Dedication to behavioral health helps fuel nurse at Special Commitment Center

Waleska Rios-Derrick oversees more than 15 nurses and several CNAs who provide medical support and advocacy for residents at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

When Waleska Rios-Derrick thinks back on her 15-year career as a nurse, she believes that nursing chose her.

“I never in my life thought I was going to be a nurse. I went to college back in the day for translations and languages. I came to Washington state 20 years ago, and life happened, you’re left with little kids … (I decided) to become a nurse,” said Rios-Derrick, a nurse manager at the Special Commitment Center’s medical clinic. “It was a calling; it just came to me.”

She worked her way up the nursing chain from being a certified nursing assistant to a licensed practical nurse to a registered nurse. Now, she gets to spend most of her efforts on one of her favorite aspects of nursing — educating and teaching.

Rios-Derrick oversees over 15 nurses and several CNAs who provide medical support and advocacy for SCC residents, along with education on how to improve their health to include topics such as diabetic education, medications, wound care, and healthy diets and lifestyles. Their goal is to help residents learn to manage their own health and healthcare as they transition into the community.

“It’s a big job and it requires a lot of teaching, repetition and reinforcement. Some of our residents haven’t been out in (the community in) 20 to 30 years. They wouldn’t even know what MyChart is; they wouldn’t even know what a virtual visit is, or how to work a mobile phone,” she said.

She also gets to focus on providing ongoing education and mentorship for her nursing team.

“Nursing is ongoing education; science is always changing and there’s new things all of the time,” Rios-Derrick said. “We also provide education opportunities for the nurses, and we encourage the nursing team to continue learning because in nursing, you cannot remain stagnant. There’s always something new to learn, something that changed, something that evidence-based practice has proven to be safer and more conducive to resident and patient care.”

Her calling to work in behavioral health is a special one. Rios-Derrick worked primarily as an oncology nurse before taking a break to stay home with daughter.

“Being with her made me realize there is a mental health need. She has autism and ADHD — for us to get the testing and diagnosis, it took months. I realized there were not enough nurses and there were not enough doctors. When I was ready to come back, I felt like I could do more in the mental health field rather than going back to oncology, which I hold very close to my heart, but I felt like the need is so big here that I needed to do something about it,” she said.

Rios-Derrick shared her appreciate for all of her fellow nurses.

“Nurses and nursing in general, it’s a work of art, it’s a calling and it’s a very special thing,” she said. “I appreciate all of the nurses, for all they do. It is hard work, honestly. I think it’s important to be recognized and I think it helps to feel appreciated. Some days are challenging and as humans, we doubt whether or not we make a difference. Celebrating nurses is a good reminder of how important our profession is to the world.

“I love nursing, I love what I do, and 15 years later I don’t see myself doing anything different. I’m very happy that I got the calling and I decided to pursue it.”

(By Suzie Ovel)

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