On an April day in 1972, a nursing school graduate walked through the front doors of Bertrand Chaffee Hospital. She sat on a wooden bench outside of then-CEO Roger Ford’s door – a bench that is still in use at the front of the hospital – waiting for an interview for a medical/surgical nurse position.
That new nurse was Darlene Tworek – soon to be Darlene Schrantz. And within six months, she would be married to her husband Fred, relocated to Springville, and started on a career in nursing at Bertrand Chaffee Hospital. Little did she know that BCH was the place where she would spend the next four decades. Schrantz will complete her tenure as a full-time nursing administrator at the end of March, opening up a new chapter in her life.
But to describe the previous chapters, she and her husband Fred – a social studies teacher at Springville-Griffith Institute – grew up within blocks of each other in Dunkirk, which is where Darlene first got a look at the medical profession.
“In high school [Cardinal Mindszenty], I had a part-time job as ‘cart girl’ at Brooks Memorial Hospital, serving dinners on the floor for three hours each evening,” Schrantz explained. “I loved it – how it felt to talk to patients, and to be part of their care.”
A guidance counselor recommended that she pursue nursing education at Sisters of Charity in Buffalo, where she received her diploma in 1972. By the time she took her boards later that year, she was a full-fledged, full-time nurse at Bertrand Chaffee Hospital.
By 1980, Schrantz had moved to the Critical Care Unit, a four-bed unit for patients who needed a higher level of care. In 1985, a manager position opened in “OB,” the obstetrics floor, and Schrantz was ready for the responsibility.
“After working in the CCU for so long, I was always prepared for the worst to happen, and I brought some of that perspective to OB,” said Schrantz. “I learned so much in that unit, but I think I made incremental and meaningful changes in the OB department, too.
“With long-time nurses like Lorayne Proctor, RN, we trained nurses on intravenous [IV] starts, and made sure warmers were always ready,” she continued. “While I was there, 100 percent of our OB nurses were certified in NALS – neonatal life support – which was a great achievement for our small hospital.” Schrantz noted that she had many opportunities to receive training at Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, and was about to bring techniques and knowledge from that larger facility to our rural one.
Barb Childs, RN worked alongside Schrantz for many years, and remarked on her intelligence, fairness and compassion. “She was always conscientious in carrying out her job,” said Childs. “When she moved from CCU [critical care unit] to OB, she was determined that she would learn everything about OB and earn the respect of the nurses in that department…and she did.” Childs added, “I’m proud to have her as a friend.”
During the hospital’s expansion in 1989, Schrantz explained how nurses were part of the building process. “The architects included us the design discussions, showing us the blueprints and asking for our opinions of what we wanted to see,” she said.
That’s just one example where Schrantz was given “a seat at the table.” She feels fortunate that there were frequent and constant opportunities for the perspective of the nursing staff to be recognized and incorporated into hospital growth. “At major decision points for the hospital, from labor negotiations to adding new services, I’ve been glad that nurses have been listened to and appreciated.”
By 1993, the children she and her husband had raised in Springville were young adults, leaving Schrantz with some free time. Schrantz made the choice to earn a bachelor of science in nursing, taking courses at the University at Buffalo from 1993-1998. “I learned about management, budgeting, writing successful proposals and how to motivate clinical staff,” she said.
Schrantz’s family and children were by her side at every stage of her career at BCH. At the start, her son Matt had the distinction of being the first Mercy Flight of WNY patient in 1981 – flown to BCH with Schrantz as the first unofficial flight nurse. Matt took a position in community outreach for Mercy Flight during college, and a newspaper clipping from the time cites how he planned to go to law school. Today, Matt is a lawyer in Albany, where he lives with his wife, Cara.
Schrantz’s daughter Susan (Susie) pursued a career in teaching, and settled in Virginia with her husband John. Susie was diagnosed with leukemia in 2015, and Schrantz supported her daughter throughout her treatments and hospitalizations. She passed away from cancer in 2016, leaving behind two children, and Schrantz’s large extended family to grieve the loss. In her retirement, Schrantz will have more time to visit with her grandchildren.
“At each step of my career I’ve been given more responsibility, and everyone here has been there to help, not stand in the way.” Schrantz described the response from the community while the hospital navigated a bankruptcy filing as an example of that: “People and businesses stepped forward with raffles and spaghetti dinners, contributing hard-earned money to save their hospital.”
She continued, “I believe there is an energy in the leadership team that will keep this place working for the community…BCH has been responsive to community needs, from reducing inpatient beds to adding primary care and specialist services – we’ll be here for a long time.”
Schrantz brought her clinical and management experience to hospital expansions in 2002, for the Emergency Department, and 2010, with the renovation of the third floor to accommodate the Primary Care Center. “My last few years here have been really fun.”
After more than four decades as a nurse, Schrantz is happy to offer some words of advice to nurses and aspiring medical professionals: “Don’t ever forget to look at your patient – use all your senses, especially touch, to understand how they feel.”
Jennifer Siragusa, RN, who has stepped into the director of patient care services role that Schrantz established, had this to share. “Darlene has had a tremendous influence on my nursing career – she gave me my first nursing job in 1999.” Siragusa continued, “As a leader in the healthcare field, Darlene taught me that quality care is the number one priority for nurses and for our hospital…she continues to be an advocate for her nursing staff and is a very compassionate nurse and manager…I aspire to be as great a leader as she is.”
“I appreciated the opportunities, chances and challenges at BCH,” Schrantz said. And there’s no other job Schrantz would rather do: “I’ve grown up in this job and I’ve loved what I’ve done the entire time…If I were born 100 times, I’d always want to be a nurse.”