Everyday Heroes: A Nurse and Advocate for Others

Cary, NC — Debra Murphy, affectionately known as Ms. Dee, is the type of person you can meet for the first time and feel that you’ve known your whole life.

Continuing our series on Everyday Heroes in Cary.

Her upbeat spirit and passion for public service have made her a shining example of what a leader in the nursing field is capable of, especially in a pandemic. Ms. Dee is the Assistant Director of Clinical Services at Cary Health and Rehabilitation Center where she tends to the daily needs of both residents and staff.

In a time where visitors are not allowed and staff must adapt, nurses like Ms. Dee are crucial.

Two Careers, Both to Serve Others

Growing up in the midwest, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, Ms. Dee’s first career was serving as a deputy sheriff for 22 years. Taking a huge leap, Ms. Dee went after the career she always pictured for herself as a child.

“I retired from the sheriff’s department on a Wednesday and graduated from nursing school that same week Friday,” said Ms. Dee.

Ms. Dee became a registered nurse in 2002, joining her mother and grandmother as another nurse in the family.

“She completely switched careers from being a deputy sheriff to being a nurse and I think that the same compassion that she had as a sheriff transferred over to being a nurse. It was kind of an odd career change, but I think that nursing was always her calling,” said Nichole Darboe, a friend and colleague who has worked with Ms. Dee several times.

“I had done a little bit of everything in law enforcement, so I told myself I would go into a profession that’s more profound where I can be an even bigger advocate for the ones that can’t be for themselves,” said Ms. Dee.

Leaving & Returning to Cary

Her first time working at Cary Health and Rehab was in 2003 when she served as a unit manager until 2005. Nichole Darboe was one of the people in charge of the hiring process and can remember one particularly difficult unit that Ms. Dee was in charge of leading.

“She changed the entire staff’s perception of how they viewed their jobs and because of it, they were able to do their job better — just by the way she treated them,” said Darboe. “Seeing that change in the staff was just a remarkable thing.”

Now, 15 years later, she returned to the facility in January 2020. Her cheerfulness and passion for long-term care are what led to her hire this time around, according to Debbie Reynolds, the facility’s Divisional Director of Clinical Services.

As for Ms. Dee, she came back because of her love for Cary and the fulfillment she gets from working with the geriatric population.

“The people here have a good culture and I knew with our Executive Director Doreen, and others working here, that we can all help make the culture even better,” said Ms. Dee.

Keeping Positive in a Pandemic

Since the spread of COVID-19, the facility has implemented strict precautions that have thankfully led to no run-ins with COVID-19. However, they do come with added challenges. For residents and their families, it means no in-person visits and for staff, it is a time to entirely shift how they operate.

Using chocolates and other goodies are just one way Ms. Dee makes an effort to lift spirits.

“You would be amazed at what a little chocolate can do to encourage someone,” said Reynolds.

She also takes the time to visit and listen to residents and continually mentor the nurses and CNAs. Recently showing her gratitude to the staff, Ms. Dee put together a memorable nurse appreciation week.

“She brought her own linens from home, decorated the dining room and made a big bowl of lemonade. She made them each a gift bag out of her own pocket and made time to meet with each shift to make sure everybody got a gift from her,” said Reynolds.

“I know they’re tired, but they don’t give up,” said Ms. Dee. “The team I work with is just tremendous.”

Story by Ashley Kairis. Photo by Hal Goodtree.

Everyday Heroes on CaryCitizen is sponsored by Publix.

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