It was the blizzard of 1979. Heavy snow and wind whipped around Sereatha Jean Branham as she trudged up the hill, from her small apartment on Broadway to Boone County Hospital to apply for a job.
Sereatha was hired as a Patient Care Tech (PCT) in the ICU. This year, she is celebrating her 44th anniversary at Boone Health. Planning to retire in 2024 after her 45th anniversary, Sereatha calls herself “The Original”, as there is not another employee who has worked in the ICU as long as she has.
Starting out as a PCT, Sereatha’s responsibilities were patient care. 45 years ago, there were fewer nurses in the unit, which gave the PCTs more responsibilities. Nurses spent more time watching monitors and putting in IVs and lines while PCTs checked patient vitals, suctioned ventilators, gave baths and responded to codes.
“Back then, we didn’t have all of this fancy equipment like they do now,” Sereatha says. “Now, they have a machine to check blood pressure. Back then, we had to do that manually. If the patient was on a dopamine drip, I would sit in a patient’s room taking their blood pressure every 5 minutes. 5 minutes goes fast when you have to take a blood pressure.”
Sereatha loved being a patient care tech. “I was sought after too,” she recalls with a smile. “We gave soap and water baths and I used to shampoo and braid hair.” Sereatha was a PCT for 20 years before her job duties would change.
As machinery evolved and the number of nurses increased, the need for techs decreased and Sereatha’s job moved to a Supply Technician. Her duties included keeping stock of needed items in patient rooms and items needed in each unit.
The ICU used to be separated into 3 units; MICU – Medical Intensive Care Unit, SICU – Surgical Intensive Care Unit and NICU –Neuro Intensive Care Unit. Sereatha had only worked in the MICU, but when the intensive care units combined, Sereatha worked for all 3 units. “It was busy,” Sereatha says, “but I did it.”
Doctors still had written orders and Sereatha would input orders into the patient charts. As she recalls, nurses would then double check that everything was done correctly, which they called “chart checks.”
“It was a very busy time,” Sereatha says, “but I loved it.”
After stocking for 15 years, Sereatha became a Unit Secretary and has been doing that ever since. Today, she sits at the front desk and greets everyone with a smile. She’s the first face that family members see when they come into the ICU, and she wants them to feel at ease.
When the ICU moved to its current location and the old MICU was getting remodeled, Sereatha made it a point to visit one final time. It was important to her to remember this space for the nurses and techs who didn’t get to experience how the ICU had grown. When she got there, the rooms were empty and the halls were quiet. She found a block to sit on and cried. “I could literally see the nurses and doctors running around and I just had to say goodbye,” Sereatha said.
Sereatha has a huge heart for the nurses in the ICU. In 2021, Boone Hospital held a virtual event for Nurses’ Week. Hearing how sad the nurses were that there was not a group event planned due to COVID restrictions, Sereatha told her nurses that she would throw them a party.
She opened her home for 2 days for the ICU staff. Turning her garage into a party room, she had lights, couches, pub tables and a bar. “It looked like a little lounge,” Sereatha said. “Over 50 people came, including some doctors. They came before or after their shift and it was just a nice time for everyone.”
Born and raised in Columbia, Mo., Sereatha and her family are connected to Boone Health. Sereatha is a Boone baby herself, as is her daughter Camille, who turned 25 on Valentine’s Day. Sereatha is the youngest of 10 siblings. One of her sisters, Vivian, worked at Boone Health for 14 years on the Psychiatric Floor in the 80’s and one of her brothers was a nurse on the Joint Replacement Unit.
“I’ve always loved nurses and have had admiration for them,” Sereatha says. “When I first started here back in 1979, there were only two African American nurses in the hospital. They were both RNs. There were LPNs, but not RNs. Now there’s a bunch. We’ve come a long way.”
Sereatha was awarded Employee of the Month in 2017.
“I’ve just seen how the hospital has grown over the years. The technology and roles have changed, and it’s just been neat to see the progression,” Sereatha recalls. “Boone has been my family.”
By Erin Wegner