Sat | Dec 3, 2022

Vassell-Shettlewood hailed as epitome of a nurse

Veteran healthcare professional passes on

Published:Friday | September 30, 2022 | 12:11 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood, senior public health nurse at the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department.
Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood, senior public health nurse at the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department.

Charmaine Vassell-Shettlewood, the senior public health nurse who marshalled hundreds of her colleagues doing COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccinations in Kingston and St Andrew, died on Wednesday after a period of illness.

“We’ve lost an excellent public health veteran, the kind who has made a great contribution to the health and wellness of the people of Jamaica,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said on Thursday as he expressed condolences to Vassell-Shettlewood’s family, colleagues and loved ones.

He noted that she was instrumental in the COVID-19 containment efforts, having led contact tracing following the country’s first case of the virus. She was also credited as being among the island’s top experts in contact tracing.

Vassell-Shettlewood, who was employed to the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department overseen by the South Eastern Regional Health Authority (SERHA), was also active in training new community health aides over the course of the pandemic.

In 2020, Vassell-Shettlewood was recognised by SERHA for her excellent service in nursing and midwifery care.

‘GOD WANTED ME TO BE A NURSE’

SERHA Regional Director Errol Greene described the late public health nurse as a dedicated professional.

“She cared for her patients and she was very industrious and we could rely on her. ... She was very passionate about her job and she was very passionate about people,” Green told The Gleaner. “She was very caring and she was the epitome of what a nurse really should be.”

In an interview in May 2020, Vassell-Shettlewood told the Jamaica Information Service that, although she had been at the forefront of other public health emergencies, the COVID-19 pandemic was unique in its scope and multi-sector impact.

“I have self-isolated since March 14. I was on vacation leave when I was called upon to resume work. Most of us (health professionals) have self-isolated because we don’t want to put our family members at risk. We instead communicate using WhatsApp, FaceTime and other avenues. We are not spending the time we normally would with our families,” Vassell-Shettlewood said.

A clinical preceptor at the University Hospital of the West Indies since 2009, she was also concerned about the health of her students and wanted to prevent them from contracting the virus.

“All of my students have my number. They know that if they need any guidance in the clinical area, they know if they have any concerns, they can feel free to call me any time and I respond and offer guidance … . I spend quality time with them because I want them to be good nurses,” she said.

Vassell-Shettlewood was one of four siblings who pursued nursing careers. She also has a niece who is a medical doctor.

“I believe that I am called by God to be a nurse. There was no point in my life growing up that I wanted to be anything else but to be a nurse. ... God wanted me to be a nurse to assist people,” she said.

Vassell-Shettlewood also served as in-service coordinator at the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department, where she worked for the past 20 years, with oversight for eight health facilities – the Edna Manley, Stony Hill, Golden Spring, Parks Road, Essex Hall, King Weston, Mount Charles and Lawrence Tavern clinics.

Despite these challenges posed by the pandemic, Vassell-Shettlewood said she remained undaunted, and pledged to continue to work until retirement.

“I enjoy what I do and I love nursing with a passion. If I had the opportunity to live my life – to live all over again – I would certainly choose nursing,” she said.

ainsworth.morris@gleanerjm.com