05 Apr Spanning the Generations
Laurie Elmer is going strong after nearly 50 years with Olympic Medical Center
If you or someone you know has given birth at Olympic Medical Center in the last four decades, there’s a good chance you’ve met Laurie Elmer, RN.
For those who don’t know, Elmer has been a stable presence at OMC for approaching half a century. First as a licensed practical nurse on the Medical/Surgical floor starting in 1973 and now as an RN in the Obstetrics unit since 1976, Elmer has been caring for generations of Clallam County residents.
“I’m on to the third generation on some of them,” Elmer says.
Elmer’s lifelong work in nursing began as a 16-year-old nurse’s aide at Crestwood Health and Rehabilitation. After about a year-and-a-half, one of the nurses suggested to Laurie that she make a career out of nursing.
“The charge nurse up there said, ‘Have you ever thought about going into nursing?’ I said, no, not really,” Elmer recalls. “They said, ‘I think you’d make a really good nurse.’”
Thus began a career in nursing that now spans nearly five decades.
Following in the steps of her grandmother and aunt, both of whom were LPNs, Elmer earned her LPN certification and shortly thereafter, joined at-the-time Olympic Memorial Hospital on the Medical/Surgical floor.
“I think I worked full time from the get-go, first day I jumped in the door,” Elmer says.
In the span of Elmer’s tenure, there have been numerous changes at OMC and within healthcare.
“Through all these years, I’ve learned that you never can know everything,” Elmer says. “You can learn something new every day. That’s one motto I have, don’t think you know everything because as soon as you think you do, you’re going to see something you don’t know.”
One constant is Elmer’s passion for taking care of patients.
“I like to help people and be there for people,” Elmer says. “That’s one of my favorite things to do, be available. I think it’s pretty neat and pretty special, an intimate time, to be with somebody when they are giving birth. They never forget you.”
Since her first day with OMC – November 9, 1973 – Elmer has witnessed considerable changes at the hospital. She estimates there were about 200 employees when she started.
Now, OMC is the largest employer in Clallam County, providing jobs for nearly 1,700 people.
“When I walked in…it was just ‘2 West’ and ‘2 Main’, and then they started adding on,” Elmer says. “The ER was just a tiny little place in the back…there was the edge of the building and there was quite a bit of space between that and the bank. Helicopters landed back there then.”
Elmer’s professional longevity is not entirely unique among her family. Her brother worked at United Airlines for 50 years. Her son, Brad, an RN on OMC’s Medical/Surgical floor, says only half kidding, “She said she’s going to work 51 here [OMC] to beat [his uncle].”
Laurie jokes that when people ask her when she plans to retire, she responds, “Anytime after today.”
Nursing is a family affair for the Elmers. Laurie’s grandmother and aunt were both LPN’s, and three of Laurie’s four children are nurses – one at OMC, one at Forks Community Hospital and one at Seattle Children’s.
“I was proud of them and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s going to be pretty neat,” Elmer says. “I wish I could make the fourth one do it, though,” she adds with a wry smile.
Brad Elmer says there is no mistaking his mother’s impact on her children.
“Mom was definitely a big influence for all of us, in ways we didn’t even understand and probably won’t understand until later on, but she was,” Brad says.
While her children were growing up, Elmer estimates that she worked night shifts at the hospital for at least 17 consecutive years.
“She’s always had a work ethic like that,” Brad says. “She would get off work, when I was a little kid, working nights, 12-hour nights, come home and do all the house responsibilities.”
Laurie and her husband, Ron, have been married for 46 years. While she was working overnight shifts or studying to be an RN, Laurie says his support in raising their four children was immeasurable.
“When I was busy working or going back to school, he was the one who picked them up after school, took them to piano lessons, sports practices, concerts at school and put them to bed at night or got them out the door in the morning,” Laurie says.
In 1987, Laurie, who grew up just blocks from the hospital, returned to school to pursue her RN license, all while continuing to work at the hospital and taking care of her children.
Fast forward about 30 years and Brad attended the very same nursing program at Peninsula College, where one of his instructors, Karen Hart, was also one of his mother’s professors.
“I was a little kid sitting on the steps of the college, and she [Laurie] would sit in the back so she could watch me and do her lectures,” Brad says. “I could still hear Karen Hart’s voice from when I was a little kid.”
For 47 years – and counting – Laurie Elmer has been a part of the OMC family, supporting its mission to provide excellent health care to the people who call the Olympic Peninsula home. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been a great place to work,” Elmer says. “I’m really thankful they gave me a chance to work here. I do love this hospital. I tell everybody it’s a good place to work and I do mean that. It takes a lot of people to make it work. I think the Olympic Peninsula is lucky that OMC has had the leadership it’s had, especially recently, to make it work. This community should be proud of what OMC accomplishes.”