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Minnie Klepacz: Filipino Nurse Leader and British Empire Medal Awardee

Minnie Klepacz has been in the United Kingdom for over 19 years. Currently working as the Nurse Matron for Ophthalmology at the University Hospital Dorset NHS Trust. Aside from being a Nurse Matron, she has also been active in supporting and helping the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network and the Filipino communities. Because of the work she did, she was recently nominated and recognised by Her Majesty, the Queen and was awarded the British Empire Medal.

Let us get to know her more.

I am Minnie, I am a nurse working in the UK. Next year would be my 20th year living in this country. I remember, at a young age, I have always wanted to explore other countries and its culture. Considering its strategic location, UK has always been the “dream”. Fortunately, I was given an opportunity to fulfil this dream.

I started working as a nurse in the UK’s beloved National Health Service (NHS). Even during the start, I felt proud working in the NHS. Not only was I working in one of biggest UK employers but I was also part of the group that provides high-quality care that is freely accessible to everyone in the UK. This is not something you would find in other countries including the Philippines.

Can you tell us more about your role at work and in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is often said that crisis and disasters can bring out the best in people. I, personally, have witnessed this. I have seen countless acts of compassion, selflessness, and bravery. I have also seen how Filipinos thrived during the worst of times, including this pandemic.

Growing up in the Philippines, we are used to all kinds of calamities—from typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. These and more have moulded us to be tough and resilient, which was very handy especially during these current times. We rise above these challenges and support each other in various ways.

But even though we are trained to survive, we can’t avoid feeling worried and scared. The fear came from the fact that the ethnic minority, particularly us Filipinos are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 virus. A significant number of our fellow Filipino nurses were affected, became seriously ill and some unfortunately have died because of this deadly virus. There are many theories and research that are on-going to understand why we are severely affected by this pandemic, but nothing is defined at this time yet.

I have seen how these have affected our BAME staff, particularly those in our trust. I, too, am worried for my own, my family and my colleagues’ welfare but I felt the best way to conquer this fear is to get up and do something. I have to set aside my worries and took the initiative to offer support to my colleagues. I have actively contributed to the individual risk assessment tool for staff and encouraged our BAME staff to undertake this risk assessment, though the support of their line managers and our local Occupational health departments. This is key in ensuring staff are safe & protected.

This was truly embraced & supported by our Trust. We went through numerous health & wellbeing forums with the support of our Consultant Clinical Psychologist. BAME staff were also empowered to speak out, especially if they feel unsafe or at undue risk. Aside from the physical protection measures, we have also provided information, guidance, and support for mental health wellbeing of the staff.

With most of us feeling overwhelmed and anxious, communication is key to address these emotions. We have maintained open channels of communication to hear how staff are feeling and most importantly, listen and respond. We have also established a hotline or central contact point for BAME and have developed in-house channels and hubs to respond promptly to our member’s questions and concerns.

Aside from my Matron duties, I have also provided support to various Filipino communities such as the Fil- Brit Community Association and the BAME network. During the onset of the pandemic, myself and other Filipino nurses founded the group, Filipino Nurses Association UK aimed to help Filipinos who are experiencing difficulties at work or even at their own homes. Some of those we have supported have no relatives/families here in the UK. For us, Filipinos, our families are important. It makes us feel that we’re not alone and someone is there is to support you, especially during in times of need. One can imagine how difficult it is for our other fellow Filipinos living alone and not having anyone to depend on.

Through our own simple ways, we were able to assist them. I, with the help of my husband and other members, cooked food, delivered groceries, and home-cooked meals. We also bought over-the-counter medication to those who had been experiencing symptoms and those recovering after release from intensive care. Equally important is the emotional support which we have provided to them.

Congratulations on your award! How did you feel after receiving this prestigious award? And what is next for you?

I am truly humbled, honoured, and privileged. The British Empire Medal is awarded to those having a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time. In my case, the honour has been award as recognition for my service to the Nursing field and community during the time of COVID-19. For me this is not only a personal award. This is a recognition of the collective efforts of the people around me. I share this with all my amazing staff working at UHD, all NHS staff, Filipino nurses across the UK and around world, our local communities who tirelessly work above and beyond. I also want to share the honour to the interim officers of the Filipino Nurses Association UK, and to our Filipino colleagues who lost their lives during the pandemic-- I dedicate the award to their family and friends. I am most thankful for my personal support system – my family.

I will continue with what I have been doing-- helping my colleagues and the Filipino community get through the hurdles & aftermath of this pandemic. Yes, I have my own fears but I have to put a brave face and put all those fears and worries aside to support my colleagues and those who are in need and show to them even the simplest act of kindness and humanity. If people need help, then I’ll help them. I will go out and make good things happen. Fill the world with hope, and you will fill yourself with hope. Take the challenge of paying it forward. It takes each one of us to make a difference.

Do you have any message to our fellow Filipino Nurses?

It is in times of crisis that heroes are born. We, Filipino nurses, rose above this big challenge, through our resilience, courage and passion to care. I know many of you are still stressed, tired and anxious about the current situation. You should all be immensely proud of what you’ve done. Yes, we’re still fighting this deadly pandemic. I hope that you have the courage and strength to continue this fight. Your efforts and care you are giving to your patients is nothing less than a superpower.

Safety and well-being of all of us are paramount. We can only make positive contributions and live our purpose and values if we stay healthy and be kind to ourselves.

Thank you all for your endless compassion and hard work. I am privileged to be working in a field filled with selfless people. I am praying for you all and hope this is over soon.

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