VA Western New York Health Care System

June Haegele, a longtime nurse for the VA Western New York Health Care System, received the Florence Nightingale Award on May 12 at the Batavia VA Community Living Center (CLC) for her dedication to keeping local veterans healthy amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s an honor to be working with the veterans at the VA,” Haegele said. “And it was quite a surprise and a very appreciated honor for the staff to actually recognize me in that way.”

The Batavia VA has reported two positive COVID-19 cases, and Genesee County has experienced more than 170 confirmed cases throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Because nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been some of the hardest hit by COVID-19, Haegele’s work to prevent disease transmission earned her this award for exceptional nurses.

Named after Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, this international honor is given to medical workers who reflect Nightingale’s achievements and legacy in infection and disease treatment. May 12 marked the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth and the final day of National Nurses Week 2020. Nightingale awards are intended to highlight local nurses like Haegele who positively represent the nursing profession. 

“2020 is considered the Year of the Nurse in medical communities,” said Terry McGuire, public affairs specialist for the VA Western New York Health Care System. “To honor that, they [the Batavia VA] came up with this particular award. June was recognized for helping out with controlling infection, especially during this COVID crisis that we find ourselves in.”

Haegele was named the first recipient of the Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award, which is a new recognition at the Batavia VA that is modeled after the worldwide Nightingale honor. The Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award is expected to be given annually to local nursing professionals.

Surrounded by nurse managers during the nursing supervisor’s morning report, Haegele was presented with a certificate of appreciation and a lamp, which is symbolic of how Nightingale was the “Lady with the Lamp” while taking care of her patients in the 1850s.

“They just told me to come down to the morning meeting, and they surprised me with an award because I’ve been actually working very hard lately,” Haegele said. “The staff have been very supportive, and we’ve been working great as a team getting through what we’re currently going through.” 

Haegele, who is a lifelong Batavia resident and graduate of Batavia High School, has served at the Batavia VA Medical Center for more than three decades. With the support of VA scholarships, she earned higher-education nursing degrees at Genesee Community College and Keuka College.

Haegele specializes in occupational health and infection prevention. She has recently been making rounds at the Batavia CLC on an hourly basis researching, mentoring and presenting policy and procedures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In the beginning, especially, things were changing hour by hour, day by day,” Haegele said. “You had to constantly be researching for any changes so you could keep everyone aware of the current recommendations. And I spent a lot of time educating and supporting the staff and ensuring that we were doing the right thing based on what they [the CDC] were recommending.”

The rapidly changing conditions of the public health crisis have meant that Haegel spends an extensive amount of time adapting safe infection control practices to ensure local VA residents and staff are isolated from the disease. According to a VA newsletter about the award, Haegele has contributed to the zero mortality rate at the Batavia facility.

“The nurses are responding with a united front in that residents are safe and provided a continuation of outstanding nursing care and using maximum safeguards for infection prevention,” said Evange Conley, public affairs officer for the VA Western New York Health Care System, via email.

Haegele said that she is passionate about working with veterans and that it was meaningful to her to be the first recipient of the Batavia CLC Florence Nightingale Award. She said she thinks the award is beneficial for staff members at the Batavia VA because it boosts morale and acknowledges their perseverance amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t think any of us ever expected something like this to happen,” Haegele said. “It’s been difficult to deal with this, but, on a very positive side, I just see a lot of great teamwork and collaboration. And it’s stressful, but people are supporting each other. So it’s really brought us together to do a good job based on the challenge that we’re facing right now.”

Photo at top: June Haegele, left, received the first Batavia Community Living Center Florence Nightingale Award from Associate Chief Nurse Kathleen Padlick, right, on May 12 at the Batavia VA. Haegele earned the award for her hard work during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo credit: June Haegele)