Making it in America: From Nurse Sally to CEO Sally

By Cristina DC Pastor – The FilAm
A nurse with a 24-year experience, Sally Nunez has seen nearly everything, including Auschwitz-surviving Sephardic Jews whose ID numbers remain imprinted on their arms now parched and wrinkled with age.

Sally has been a long-time nurse to New York’s elderly Jewish community, from the time she arrived in New York in 1991 up until she co-founded RN Express Staffing Registry, LLC in 2010.

Her first job in New York was a full-time staff nurse at Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged (now the Jewish Home Health Care System). By the time she left the clinical part of her nursing profession, she was director of Admissions and Case Management at Amsterdam Nursing Home.

“It’s hard not to get attached to your patients,” said Sally as she searched her memory for those Jewish patients she has come to love as family. One of them is an elderly male with a history of bleeding disorder. This sourpuss of a patient at first refused to have Sally as a nurse, saying only that “she is just a kid.” Short-haired Sally, in her early 40s, still keeps her pixie looks to this day.

One day, no other nurse was available but Sally, when the man came to the hospital. Grudgingly, he agreed to have her clean him up, and she did with a lot of care and attention. From that time on, he asked only for Sally whenever he came for treatment.

“I cried when he died,” Sally said in an interview with The FilAm at her office on West 23rd Street. “I took care of him for five years.”

Although her clinical experience is limited to nursing homes, Sally does not feel her career is any less fulfilling as those of RNs (registered nurses) who work in hospitals. “We have almost the same responsibilities,” she said.

In some cases, she explained, more is expected of a home health nurse because she usually works alone and needs to be knowledgeable of every aspect of a patient’s care.

RH Express

Today, as president and CEO of RN Express, Sally is involved with the education part of the profession. She and co-founders Lea Batomalaque, another nurse who has been in the profession for more than 30 years, train fresh graduates and new immigrants to the US on nursing practices in a home health setting.

When the nurses are ready, they are placed in nursing homes across New York that are usually not-for-profit and run by religious orders. Among the facilities that go to RNE for their staffing needs are Providence Rest and St. Patrick’s Home in the Bronx, Amsterdam Nursing Home and Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan. Amsterdam, Sally’s second employer, gave RNE its first contract.

“About 80 percent of our nurses are women,” said Sally.

But not all are Filipinos. RNE has nurses coming from Russia, Brazil, as well as Latin and Caribbean countries. Staffing may be predominantly nursing for now, but Sally said there is the occasional demand for physical therapists and other health care workers, and they plan on expanding.

“I impress on our nurses to be good at their job because that will ensure future employment for other nurses,” Sally said. She is proud of RNE’s established record because some facilities continue to hire from them. “We’re here because of the good job of our nurses.”

She also reminds her nurses not to feel like they’re “dumped” just because they work in nursing homes. Nursing homes are not second-class to hospitals, they’re just different. Patients in nursing homes and their nurses bond for a longer time, unlike in hospitals where patients come and go.

Engineering

Sally was not looking to work as a nurse after college, and certainly not a business proprietor. “I wanted to study engineering at Mapua,” she said.

Her parents objected to her going to Manila by herself. Instead, she took up nursing – a popular area of study for Filipino women then and now — at the Colegio de Sta. Isabel in Naga City where her family lived.

Strangely, her family had no objection when she was hired to work in New York’s Jewish Home and Hospital, which petitioned her as an immigrant.

“Maybe because many of my classmates are already working in the U.S., especially in Georgia,” Sally said.

Sally’s career reached a fork in the road after working as a nurse for more than two decades. She co-founded RNE and another agency called Manhattan Employment Services, Inc. (MESI) for non-health care workers. An entertainment company, called Saleaflor Entertainment, was also created. The idea is to organize concerts and fashion shows using Philippine-based and local talents.

Nurse Sally gets all giggly when she is addressed by her newly minted title: CEO Sally.

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