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Nurse celebrates 40 years of service to Howard Memorial Hospital

Employee News WILLITS, CA – Being a nurse is a calling, being a nurse for the same hospital for four decades, is even more inspiring. That’s Cindy Bodensteiner’s story, a long-time nurse and director of surgery at Frank Howard Memorial Hospital (HMH) who celebrated 40 years of service to the hospital and the community. 

Bodensteiner recalls vividly when she first applied for the job. It was 1974, there was no internet and no online employment sites, so she showed up with her handwritten resume at the Human Resources office. Now 40 years later Cindy says she still loves every minute of her job and cannot imagine working anywhere else. 

In a day and age where job-hopping by “millennials” is the new norm, Bodensteiner says it never crossed her mind and that the love for her coworkers, the hospital and this community is what keeps her fulfilled. “What I love about working here is the caring attitude of my coworkers and physicians; the compassion we have for our patients and each other. I know that many people feel that their hospitals or other places of employment are “special”, but the specialness of HMH is palpable as soon as you walk through the door. I am grateful to come to work in a place that makes me happy every day and know that I have friends who will lift me up when I’m having a rough day,” she explains. 

Originally from Laytonville, Bodensteiner learned about the hospital in an elective class on Nurse’s Aids in high school. She went to school to become a Surgical Technician and came back to Willits to apply for her dream job. 

“When I started I was making $2.95 an hour. And gas was only 60 cents per gallon,” she muses, reminiscing of days gone by. 

She started out as an OR Technician and Nurse’s Aid, became an LVN in 1985 and three years later, became an RN, all while working full-time and raising a family. Today, she’s an RN First Assistant, working alongside surgeons during procedures and the director for the surgery department, supervising and mentoring 28 employees. 

Having had the longest tenure as any nurse at HMH, Bodensteiner says she has seen the community change through the years, and the hospital has done a great job of keeping up with those changes. From three beds separated by curtains in the ICU to four private rooms with their own bathrooms and from one operating room to four, Bodensteiner says the hospital has come a long way. 

“Back then we had one nurse on each shift. There were no radios, let alone cell phones so there was no warning that an ambulance was coming. But we made it work and saved a lot of lives,” she shares. 

Bodensteiner says there’s never a dull day on the job and recalls one story as a nurse in the emergency room when she literally risked her life when an intoxicated and combative patient tried to stab her. “Thankfully, a brave soul who just happened to be visiting another patient saw what was transpiring, put his head down, ran as fast as he could and tackled the patient! At the same time, the Willits Police Department came bursting through the back door! To say I was a bit shaken is an understatement!” That Good Samaritan was honored by the City Council for his bravery. 

Besides the excitement of it all, Bodensteiner says one of the best things about working for the hospital is caring for her community. “Because we are a small community, it’s our own friends, neighbors, and family members who end up here. It gives them such comfort to know the people that are caring for them. I love seeing someone I’ve helped, doing so much better at the grocery store, or at the post office, and they are all very grateful. It makes everything we do so worth it.” 

Having seen four remodels and just recently the move to the new hospital, Bodensteiner says one of the highlights of her career was being part of the process of building the new facility. “I have been waiting for the new hospital for so long! It’s amazing how well we’ve done such a small facility. Now it’s finally here and it’s everything that the community deserves,” shares Bodensteiner. 

Even though 40 years seems like a lifetime, she says retirement is the last thing on her mind. “I love my job so much! To have worked at HMH for that long has been an honor, a blessing, and an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything!” 

Asked what she would tell those who are just starting in the field of nursing, she had these words of advice, “Come to each patient’s bedside with an open mind, an open heart and be prepared to share your knowledge, your skill, your compassion and to make every effort to provide the best healing you can offer. Each patient presents an opportunity for you to make a difference in their life, even if it’s only a small one. And with each patient you can learn something. We have been given an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference, take every advantage you can to make that happen for every patient. Honor yourself, your profession, continue to grow and learn. The opportunities as a nurse are endless.”