Once a nurse, always a nurse : A Q&A with Patty Hayes

Public Health Interim Director Patty Hayes
Public Health Interim Director Patty Hayes

Public Health’s Director Patty Hayes wears many hats, but she’ll be the first to tell you she’s a nurse first.

Patty finished nursing school in 1976 and completed a Master’s degree in psychosocial nursing (with a specialty in stress management) in 1980. From there, she started out making home visits in King County, where she worked with families and individuals transitioning a family member to extended care. Specifically, she served patients with head injuries at Harborview – igniting her passion for injury prevention – and terminally ill teenagers in unstable homes.

We sat down with her to hear more about how her nursing experience made her the public health advocate she is today.

How has your nursing background influenced your work in public health?
Public health nurses have a unique and keen lens for helping the whole person rather than a specific disease or ailment. People are whole people. My experiences as a nurse and my own family (particularly my interest in family and young children) plays a big role in everything I do.

What distinguishes public health nurses from other nurses in the medical field?
All nurses are important – I can’t emphasize that enough. Public health nurses aren’t in the emergency room, so they are able to start their work where the person is at. Instead of addressing an injury, they consider environmental factors, like whether or not the patient has a home, and start there.

How long have you been a nurse? What led you to change roles?
I have never stopped being a nurse. I believe it goes with me wherever I go, and I carry it proudly.

What is next for public health nurses? What does the future look like?
In recent years, the state legislature has made the critical error of under-prioritizing public health nursing. Luckily, King County is a vestige of excellence in public health nursing. People are starting to realize that we need to rebuild the system, and we are a great example of the important role nursing can play. I truly believe things are turning around, and there is a lot of opportunity.

It’s National Nurses Week. What is your message to the nursing workforce?
Nurses in all sectors deserve all of the accolades possible. I’m very proud to be a nurse and to work every day with the great nurses here in Seattle and King County.