Inspiring Okeechobee …The face of Hospice has changed

OKEECHOBEE — The face of Hospice is changing, effective immediately, as Margaret Sowell retires and Nicole Talley takes her place.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Nicole Talley (right) has taken over as the new “face” of Hospice of Okeechobee. Margaret Sowell (left) has retired after 19 years serving the Okeechobee community.

Ms. Sowell is originally from Scotland but has been in the United States a very long time and has been in Okeechobee for about 19 years. She and her husband are raising a grandson, and they were looking for a nice place for him to grow up. She said they found Okeechobee and knew it was the right place. “It was the best thing we ever did,” she said. “I really think God led me here.” They were driving around and just came upon our little town, she explained.

When she first moved here, she drove back and forth to Weston to work, but she has been working for Hospice of Okeechobee as the “road nurse” for a little over 15 years. “We are the A Team,” she said. Some patients are taken care of at The Hamrick House, and some are taken care of in their own homes. Ms. Sowell takes care of the in-home patients. She said she knew she needed to apply at Hospice, because every time she saw it she just felt a pull to go there.

“I remember going to the door and knocking. I told them I was looking for a job, and they asked what I did. I said I was an RN, and they grabbed me and pulled me in. They were so excited to see me. They said, ‘Don’t leave, don’t leave.’ They were so desperate for an RN back then. It made me wonder if I really wanted to work there,” she laughed. She has been there ever since and believes she is exactly where she was meant to be.

On a typical day, she goes to see her patients, and does her best to troubleshoot any problems they are having. If they are in pain, they try to change the medications. The goal is to make the patients comfortable, she said. They also have to worry about nausea. If a medication causes that, they try something else. They work with the doctors to try to find something that will keep them pain-free and not cause nausea.

They don’t see every patient every day. They have a schedule and see some patients on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and some on Tuesday and Thursday. They get calls to go back and see the patients anytime, though. Sometimes they might see the same patient three times in one day, but that’s OK, she said. “We want them to be comfortable, and if we need to go back, we don’t mind.”

Nowadays, she works 8 to 4, but she said she used to work 80 hours a week. She loved it, though. The hours did not matter. She knew she was in the perfect place for her. “Hospice is a hard thing to do,” she said, “but when I walk into a home and the patient is scared, and the family is scared, it is an amazing feeling to see the smiles and hear the sigh of relief that comes from knowing someone is there to help them through it. They think — someone is finally here to help me.” Hospice of Okeechobee is available 24 hours a day for them, seven days a week. Someone is on call from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. every day. They are on call over the weekend, too.

Ms. Sowell has been thinking about retiring for a while, but it never seemed like the right time, and who would take her place? “But, it’s time for me now, and time to spend more time with my grandkids. They are growing up so fast, and I have missed so much of that,” she said. They are thinking about moving up to the Carolinas where most of their children are, but for right now, they will be in Okeechobee.

She would like to come back and do Reiki on the patients and the employees, she said. “It’s almost like laying on hands, but it is a little different,” she explained. “But I haven’t discussed it with anyone so I don’t know if it is going to happen.”

Nicole Talley is Ms. Sowell’s replacement, and Ms. Sowell believes she will do a phenomenal job. “I could not be happier,” she said. “I really couldn’t. It’s almost like I waited until she came along.” Ms. Talley said Ms. Sowell is the face of Hospice, because most people who have used the services of Hospice of Okeechobee know her. They know her face and her beautiful accent. “She represents hospice to our community.”

Ms. Talley had no idea that Ms. Sowell was planning to retire. She was working in home health in Port St. Lucie, and the place she was working was sold. She started getting restless in her job, she said. “It was no longer about patient care. It was more of a business when the new owners took over. It went from a family-owned business, strongly into patient care, to a corporation.” Instead of worrying about patient care, she was expected to worry about spreadsheets and numbers, and she was just restless. She tried to work it out, but in July, the feeling got stronger.

Finally, a few weeks ago, the desire to turn in her notice became almost overwhelming, but she said she knew she had to wait until she found a new job. Finally, she called her husband and told him she was putting in her notice, but she would find another job first. That night, she went online and saw hospice was hiring. She applied, and was hired. Then she found out she was taking the place of her friend, Ms. Sowell. Ms. Sowell took care of Ms. Talley’s father before he passed away, and the two women formed a close friendship during that stressful time.

Ms. Talley had actually applied at hospice in the past, but back then, they did not offer any benefits to their employees, and she could not afford to work there. Since then, they have been able to begin offering a benefit package to their employees, and that made the job perfect, in her eyes.

The two ladies worked together for a couple of weeks so Ms. Talley could learn the ropes, but now she is on her own. Ms. Sowell said she can call anytime, though, and she will be happy to help. “I believe God put her here just at the right time. I probably wouldn’t have retired if she hadn’t come in. These are my patients. I care about the way they are treated, and I have confidence in Nicole.”

“Margaret has been the face and the Scottish voice of Hospice of Okeechobee for many, many years. You can’t take her anywhere in town without somebody giving her a hug and thanking her. Cowboys has a sign above their door that reads, ‘You enter as friends but leave as family,’ and that is very much what hospice care is like. We come in as friends and are very supportive and are there for them in whatever way they need us. Margaret has been exceptional at doing that every time. That has created a beautiful ripple effect throughout the community. When people walk up in the grocery store and give her a hug, it’s because she has become family,” said Gail Gerntrup, executive director of Hospice of Okeechobee. “As hard as it will be to ‘allow’ Margaret to retire, the sting is a little less knowing Nicole will be here to carry on in Margaret’s steps.”

“It’s an honor to come in and take over where Margaret has left off,” said Ms. Talley. “It means a lot to me. When I used to come in here with my dad, I thought, ‘This is what nursing is all about.’ I just can’t believe God chose me to be in this position. I can’t believe hospice had the perfect position available just when I was looking.

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