New director at Westmeath urges locals to join nursing field
In early 2020 there were a lot of questions about Covid-19.
How the disease spread and how it affected people were huge concerns for Lunette Castillo, who had a newborn baby and had just been hired as a medical consultant at Westmeath Residential and Nursing Care Home.
“As a mother it was scary working in a healthcare system, because young children are considered medically vulnerable,” the nurse practitioner said.
“For me it was a badge of honour to be able to help during this huge pandemic. As healthcare providers we read about epidemics such as the Spanish flu, but we don’t get a chance to actually participate and be a part of them.”
Westmeath, the island’s largest care home for seniors, experienced several outbreaks of Covid-19 during the worst of the pandemic.
Dr Castillo took over the role of executive director three months ago. She says that she has an open-door policy for staff, often advises on client care and has meetings with residents, family and board members as part of a plan to move things forward after a difficult three years.
“We have to make sure that we are maintaining that high level of care that Westmeath is known for,” she said. “We have to make sure that we keep things where they need to be, or even exceed expectations. Also, we have to be aware of the different barriers that we have now, and come up with solutions as to how to overcome them.”
Among the problems the Pembroke facility is facing: the high cost of providing healthcare and a global shortage of nurses.
“Sadly, finances can be a barrier for families who want to put their loved ones at Westmeath,” she said.
“We are looking forward to being in full compliance with the Charities Commission and, as a charity, I am hoping to raise funds that may help provide some assistance.”
To cope with the shortage, Westmeath has hired graduates of the Bermuda College's associate of science nursing programme.
"I believe that encouraging the nursing education that is on the island, promoting the nursing profession and hiring those graduates are a solid plan to help counteract the nursing shortage in Bermuda," Dr Castillo said.
“Seventy-five per cent of nurses in Bermuda are from overseas. As Bermuda’s population ages, the need for long-term care is only going to increase.”
Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, her dream was to become an optometrist, but while applying to schools, her godmother discovered she had pancreatic cancer.
“She passed away within three months,” she said. “She would say she did not know who her doctors were, but she knew her nurses. She would always talk about the nurses and how they brought light to her at the end of her life.”
Inspired, she changed her career path having been convinced that nursing was “an opportunity to be impactful, particularly at the end of life”.
Dr Castillo earned an undergraduate degree in nursing from Chicago State University and a master of science in family practice nursing from Loyola University Chicago. In December 2020, she received her doctorate of nursing practice from Rush University.
“I believe that I am the only nurse practitioner practising outside of the hospital,” Dr Castillo said.
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced qualifications and specialisation in specific areas of healthcare. Since 2018 they have been allowed to prescribe medications in Bermuda.
One of her first nursing jobs was in a cardiac intensive care unit in a Level 1 trauma centre on the South Side of Chicago.
“We were dealing with a lot of transplants, a lot of open-heart surgeries and valve replacements,” she said. “We did hardcore heart surgery on clients that needed it. I loved it. I have a critical care certificate. It exposed me to a lot of different situations and I like to learn new things. For some people it could have been overwhelming, but I found it very exciting.”
Before coming to Bermuda, she was a lead nurse practitioner at Community Health Centres of Pinellas in St Petersburg, Florida.
“I was serving underserved communities under a federal grant as a primary care provider,” she said.
“I spent 13 years in school to become an expert in my field; you don’t do that without passion. My mission is to take care of vulnerable people at this time and to use my knowledge and expertise that can improve our situation in Bermuda. That could be on a policy level or a community level. That could be in various different multifaceted ways that you can impact the healthcare system.”