filipino nurses celebrate 35 years

The nurses gathered to reminisce and remember their emigration to America and years of service at St. Barnabas Hospital on Wednesday, June 6.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

A local hospital honored a cross section of its workforce that it recruited from overseas and trained decades ago.

St. Barnabas Hospital in 1982 and 1983 helped Filipino nurses immigrate to the United States to staff the hospital, with scores making the 8,000 mile journey on a 19-hour flight to live in a dormitory on the medical center’s Fordham campus.

Today, 35 years later, many of the nurses are still employed at St. Barnabas, and on Wednesday, June 6 the hospital celebrated all of their accomplishments in a ceremony and party that honored their dedication to the hospital’s patients.

The ceremony, which included a tribute from Dr. David Perlstein, St. Barnabas Hospital’s CEO and president, took place in what was the former nurses dormitory: the Braker Building.

“Can you imagine how much courage it took for these nurses, all in their early 20s, to leave their families and come to the Bronx?,” asked Robert Church, chief nursing officer. “And can you believe the commitment they have given to us at St. Barnabas Hospital by choosing to work here for 35 years?”

Among the nurses in this cohort who still work at the hospital is Vernie Bacolot, who us still on staff along with roughly 30 other Filipino nurses who came to the United States during this period.

Bacolot, who is currently a nurse educator at the hospital and who served as president of the Philippine Nurses Association (New York Chapter), said she started at the hospital in July 1983.

She was directly recruited to come to St. Barnabas, and upon arriving in America moved into the Braker building, which served as temporary housing until they were established enough to get their own spaces.

(l-r) Mimi Nacario, Gladys Marasigan, Toy Neukum, Sabina Lim, Othilyn Gonzales, Sonia Rivadelo, and Grace Ortiz.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

In many cases, they lived there for years, she said.

“We were excited because we were here in America, and we had heard a lot about it when we were in the Philippines,” said Bacolot. “At the same time, there was an adjustment phase: we had to adapt to the culture, the language and the way nursing is practiced here.”

The immigrant nurses received a great deal of support from each other as well as the administration, and within six months to a year typically were acclimated to working with patients at the hospital, said Bacolot.

“We had the skills, but we had to adjust to the people around us,” she said.

Bacolot has been in the nursing education department since 1992, where she trains new nurses, nurse attendants and nursing clerks.

She described the atmosphere at St. Barnabas Hospital, a community hospital, as being “like one big family” and the administration as very supportive of Filipino nurses.

Bacolot said that she came to America to find “greener pastures” and that there are many nursing schools in the Philippines, the graduates of which are often encouraged to go overseas to find work in order to better support their families.

According to the hospital, there are currently 146 nurses of Filipino heritage on staff, including those in the original recruitment 35 years ago and later hires.

Lilian Habana spoke about what immigration and the last 35 years means to her.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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