Building a Better Health Service


Kitty Kelly on more than 40 years at St Camillus’

It is difficult to find someone who still has the same love and enthusiasm for their work after 43 years. But, then again, there aren’t too many people like Kitty Kelly.

Kitty has been providing a smile and a kind word to staff and patients of St Camillus’ Community Hospital in Limerick and insists that she could not have found a happier place to work.

“I am so lucky to have had - and still have - such lovely workmates. They are so kind, not only to me, but to everyone during their everyday work on the wards. They show such kindess to their patients, even if they are short-staffed at times. I see kindness all around me, from the porters and the maintenance staff, to the officers and management staff. I am blessed,” said Kitty.

kitty Kelly

Kitty started work in the hospital cafeteria May 1975 and now works part-time in the hospital shop. Now in her fifth decade there, she still gets the same joy going to work each morning.

“I love the patients with a passion. They love to interact with me, talking about past times, present times and lots more. They love to hear about life outside the hospital.

“The fun and activity in the activity centre is great and the staff are so kind and helpful to the patients - the shopping days, the bingo, the sing songs – they are all full of such kindness. Then there’s the Sunday mass where all help is given to bring patients to and from our lovely church and it really makes their day,” she said.

She loves the fact that her role allows her to meet everyone in the hospital.

“The beauty of my job is that while physio staff might not have the opportunity to meet ward staff, I get to meet everyone. It gives me a great insight into all the great work that goes on around the hospital.”

Kitty is still mourning one of her longest staying patients, Peter, who passed way recently.

“Peter loved to back the horses so he loved to get the papers from me to check the form. You would have great fun with him.”

She explained the heartbreak that accompanied his passing, but said she found solace in knowing that he had accepted his fate.

“I was going to the Church of the Adoration on the Wednesday and he held my hand and asked me to ask the Lord to let him die. I was heartbroken but I knew that he was ready to go. He asked me the next day if I had done as he had asked and I said I did. I went off to Dublin for the weekend and when I came back in to the Sarsfield Ward on the Monday, I was told to get straight down to Peter as he was dying,” Kitty explained.

“He had taken a bad turn on the Sunday. But I was so relieved that I got to be there by his side at the end, to reassure him and to say prayers with him.”

Her relationship with Peter was just one example of the many life-long friendships she has forged with the many residents in the hospital.

“I work 8am to 12pm going around with the trolley to the patients but I will always ask them if there’s anything else that they want, and make sure I pick it up in town for them. A lot of them don’t have many regular visitors so they are delighted to have somebody to chat with and to do some messages for them. And I’m only too happy to be there for them.”

 “I’ve been off work for a few weeks now so I’m looking forward to getting back in the swing of things and catching up with everyone.”

Although her shift officially ends at 12pm, it is rare to see Kitty heading home at that time. Her dedication to the hospital means that she is usually found in the activity centre, helping out.

“I’m not a clock-watcher and never have been. After I finish with the trolley, I would hop up and go into the centre. That is what I love.”

Her beloved husband Tim died three years ago and was moved by the care and compassion shown to her by everyone in hospital.

“Tim was under Professor Lyons, who operates from our hospital so it meant that Tim was able to return here to the Rehab unit and I was able to spend so much time with him. It meant the world to me,” said Kitty.

“The staff and patients in the hospital are really like my family now. They would do anything for me and really mind me since I lost Tim.”

The chapel in the hospital is the ‘joy of my life’ according to Kitty.

“I get to go in nearly every day and look after it. I make sure everything is in order, such as the vestments and the candles. I’m kind of like the sacristan there and I love that. It is my little sanctuary in the day and gives me great peace.”

Although a lot smaller than in its heyday, there is a diverse range of services offered in St Camillus,  including day hospital services, clinic services and residential care services. Residential services include a rehab unit, respite services and long-term residential care.

She has certainly noticed the changes in the hospital over the last five decades.

“The hospital was probably at its best before the recession hit in the late 1980s. There was great camaraderie between the staff. It was such a lively place to be. It had had hundreds of patients and so many staff. There was a maternity unit and we would get the overflow from the hospital in Ennis. At that time, myself and Nancy Fleming used to do all the cooking on the night shift and in the 13 years we worked together, we never had a cross word for each other. Even now, I can’t understand how people aren’t able to get on with their colleagues,” she laughed.

“Then in 1987, there were a lot of cutbacks and the cafeteria closed at night. After that, I did some work in the laundry but then the opportunity came up to help out Rachel, the lady out who was running the shop. I used to bring the trolley around to the wards in the evenings.

“When she retired in 2002, my heart nearly broke. They offered me the chance to take over the running of the shop. I was 64 and wasn’t really ready to take it all on. But I agreed to stay on and do the early shift, collecting the papers and doing the trolley rounds.

“I have enjoyed great health and I really don’t act my age. When I came to 65, there was never a thought in mind about retiring. Everyone was happy for me to continue but I was sent to the doctor just to make sure I was fit and, sure, here I still am. I don’t know what I would do without the patients and staff or without the hospital to come into every day. I am still a long way off thinking about retirement, I can tell you.”

She was full of praise for the HSE and said she couldn’t think of better employers.

“You hear a lot of people complain about the HSE but I would never say anything bad about them. They have been great employers to me. These have been the best years of my life and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.  What more could I ask for?”

Values in Action

Values in Action is about delivering better experiences to those who use our services, and creating better workplaces for our staff.  It is led by staff like Kitty, who are working together to create a grassroots movement to spread the behaviours that reflect our values. Values in Action is mobilising staff and empowering them to lead the changes that we need to truly build a better health service.

Read more about Values in Action follow @HSEvalues #weareourvalues