, NOVEMBER 7, 2006 (STAR) By Edmund M. Silvestre - While a recent test leak scandal has threatened the image of Filipino nurses, their reputation as among the world’s best remains intact with various American hospitals, which are stepping up recruitment of more nurses from the Philippines, according to the highest ranked Filipino-American nurse in the United States.

"There’s a little bit of concern as a result of the scandal, but no massive reaction among nursing leaders and hospitals," says Wilhelmina M. Manzano, senior vice president and chief nursing officer at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System.

"It’s actually a major concern within the Philippine Nurses Association in America (PNAA)," disclosed Manzano, 48, herself a member of PNAA New York. "They’re worried about what impresssions people would have about the competency or integrity of Filipino nurses."

In an exclusive interview with STARweek, Manzano says any harm caused by the scandal is not irreparable, and both the Philippine government and nursing leaders can still rectify the damage.

"To preserve the integrity of the whole licensing process, the leaders must set very strict parameters to make sure it doesn’t happen again," she says. "The process must be tightened so that people can’t be paid off or bribed. People need to be made accountable once the authorities find out who’s responsible (for the leak). They need to make sure that these people understand the implications of what they’ve done and make them suffer the consequences."

Manzano, who obtained both her nursing and masters degrees in nursing administration from New York University, wears three hats as a nursing executive who is known in the industry for promoting clinical excellence.

At the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System, she oversees more than 4,000 nurses–an estimated 20 percent of whom are Filipinos–as chair of the chief nursing officers council of the system’s more than 50 top-quality hospitals, specialty institutes, and continuing care centers throughout New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The system is the largest secular not-for-profit, non-governmental health care system in the United States.

At the New York-Presbyterian Hospital (ranked No. 6 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report), she oversees nurses in five hospitals, with each hospital led by a vice president for nursing who reports to her. She is also senior vice president for operations at the N.Y. Presby-terian’s The Allen Pavilion, a 212-bed community teaching hospital.

"Everyone agrees that Filipino nurses are very hard working– they’re caring, they’re flexible, and they have a really great work ethic," says the Manila-born Manzano, whose parents hail from San Rafael, Bulacan and Asingan, Pangasinan. A mother of two boys, she was 18 when she moved to the U.S.

"It’s that personalized touch and genuine interest in caring for the patients and their families that set Filipino nurses apart from the rest," she elaborates.

Willie, as she is called, is considered by her staff to be an exceptionally gifted senior executive who has made a significant impact, both financially and clinically, on the nursing department.

Among other things, she helped N.Y.-Presbyterian save some $15 million in improvement initiatives and helped reduce the RN vacancy rate to just 5 percent. Thanks in part to her efforts, N.Y.- Presbyterian was awarded in 2005 a McKesson Quest for Quality prize for its leadership in innovation in quality and safety and its commitment to patient care.

"Willie gets things done, she’s a leader," says John Repique, a Filipino-American director of nursing at Payne Whitney Manhattan, a division of behavioral nursing, affiliated with N.Y.-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.

"She’s dedicated to staff development and has clearly defined the role of a professional nurse in the the advancement of the profession," adds Repique, a 16-year nursing veteran from Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. "She’s a forward thinking leader, a great innovator."

"But more than that, she’s a wonderful human being," says Cebu City-born Melinda Lugay, patient care director of GI Endoscopy and Bronchoscopy Suites at Herbert Irving Pavilion, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

"Take away the title, take away everything, you would want Willie Manzano to be your friend," Lugay explains. "She’s very honest, and with honesty comes trust. With her, you won’t be afraid to set goals because you’ll have the support you need."

Even the president and CEO of N.Y.-Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Herbert Pardes, has nothing but praises for Manzano’s leadership skills.

"Through her outstanding leadership and dedication to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and its mission, Wilhelmina Manzano serves as a superb model representing nursing at its best, ensuring the highest quality of care for our patients," Pardes tells STARweek.

Prior to joining N.Y.-Presbyterian in 1998, Manzano held leadership positions at several New York area hospitals including The Mount Sinai Medical Center, Lawrence Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center.

Over the years, she also has earned a reputation for being "color blind" when dealing with nurses and other medical personnel.

"Some of my friends say I am probably the most un-Filipino nurse that they’ve ever met," Manzano laughs. "I don’t know if it’s a compliment or not, but I really try to be very objective and fair regardless of the nurse’s race."

"I’m tough because my expectations are high and I want Filipino nurses to challenge themselves and be successful because there’s no reason why Filipino nurses can’t excel," she says. "But I always try to be very sensitive about how I treat people–with respect and with fairness. I wouldn’t be in my position if I didn’t."

Manzano, however, expressed apprehension about the nursing diploma mill in the Philippines, saying that without the proper training and screening of nurses, the image of nurses abroad could be hurt in the long run.

"How many nursing schools do we now have in the Philippines? Tons," she points out. "And who’s policing them in terms of the quality of education? How do you determine the quality of the nurses that graduate from schools that haven’t been accredited or scrutinized carefully? I am fearful for that and clearly I worry about what’s going to happen in the Philippines in terms of who’s going to be left behind."

"Taking nursing is a passport for better opportunities not just for these nurses but for their families as well; it’s simple economics and I understand that," she goes on to explain. "But Filipinos who wish to go into nursing must also examine themselves if they really want to do it. They should have the passion to help people and to make a difference in the health care of society."

So far, Manzano says she has not noticed any deterioration in the quality of care Filipino nurses provide, at least under her watch.

"Many of the Filipino nurses are very open to learning new things, they want to be competent and they feel such pride in doing the right thing and the best that they can," she notes.

Manzano says one aspect new Filipino nurses must quickly learn in the health care system is the ability to be assertive at all times.

"Filipino nurses are capable, they’re competent, they can communicate well, English is not a problem," she says. "But there seems to be a reluctance to question, and many of them have a difficult time challenging others."

"When certain conflicts come up, Filipino nurses are less assertive and they get intimidated," she notes. "I know it’s a cultural thing, but they must learn to take the emotion out of it and talk about the clinical data and focus on the facts."

Manzano says every Filipino nurse–or any nurse for that matter–must always maintain a high standard of professionalism and credibility to win the trust of patients, and never stop keeping up with the fast changing technologies in the profession.

Filipino nurses must not be scared to take risks to improve their lot. "Sometimes that’s your worst enemy in terms of holding yourself back," she cautions.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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