Caregivers Known For Compassion, Kindness With Medically Fragile Kids

January 9, 2019
Caregivers Known For Compassion, Kindness With Medically Fragile Kids

It takes a certain kind of disposition to do what Michele Johnston does for a living.

As the director of Trinity, St. Joseph’s Center’s daycare for medically fragile infants and children, Johnston puts her training as a registered nurse to work on a daily basis. But she also leads a skilled nursing staff that is equally dedicated in heart and mind to caring for the precious children with special needs who are there five days a week.

By Johnston’s example, the staff maintains a decidedly optimistic outlook on the job, even on days that their charges have setbacks. In circumstances where others might feel sad or overwhelmed, Johnston and the rest of Trinity’s caregivers find an uplifting call to duty.

“You have a bad day and you come to work and realize you don’t have it that bad. Not when these kids work so hard,” Johnston said on a recent afternoon as she cradled a 20-month-old.

“I could not have a better group of caring, compassionate and skilled individuals than I do,” she added. “We have not had any turnover since we opened our doors in 2014. Although I do appreciate being recognized for my contribution and dedication to our families, I have not accomplished this alone.”

But to parents of the children at the Boulevard Avenue facility, Johnston provides more than the service of skilled pediatric nursing care, which is free to the families who get approval through Medicaid. She also fosters a homey environment among the cribs, rockers, swings, mats and tables where the babies find contentment. Many of the toys and equipment used on site is donated or comes from the homes of the staff themselves.

“It’s not a hospital setting. We’re trying to make them as comfortable as possible,” Johnston said.

Each morning, Johnston checks her correspondence and moves from room to room to take stock of which kids and staff are in attendance. At the top of their day, they complete a full assessment of each child’s needs and plan of care, and take it upon themselves to complete any physical, occupational, speech, hearing or other therapies that have been prescribed by doctors and specialists during daycare hours.

“We do it while they’re here so they can go home and just be with their mom and dad and siblings,” Johnston explained. “But we try to do typical things, too — we have a teacher here and do activities, like singing and dancing, like you’d see at a regular daycare.

“We want what’s best for them — for them to get what they deserve, and that’s not anything more or less than everyone else. They deserve the same,” she added. “The kids are certainly loved and well taken care of.”

Johnston’s entire career has focused on pediatrics. A native West Sider who grew up with 10 siblings, she graduated from Bishop Hannan High School, attended Marywood University and graduated from Geisinger School of Nursing. She worked in pediatrics at Geisinger’s Danville facility before transferring to the children’s unit at Moses Taylor Hospital. After a brief stint in Reno, Nevada, Johnston returned to the area.

When she interviewed with St. Joseph’s Center for the job at Trinity when it first opened, Johnston felt she had come to the right place.

“Everything up until now prepared me for this,” she said. “I knew right from the beginning this is where I was meant to be.

“We all get a calling, and thank God we all want something different, or else nobody’d be taken care of. When I came here, I felt home again. And it all goes back to the core values of St. Joe’s. We really embody them here.”

Among the 25 to 27 children who come to Trinity each day in the summer, one can find 40 to 50 diagnoses among them all, such as congenital defects, Down syndrome, severely malfunctioning organs and a variety of disabilities.

Johnston also seeks to enlighten the next generation of nurses, doctors and medical professionals by inviting them to visit Trinity on their clinical rounds to learn more about children who live with difficult medical diagnoses.

“Some are ambulatory, some aren’t,” Johnston said. “They need support or full care. Some are completely dependent on us. That’s why when the kids have bad days, you take it to heart.”

Sometimes, Trinity kids require a trip to the hospital to attend to a medical need. Though she is not obligated to wait with them until a parent arrives, Johnston has extended her work days by hours on countless occasions so the babies have someone familiar by their side.

“I don’t know how to do this any other way but 100 percent,” she said. “I am always accessible to my families even beyond operating hours. They all have my cell phone, and I am always calling to check on a child after an appointment or during an illness. It’s on your mind all the time.”

Renee Miller and her daughter Jamie — Trinity clients for over a year — recently were on the receiving end of this extension of care. When Jamie suffered a seizure one night in May and went to a local hospital, Miller ran into Johnston, who was there with another child. Johnston visited Jamie and followed up by phone with her parents that night.

“She selflessly gave up her night with her own family,” Miller noted. “I am in complete awe and speechless at the nursing skills and the dedication. The entire staff (at Trinity) is humble, generous and just plain superheroes. They change the quality of children’s lives every minute of the day.”

Contact the writer: pwilding@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT on Twitter

Meet Michele Johnston, R.N.

At home: Lives in the Green Ridge section of Scranton and is the daughter of Irene Palmitessa. She has two children, Amy and Christopher, and is caregiver to her niece and nephews, Aubrey, David and Greyson.

At work: Director of Trinity Child Care Center, Scranton, a medical daycare under the auspices of St. Joseph’s Center

Inspirations: Her mother and the children she cares for

Aspiration: To see Trinity expand and serve more families

Diversions: Walking, reading and spending time with her family

Aversions: “I’d like to see more respect and tolerance and kindness every day,” she said.

Quote: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”


Trinity Child Care Center

Open Mondays through Fridays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

6:1 child-to-nurse supervisor ratio

3:1 child-to-caregiver ratio

No cost for families with approval from Medicaid insurance providers

Transportation can be arranged

Insurance paperwork completed by staff

Partnership with Early Head Start, which enables full-time early childhood teacher to be on site

Skilled nursing staff offers occupational, physical and speech therapies plus daily medical assessment, medication administrations, apnea monitoring, central line care, pulse oximetry, and tracheostomy and ostomy care

Trinity Child Care Center accepts gently used children’s equipment (such as rockers, swings, bouncy chairs, etc.) and toys for use on premises or for the families it serves to take home. Contact 570-963-1276 or mjohnston@stjo sephscenter.org.

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