In 2016, 23 people from the 16-hospital Memorial Hermann Health System were selected as Employees of the Year. That same year, the System launched a new award: The Memorial Hermann Health System Employee of the Year. The employee singled out to receive the award is Martha Garcia, a senior patient care assistant at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Born in Cali, Colombia, Garcia moved to Chicago with her family. She arrived in Houston about a decade ago, and started a business teaching swimming classes to children and teens.
“I met a lot of people through my swimming classes, and many were doctors and nurses who thought I should be working in health care,” she says. “They kept encouraging me, so I went to school to get my medical assistant certification.” But the full-time weekday schedule required of medical assistants would have forced Garcia to give up her swimming classes.
When she learned about a job at TIRR Memorial Hermann that offered her the opportunity to work 12-hour shifts Monday through Wednesday as a patient care assistant, she interviewed and accepted her first job in health care. That was six years ago, and Garcia has cared for rehabilitation patients with a relentless passion ever since.
During her first year, she approached her manager, Deanna Bennett, BSN, RN, CRRN, CBIS, about serving as a translator for native Spanish speakers. “I learned that I needed to be certified as a translator, and I asked Deanna to help me get certified because I felt like I couldn’t leave people who can’t speak English behind,” Garcia says. “She helped me sign up for online classes. I took the test and was certified as a translator. Now I work around my patient care schedule and go wherever I’m needed in the hospital to explain things to people who speak only Spanish.”
While no day at TIRR Memorial Hermann is typical for Garcia, she arrives at 6:45 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to help get patients up and ready for their therapy sessions. “Some patients can do a lot for themselves, and others can’t do anything,” she says. “Our goal is to show them first thing in the morning that we care about them. We want them to be happy and push themselves more toward recovery every day. I consider that the most important part of my job – to let them know that we’re here for them and really care. It’s a great job, and I love it. It’s true that 12 hours is a long day but when you’re busy and see those people happy, the day seems very short. I get to see people in wheelchairs stand up and walk, which is amazing. It’s like wow!”
In her nomination for the System Employee of the Year Award, Garcia was cited for “always greeting patients with a smile or an encouraging word, cleaning and decorating patient rooms as if they were her own home, and empowering patients to become more independent through her own confidence.” She also prides herself on her exceptional fall prevention rate and prevention of skin breakdown, and forms long-lasting friendships by getting to know her patients and families.
“My desire to help people comes from my heart,” she says. “I like my patients to be happy and smiling. When you’re healthy, you never know how quickly everything can turn around. It’s not easy to keep a positive attitude after you’ve had a stroke, so with everyone I try to encourage that. When I train new patient care assistants, I tell them that you have to have the passion and fire. It’s beautiful when you can help someone.”
Garcia, who would like to go to nursing school when her 11-year-old daughter, Sarai, is older, was surprised by her recognition as the System Employee of the Year. “We have a lot of nice people at TIRR. I didn’t win this on my own. We all did it. It’s never just one person in health care. It’s always teamwork. We all need each other, and nobody is left behind with me.”