Maureen Garrett, a charge nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at CHOC at Mission Hospital, believes she gains as much from her patients and families as they do from her.
“I have learned about courage, strength, resilience, love and joy by sharing in their hospital experience,” she says. “I love seeing a family grow from the overwhelming fear they first experience with an unexpected, premature birth to a confident, competent mother and father taking their newborn home.”
As CHOC Mission celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, Maureen is among a special group of employees who have been with the hospital since day one. She joined the CHOC health system in 1991, when she was hired to help open CHOC Mission.
Opened in 1993, the children’s hospital operates on the fifth floor of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. The 54-bed hospital is the only dedicated facility for pediatrics in south Orange County, surrounding coastal areas and north San Diego County.
Through the years, Maureen has served in several capacities at CHOC Mission and has witnessed much evolution inside the hospital – most notably, she says, the hospital’s family – centered-care philosophy.
“The most significant change has been the dramatic shift to family-centered care where families really are viewed as part of the team, and hospital operations are designed to empower parents and facilitate their involvement in their child’s hospitalization,” Maureen says.
Maureen initially pursued a career in health care because she wanted to help others, and create a work-family balance.
“I love the opportunity to touch people’s lives through both knowledge and compassion,” she says. “In nursing, there are so many opportunities and so much flexibility. I knew it would be the kind of career that would allow me to be a parent but still allow me to grow professionally and be challenged always.”
Maureen’s enthusiasm for CHOC Mission extends far beyond mere professional pride: Her own two daughters received care in the hospital’s NICU, her own unit.
Shortly after the hospital’s founding, Maureen’s eldest daughter was born in 1994 at 32 weeks gestation and spent about a month in the NICU.
Maureen’s second daughter, just like her older sister six years before her, also arrived early, at 32 weeks gestation. She stayed in the NICU for about three weeks.
“I had trust in everybody here,” Maureen said. “I knew it was a good staff. If your baby ended up the NICU, where would you want them? I’d want her here. I had an intimate relationship with the people caring for them because I worked there.”
The experience of being a parent in the NICU influenced Maureen’s work moving forward.
“You think when you work in any area that you have a decent perspective, but once you walk it yourself, it does make you more sensitive,” she says.
Maureen knows firsthand how important having a nearby high-quality children’s hospital is for the community. And while CHOC Mission and its staff are celebrating a quarter century of serving south Orange County and beyond, no one is resting on their laurels.
“I hope that CHOC Mission will continue to grow in size and services as the community around it continues to grow,” she says. “I hope we will have a more active role in health and wellness promotion in addition to providing services for those affected by illness.”
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the neonatology specialty.