After 33 years as a certified nursing assistant in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital of Medford Emergency Department, George Wright knows that sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

On Feb. 3 at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital in Melrose, Hallmark Health System celebrated its exemplary 2014 employees of the month and named Wright the 2014 employee of the year. Wright, a Medford resident, was chosen among an excellent pool of 11 colleagues as the employee who most strongly embodies Hallmark Health's cornerstones of achieving excellence: service, people, growth, quality, and fiscal responsibility.

"George is a real gem," said Kori Carroll, clinical manager of the emergency department and urgent care center, his direct supervisor. "He is instrumental to the flow of the emergency department, especially on high volume days. He is unbelievably reliable, knows what to do in any instance, never loses his cool, and always shows up with a smile on his face."

Prior to the announcement, Carroll was inundated with messages in support of Wright's nomination. Doctors, nurses, patients and relatives of patients all praised Wright's work and shared stories of the difference he has made.

"I was surprised that so many people wrote so many nice things," Wright said after receiving his award. "I just do my work. I didn't know people felt that way, and I'm very grateful."

Working in the emergency department can be hectic and taxing with some intense and solemn moments. "But I like to take a more lighthearted approach to things when I can," explained Wright. He jokes with patients to lighten the anxiety they may feel.

"Some patients can be serious and scared," said Wright. "They just want a light moment – something foolish, something silly." This winter he's been saying, "This beats shoveling!" which makes patients laugh.
"When you can take someone's mind off their anxiousness, they feel better," he said.

Even with his friendly sense of humor, sometimes his work is no laughing matter. He cares for many patients who are agitated and in pain. "I try to slow down and listen to their story," said Wright, "to give them an ear and not make judgments."

Wright's anticipation of when to make a joke, when to listen calmly, and how to be a step ahead of everyone is the key to his invaluable presence in the emergency department. "In 33 years you see a lot of things," Wright described, "how people act and react to certain things. You know what people are going to need and what the doctors and nurses are going to want."

For his employee of the year award, Wright received a financial gift and additional vacation days. While he appreciates the recognition, he shies away from the attention and remains focused on doing his job as he has always done it.

"The best part is to see people getting better," said Wright. "They're better when they leave; they're not nervous and they understand what's happening. That's gratifying."

Wright's eight-year old daughter, Julia, spread her dad's news to her teacher and friends and wants to bring his picture to school. "She's proud," said Wright. Julia loves to hear stories about his work.
"I'm friends with all the patients," he tells his daughter. "People are sick and sometimes confused. Even if they're mad, they're mad at the situation, not me."

Wright tries to teach his daughter the same principles he's learned in the emergency department. Slow down, listen, make a joke, help people, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

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