Nurse Betty 'lights up day'

Betty Jenkins cozies up to a newborn at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill in 2005. Jenkins is now the full-time patient ambassador for the hospital.

ROCK HILL -- There were 183 patients at Rock Hill's Piedmont Medical Center on a recent Tuesday. Nurse Betty saw them all. Not most, all.

Now in her 55th year at PMC, Betty Jenkins, who has been at the hospital longer than most employees there have been alive, has a new role -- patient ambassador.

Just a fancy title for what Nurse Betty has always done during decades in obstetrics, where the babies are born and miracles happen, and that is bring a smile to everyone she sees.

Only now, it's her full-time job.

"I ask them all how their care is, if they are getting what they need, and if they have any complaints," Nurse Betty says. "Nursing is about patient care. I am a nurse. Some things never change."

Babies and new mothers, cancer patients, whoever. Nurse Betty checks on all of them.

By the time she heads home each afternoon -- or each night, if that's what it takes -- Nurse Betty has made the rounds.

At 78, she walks the halls at a pace that leaves younger people gasping. She breezes by slow-moving doctors like Dale Earnhardt blowing past Darrell Waltrip in Turn 4 at Daytona.

Nurse Betty arrives each morning, a couple of minutes after 7. She parks in a spot marked with a sign that reads, "Reserved Parking Nurse Betty," right outside the Women's Center, and rushes inside like a gale.

"I drop my grandchild at the Y, or I would be here earlier," Nurse Betty says. "I used to start before 6. I get right to it."

On the fourth floor Tuesday, one guy who needed a lift was Scott Flynt, in the hospital for a gastrointestinal disorder that has afflicted him for 10 years. Nurse Betty charged into the room like Gen. Patton.

"When you see Nurse Betty, she lights up the day," said Flynt. "She's a stranger, but she feels like family, like my grandmother. She even tells me to call my momma."

In another patient room, Nurse Betty finds Patricia Blevins, in the hospital to have a steel rod attached to her spine. Her recovery is not the easiest in the world, but when Nurse Betty plows into the room with her clipboard and the "Good morning!" trumpet call, Patricia Blevins finds a smile.

"I had all my kids here, all my grandkids were born here," Blevins said. "Everybody knows Nurse Betty from when she worked with the newborns and the mothers.

"Her familiar face is a godsend."

The staff, too, flocks to Nurse Betty.

Dorothy Jones, giving out meals 26 years at the hospital, calls Nurse Betty "the one lady here who makes anyone -- patient or worker -- feel better."

Stephanie Blackwood, nursing manager, put it bluntly: "Nurse Betty IS patient care at this hospital."

When Nurse Betty walks down the hall, even people at the hospital visiting patients know her.

Peggy Byrd, a visitor, grabbed Nurse Betty Tuesday and told her of a mutual friend in room 249.

"I will be up there shortly," says Nurse Betty. "She's on my list. Of course, everybody is on my list."

Doctors line up for hugs and the goodwill that Nurse Betty offers. Nurse Betty has enough smiles for all of them.

The sick, and those who treat the sick. Those who clean the floors, those who empty the bedpans, those who transplant organs.

But especially, the patients.

Nurse Betty was at Piedmont even before it was Piedmont: The hospital used to be York General.

"I'm still here after 55 years, and there is no other job I want and no other place I want to be than this hospital," Nurse Betty says. "Today there are 183 patients here. They all need a smiling face. They get it with Nurse Betty."