Remembering Joan Anne McHugh: An Interview with Her Sister

| November 22, 2015

The McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing was established in 2005 in memory of Joan Anne McHugh, a registered nurse, nurse manager, and nursing consultant who made a lasting impact on the geriatric health care profession. LeadingAge spoke recently with Joan’s sister, Margaret Kyriacou, about Joan, her career, and her legacy.

On Nov. 2, 2015, the LeadingAge Center for Applied Research awarded the Joan Anne McHugh Award for Leadership in Long-Term Services and Supports Nursing to its 10th recipient. The award is presented at each year’s LeadingAge Annual Meeting to recognize aspiring nurse leaders who provide excellent clinical care to their residents while demonstrating a commitment to the field of long-term services and supports.

The McHugh Award was established in 2005 in memory of Joan Anne McHugh by her family and her colleagues at the Loeb & Troper consulting firm in New York. During her career as a registered nurse, nurse manager, and nursing consultant, Joan earned a well-deserved reputation for compassion, knowledge, and professionalism, and made a lasting impact on the geriatric health care profession. She died in 2003 at the age of 47.

LeadingAge spoke recently with Joan’s sister, Margaret Kyriacou, about Joan, her career, and her legacy.

Joan’s Career

LeadingAge: We know that your mother and your 4 aunts were nurses for many years. Did their example influence Joan’s decision to enter nursing school?

Margaret: It was the most natural thing in the world that Joan decided to follow in the footsteps of our mother and her sisters by enrolling in nursing school. My mother brought all of the core qualities that all nurses share – empathy, dependability, stability, flexibility, selflessness, patience, and strength – into our home.

Joan, as the eldest sibling of our large family, learned all those same qualities from our mother. She was very much like a second mother to her 4 siblings, particularly those of us (like me) who were much younger than she was.

LeadingAge: Joan graduated from the nursing school at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York in 1979. Where did her career take her from there?

Margaret: Joan worked at St. Vincent’s and other hospitals and medical facilities for many years, but eventually became more interested in the administrative and consulting side of nursing. That is what led her to enroll at The New School, where she earned her master’s degree in Health Services Administration while still working long hours as a nurse. She started working at Loeb & Troper in 1993 and became a principal in 1998.

Working at Loeb & Troper was a very different job for Joan, as compared to when she was a nurse. But it was just as rewarding in its own way, and it allowed her to help improve the care that patients were receiving at many different hospitals and other long-term care settings across a broad geographic area.

Joan as a Person

LeadingAge: LeadingAge members have heard Joan’s name for 10 years now, but not everyone knew her personally. What was she like?

Margaret: Joan was an extremely intelligent, energetic, and charismatic person, with an incredible work ethic. She also had a wonderful sense of humor, and she was easily the most nurturing and selfless person I have ever known.

After Joan’s passing, we all heard so many stories about the compassion, caring, and thoughtfulness that she displayed toward everyone in her life on a daily basis. Countless people told us, for instance, how Joan had helped them or their loved ones find much-needed medical assistance, how Joan gave them physician and specialist referrals, how Joan did research for them on various medical topics, and how Joan helped them through personal crises, both medical and otherwise.

She was a trusted advisor to so many, someone who always seemed to know just what to do in every situation. It just came naturally to her. It was just her way.

Joan’s Legacy

LeadingAge: What makes Joan a role model for other nurses?

Margaret: Joan’s empathy was one of her defining characteristics. She had the ability to see someone in dire straits and to feel their pain and understand their concerns, and then to work with them to try to ameliorate that pain and address those concerns.

She had extensive experience in a wide variety of clinical settings and consistently provided support and encouragement to her staff and to her patients.

She was always available, and she was always focused on the geriatric population being treated with respect and dignity. She felt the need to be their advocate, and, for many years, she was the best advocate they could have asked for.

Joan was also a great example of how the field of nursing isn’t necessarily limited to the traditional idea of men and women in hospital scrubs working directly with patients. It is actually an incredibly broad field that allows nurses to make a meaningful impact on the care that patients receive in myriad diverse ways – from the hospital room to the boardroom. 

LeadingAge: What do you think Joan’s legacy is?

Margaret: I think Joan’s life story shows that there is no limit to what one can achieve in the field of nursing, and that there are many different avenues that a nurse can take to achieve the end-goal of providing the best level of care to our aging population.

But in order to provide consistent, high-quality care, nurses and other frontline caregivers need to be provided with resources, support, and education so they can be successful in caring for the geriatric population and in facing the many challenges, great and small, that come with such a vitally important mission.

That is the message that the McHugh Award carries with it, and our family would be hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate and meaningful way to celebrate Joan’s life, and ensure that the work to which she dedicated her life continues on.

The McHugh Family

LeadingAge: What has the McHugh Award meant to your family?

Our entire family takes great comfort in knowing that Joan’s legacy – both personally and professionally – lives on. We come every year to see the award given out to its recipient. It is a beautiful annual reminder to us that, for all that Joan meant to us, she also meant so much to so many others in so many different capacities.

It is also wonderful to shine a light on the amazing, incredible nurses that have received this award, all of whom truly represent – just as Joan did – all the best qualities and ideals of the nursing field and the field of long-term care nursing. If there is one profession in this world that does not receive enough admiration, it’s nursing, and long-term care nurses have one of the toughest jobs there is.

Every year, when we meet these nurses, we are reminded of Joan, who we all miss so terribly much. We see in them the same things that made Joan the unbelievably special person, nurse, and long-term care leader that she was. We have seen and felt a little bit of Joan in all of the recipients of this award, which is, for us, a very beautiful and meaningful thing.