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NIHD Chief Nursing Officer Tracy Aspel heads into retirement

  • Category: NIHD News
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  • Written By: Barbara Laughon

Tracy Aspel retires as NIHD CNO after an expansive 40-year career
After a career spanning more than four decades in the care of others, Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s Chief Nursing Officer Tracy Aspel was hoping to slip out the facilities doors Thursday evening and into a quiet, well-earned retirement.

Her co-workers, however, had other plans.

The challenge became how an employer adequately says farewell to someone like Aspel, whose impact on the District and Inyo County’s healthcare landscape is profound, during an unprecedented pandemic. The answer came in resources of the day -- video tributes, the serving of cake via the acrylic-covered dining room window, and fond wishes posted on a bulletin board. Interim Chief Executive Officer Kelli Davis, Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Timbers, and new CNO Allison Partridge

presented Aspel with a plaque honoring her commitment to the District and its patients, staff, and the greater community.

Aspel’s nursing story began with the mother of a childhood friend. “Elise Muller was a neonatal registered nurse at our local hospital in West Covina,” Aspel recalls. “I never really thought about how she influenced my decision to be a nurse until today, or how that would help my family later, but she did.”

Neonatal would play a large role in Aspel’s burgeoning career. During a student nurse rotation, she provided care for a baby boy with respiratory issues. The boy went into respiratory arrest, and Aspel had to start CPR and call for the “Code Team,” a group of healthcare professionals who rush critical care for patients in need.

Aspel never forgot the moment and continued on a path to provide care for newborns. Her first job was as a neonatal nurse at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, caring for both babies and their families. Years later, when her granddaughter was born 13 weeks premature, Aspel found strength by tapping into those early career experiences. This allowed her to offer a higher level of needed support for her family during her granddaughter’s three-month stay in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Work and the beauty of the Eastern Sierra led Aspel to Mammoth Hospital, where she worked for then-Director of Nursing Susan Mushack Batchelder. “The Head Nurse position opened up here at NIHD’s Obstetrical Services Department, and Susan encouraged, well, really pushed me to apply,” Aspel recalls. “At the time, I wondered why she wanted me to leave Mammoth. I ultimately learned she was accepting the Director of Nursing job at Northern Inyo.”

Arriving two months ahead of Batchelder, Aspel joined NIHD in February 1980 and began working in perinatal. A year later, she advanced to House Supervisor for the evening shift and then returned to staff nursing in the Emergency Department four years later.

Aspel will tell you she loved working in Emergency. She loved the patients, the staff, and the adrenaline required to keep pace. Yet it was in Emergency when she first noticed the large number of people who could not get into to see any of Bishop’s primary care providers.

“The need was great,” she said. “I mean so great; patients were coming to the ED for routine medication refills. The situation impacted all patients, those with insurance and those without it. It was clear we needed a clinic where all patients would be welcome for care.”

In 2001, NIHD opened the Rural Health Clinic to meet these needs. Working alongside Dr. Stacey Brown, Aspel and her nursing and administration team broke new ground in the county’s healthcare landscape. “We worked long hours to meet many needs, and we were lucky to have such a dedicated staff,” she said. “Opening the RHC had the biggest impact on the Eastern Sierra. It was a large undertaking that still has an impact today, and I count myself lucky to have been a part of it.”

Fourteen years later, Aspel returned to her roots on the District’s hospital side as Director of Nursing Practice, and then 2016, moved into the Chief Nursing Officer role. As CNO, Aspel restructured nursing leadership, allowing for new leaders to grow from within NIHD. “We have some great new leaders that will be the future of the District,” Aspel said.

When asked what advice she would offer those new leaders, Aspel did not hesitate. “Yes, be open to learning,” she offered. “Leadership doesn’t have instant positive feedback, like bedside nursing. You have to understand that your impact can be large when you influence a team and improve the delivery of care to many patients, rather than just the ones you would touch as a single nurse at the bedside.”

As she departs, what impact does Aspel hope she had as CNO? “I have worked as a staff nurse and in nursing leadership, all of which has been rewarding,” she said. “I do hope that the nursing team felt their CNO heard their voice during my time in this role. As a nurse who worked in a staff role, I needed to represent the needs of those providing direct care. I believe during my time, collaboration with teams across the District was improved, which aligns with our ‘one team’ mission.”

Aspel also shared the hopes she has for the future of NIHD. “Most important is that compassionate care continues, and the standard of care is maintained for the patients,” she stressed. “This can only happen with great fiscal stewardship and commitment from the entire team. Under the current executive leadership, I see a bright future for NIHD.”

As for her future, the woman often referred to as the heart of NIHD, says she looks forward to having more time with her family, including husband Greg, her mother who now lives in Bishop, and her adult children and granddaughter. Aspel said she and Greg intend to enjoy golfing at Bishop Country Club, where she hopes to see improvement in her golf scores.

She adds that people probably will see her out walking first. “I have to try to get back in shape after years of sitting at desks and in meetings,” she laughs. “But it was worth every second. I will miss NIHD and its team, and I wish the District great success as it begins its next 75 years.”