NEW YORK NURSE: September 2008
by Randi Hoffman
Vivene Johnson first set foot in Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center (TCC) as a young extern nurse fulfilling her pediatric rotation at North Central Bronx Hospital. She was there to check on a developmentally disabled child who had come to TCC from the Bronx for treatment. At the time she did not know she would be building a career there.
Johnson always knew she wanted to be a nurse. After graduating Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, she majored in nursing at City College of New York (CCNY). But the nursing profession almost lost her. On a field trip to an oncology unit at Mt. Sinai, Johnson witnessed cancer patients being treated. “One man had mouth cancer, and one side of his face was gone, and someone else had clear plastic over their intestines,” Johnson said. “I was young and impressionable and I changed my major to speech pathology.”
But immediately following her graduation from CCNY with a BA, Johnson enrolled in nursing school at Lehman College in the Bronx. “Even when pursuing the speech pathology degree, I always seemed to have part-time job in a hospital,” said the Jamaican-born Johnson.
After earning her B.S. in nursing, Johnson had a fellowship from the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). “I was an extern, but at that point the city was having a hiring freeze. That’s when she visited TCC, a nursing home on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Central Park in Spanish Harlem.
After checking on her young patient, Johnson found out that TCC was hiring. She started on the units as a floor nurse and was promoted to head nurse in the HIV AIDS unit, where she worked from 1996 to 2005. Currently Johnson is employed by TCC as an MDS coordinator, reviewing resident’s medical records of patients and determining the facility’s reimbursement from the federal government. “Being on the floor just wasn’t challenging anymore, although I’m still involved. I interview the doctors. This job is offering me the challenge and stimulation I’ve been lacking.”
“I’ve always come to the NYSNA meetings,” said Johnson. “In 1996 I was pushed to become a delegate by some of my co-workers who felt I was outspoken and got my point across well. In about 2005, when the current president, Marjory Brown, wanted to pursue other opportunities in management, she encouraged me to run for the position.”
NYSNA Nursing Representative Christina Terranova said, “Vivene Johnson is the kind of leader people choose to look up to. She is direct, intelligent and fair. The administration at TCC has changed countless times, and this has caused all sorts of turmoil and significant issues for our members. Over and over again, a new group comes in, changes policies and conditions and then leaves, abandoning an awful mess. The constant that has held this bargaining unit together has been NYSNA through the leadership of Vivene Johnson. She knows the NYSNA collective bargaining agreement inside and out. The members know they can count on her. A team player, Vivene and the executive council at TCC are an exceptional group of nurses. As we move toward the next round of negotiations, TCC NYSNA members know they are lucky to have Vivene Johnson as their LBU president.”
To nurses just starting out, Johnson said, “We need to realize that this is a great field. It’s very satisfying in many ways. Sometimes we give away our power in the workplace. We need to make a difference and be powerful because we can.”