As an occupational therapist in Maine Medical Center’s Special Care Unit (SCU), Jennifer Shuler Cote ’90 spends her time working with the hospital’s most acute cases, assessing and treating patients with medical, neurological, and traumatic injuries. A day at work might find her providing cognitive and sensory stimulation to facilitate someone waking from a coma, helping a patient sit up for the first time (even while on a ventilator), or fitting patients for spinal and extremity braces. In her 23 years at Maine Medical Center (MMC), she has supported countless patients and worked shoulder to shoulder with many talented and dedicated medical professionals. However, in 2017 a new Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) joined the SCU team and became her all-time favorite coworker—her daughter, Ali Cote ’17! “In her first week I heard someone yell ‘mom’ in the unit, but I didn't turn around until she called out three times. I had never been referred to as ‘mom’ during my previous 23 years within the walls of the hospital!”
For more than a year now, Ali has worked alongside her mother in SCU. As a CNA, she provides essential patient care, like bathing, dressing changes, taking vital signs, and assisting with small bedside procedures. She also assists nurses, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, including her mom. While their schedules don’t always line up, there are many days when the two work side by side, an experience that Ali values greatly.
“With both of us in different fields of health care, working together has given me a much larger appreciation for the other jobs in [our field]...we are able to look at one scenario from two different perspectives and collaborate on our ideas for patient care. Understanding and appreciation of each other's roles is what creates excellent patient care and I'm happy we get to do that together. Plus, some days my mom buys me lunch!”
Caring for the most acute patients in the facility is challenging enough without the added complexity of a global pandemic, but Jennifer and Ali have relied on one another, and their SCU family, as they’ve navigated the challenges presented by COVID-19. “The most challenging part of working during this pandemic has been the changes to daily workflow and the uncertainty of what challenges COVID presented to our patients,” explains Jennifer. “We had to continue to provide care for our ‘standard’ patients, while making room for additional critical COVID patients. This meant actually adding additional critical care units and maximizing staffing... Additional nurses were taken from the operating and recovery rooms to provide care to COVID patients, while routine surgeries were suspended.”
For Ali, the relocation of SCU has added a layer of challenge to her already complex set of tasks. “It has taken me a really long time to learn where everything is and to get into a workflow in our new space. On the positive side, I am really fortunate to work with a phenomenal group of people. Everyone is extremely understanding and patient with each other while we all try to navigate through the changes... the SCU environment is very similar to the TA environment. Everyone is welcomed with open arms and provides constant support for one another.”
As a student at TA, Ali experienced a similar kind of acceptance and support as a member of the soccer, indoor track, and outdoor track teams. The amount of support and camaraderie at TA influenced her desire to be part of a medical team. She also got her first taste of the career she now loves through TA’s partnership with Biddeford Regional Center of Technology (BRCOT), where she earned her Nurse Assistant Certification while still in high school.
“Because of this [experience] I was able to make the decision that I wanted to attend nursing school. Fast forward to now, I am a senior at the University of Southern Maine and getting ready to graduate with my BS in Nursing.”
Needless to say, Jennifer is a proud mom. “In addition to being colleagues at MMC, we have worked together in the medical tents at the Boston Marathon (under the direction of my sister Stephanie Shuler Walsh ’98, Boston Marathon Course Medical Coordinator) as well as several community events... in the past several years, Ali and I have truly been ‘stronger together.’” Ali agrees. “Never in a million years did I think I would be working during a pandemic. I feel extremely lucky to be able to work where I do and with the people I do... I believe we are stronger because we have each other.”
Story by Katie Beane • Photos Courtesy of Jennifer Shuler Cote '90