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Q&A with Jacob Garcia

"The current system is not sustainable because of the huge amount of turnover with nurses quitting the field or retiring."

This story was published in the Fall 2022 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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Jacob Garcia feels right at home at Sunnyside Community Hospital in Yakima County. He grew up in Pasco, and his family history and union activism is rooted in the surrounding communities.

His grandmother was a Teamster who helped organize migrant workers in California alongside Cesar Chavez. When she moved to Pasco, she helped found a community clinic called La Clínica that is still running today.

For Garcia, nursing was a natural outgrowth of his passion for science and helping others. But it wasn’t until staffing issues affected his hospital that his advocacy for nurses grew. He knows his late grandmother would be cheering him on.

In June, Garcia was elected to the American Nurses Association Board of Directors in the staff nurse position. He said a call for more nominations prompted him to run.

“I am excited to step up and be a leader for Washington state,” he said. “I want to learn and experience what we can do at a national level to drive the conversation being experienced by staff nurses.

Garcia is passionate about improving nurses’ well-being.

“You cannot talk about the staffing crisis without talking about burnout,” he said.

“The current system is not sustainable because of the huge amount of turnover with nurses quitting the field or retiring,” he said. “Nurses need to be at the table to address nursing issues and make sure healthcare is sustainable for the long term.”

What’s a typical day?

Get up at 7 a.m. Get assignments for four-five patients, often more because of staffing issues. I take care of everyone as best as I can.

What is the staffing situation?

Because we are a community hospital, it’s hard to keep as competitive with wages. We have a hard time maintaining staff and probably have 70%-80% or more of travelers on the med-surg floor as well as throughout hospital.

How does staffing crisis affect you?

I know if I’m not careful I can get burned out. I take steps to reduce risk. And I advocate for myself and core staff.

Things that are helpful?

I speak in the moment. I say: ‘This is not OK. This is not safe.’ That helps me do better. After work, I take time for myself. I just relax or be lazy. And I tell myself, I did the best I could with the resources I had.

What are some hobbies?

I like to garden. I play multiple instruments. It started with violin, then clarinet, saxophone (alto and tenor), then bassoon. I used to play in a jazz band. I miss that! I also like spending time with my nephews (3 and a couple months.)

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Credit: Photos by Ryan Rosenkranz

Why nursing?

I was 7 or 8 when I was introduced to healthcare. My dad was in and out the hospital with an autoimmune disease that attacked his joints and other parts of his body. He was screened for all kinds of diseases (Crohn’s, lyme, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis) and tried different treatments, but he had to stop working. (He was a crane operator at Hanford.)

In high school, I became fascinated with biology and the sciences. I also wanted to take care of people. Nursing is the best mix of science and taking care of people.

What is Sunnyside like?

We have a high Hispanic population. We are in a rural city with some factories like Tillamook. The surrounding region has grapes and cherries so there is a lot of farming and a lot of migrant workers.

What happened to La Clínica?

In the ‘90s, the clinic met requirements to become a federally qualified health center, so it receives state and federal support. It’s now called Tri Cities Health Clinic. My grandmother, a single mother of five, stepped away from running the clinic to raise kids. She passed away at 78 battling dementia.

What do you love about nursing?

It’s challenging. I’m going to be a lifelong learner.