Some people are natural leaders who can be found caring for others in every situation. Renee Blakiewicz is one of them.
Blakiewicz officially began her career in health care as a nurse’s aide, but she had been called to nurturing and protecting others since she was a child. She comes from a family of health care workers, and it was all she knew.
For a grade-school assignment, Blakiewicz wrote an autobiography, which saw her becoming a nurse. The day she graduated from Community Medical Center’s School of Nursing, her father gifted her the autobiography he had saved.
“That calling has always been there. There’s a fierce advocacy in me, a level of compassion that drives me to take care of other people,” said Blakiewicz, who lives in South Abington Twp. with her husband, Scott, and children, twins Seth and Emma 18, and Alex, 16. “I’m still doing it today, and I don’t think it will ever go away. If I can be there for others, whether it’s patients or staff, I’ll be there.”
Blakiewicz is associate vice president of clinical operations for Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, where she’s responsible for “everything from keeping the doors open and the lights on to ensuring departments are running smoothly,” she said. Her role also includes making sure the staff and patients alike are supported and cared for.
Blakiewicz began her career at the hospital as a nurse’s aide before becoming a registered nurse. She then worked in the intensive care unit for about 13 years before taking on leadership roles there and in the emergency department. Blakiewicz felt a shift and saw her future in a management role. She continued to move up the ranks until she landed her current position a few years ago and fell in love with it.
“Being a caregiver has always been a huge motivation, and moving into leadership allows me to do that but on a much larger scale,” she said.
Most recently, Blakiewicz led GCMC’s COVID-19 response team and worked with local, regional and system leaders to unify nursing, emergency department, operating room, care management and more, all in a time of crisis.
“There wasn’t a time to be nervous or worried because we had a job to do, and we just had to all work together and do it,” she said. “I’ve always been patient-focused — from when I was working as a nurse until now — and that will never change. Even though we had never experienced anything like the pandemic before, when you begin from that patient-focused starting point and a place of, ‘How do we keep the staff as safe as possible?,’ you can kind of work along to figure out the best way to tackle something like this.”
Education also makes up a large part of Blakiewicz’s quest to grow and learn. In 2013, she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Penn State, and as she moved into a nursing leadership role, Blakiewicz sought to learn more about the administrative and operational sides of health care. She earned a master’s degree in health care administration from University of Scranton and then a master’s degree in organizational management from Misericordia University. The latter she completed during the pandemic, which wasn’t always easy but was entirely worth it.
Her husband, meanwhile, a paramedic, is in physician assistant school, and she hopes they show their children that investing in oneself and seizing opportunities are key to feeling fulfilled and happy in one’s career.
“I’m a lifelong learner, and I have this need to always be growing and adapting. I like to take the skills I’ve honed and learn something new and apply it to what I’m doing,” Blakiewicz said. “I am committed to bettering myself.”
Blakiewicz faced the ultimate challenge and opportunity for growth when the coronavirus pandemic began. She and her colleagues sprang into action, devising a plan to efficiently and safely carry out the proper protocols while remaining committed to providing patients with the best possible care. Making changes within the building, including redirecting entrances and exits to keep everyone safe, and ensuring they did right by patients and staff, were of the utmost importance, she said.
Her experience in ICU and emergency room settings came in handy as basically the whole system was trained in E.R. management to help care for the influx of patients. GCMC also postponed elective surgeries to prevent COVID-19 exposure; stockpiled masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment; and tested whether its equipment inventories, such as beds and ventilators, were sufficient. Also, Blakiewicz, her colleagues and staff adapted to the ever-changing government regulations and guidance.
“There were definitely stressful times, but it was all hands on deck,” she said. “Everyone was ready to work, and it couldn’t have been possible without every single person doing their part. I was so proud of them and what they accomplished.”
Blakiewicz also commended the community’s efforts for accommodating and understanding. When GCMC needed to make necessary adjustments around the hospital, such as adding an outdoors triage tent to screen patients and visitors entering the emergency room. Mulberry Street also was blocked off in front of the hospital to keep things contained, Blakiewicz said, and the Scranton Police Department stayed with them from day one to help adapt traffic patterns and ensure everyone’s safety.
“We blocked off a very busy Scranton street, and everyone, from residents to the police department, were so understanding and great to work with,” she said. “It really showed how much we all worked together during this time.”
With the coronavirus pandemic moving into its current phase, Blakiewicz acknowledged that the health care world will never be the same. But she feels more committed than ever to her place in it.
“I never would have seen myself in this role when I was first starting out, but it’s one of those things where, now, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way,” she said. “Over the years, my goals have been focused on caring for others the best I can and working together with others to find that success, and I’m always bringing those into my job, no matter what it is. … The sky’s really the limit from here.”
Meet Renee Blakiewicz
At home: Lives in South Abington Twp. with her husband, Scott, and three children, twins Seth and Emma, 18, and Alex, 16.
At work: Associate vice president of clinical operations at Geisinger Community Medical Center, Scranton
Inspirations: Her three kids, positive people, a “can-do” attitude and open-minded individuals
Aspirations: To make her family proud of her
Diversions: Baking, cake decorating, cooking huge meals for family, reading, crocheting, walking and running
Aversions: Lack of inclusion or ignorance toward people who do not fit the mold
Quote: “We don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the only choice we have.”
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT