Lujan hits the 50-year mark at SLV Health

Courtesy photo Eileen Lujan has been working for San Luis Valley Health for 50 years.

ALAMOSA — Eileen Lujan looks way too young to have worked for San Luis Valley Health for 50 years. She laughingly replies to this comment, “Well, I did finish high school at age 17.”

Lujan also went right to work at Conejos County Hospital and is now celebrating her 50-year anniversary during the annual Years of Service recognition event at SLV Health.

Lujan is an OR/GI Tech and she attended community college to obtain her certificate. At that time, it was called a GPN. After a year of shadowing and on-the-job training, she studied and passed her exam to become a Graduate Practical Nurse. But the story doesn’t start here, it starts with Eileen’s mother, Helen.

Lujan’s mother became a widow when her husband passed away on the operating table. Before laparoscopic surgery, the process of removing a gall bladder was much more invasive and used ether (new anesthetics were not introduced until years later). He died due to the wrong amount of ether that was administered and there were nine children at home.

The CCH hospital administrator, Wayne Miller, knew that Helen would not be able to pay off the hospital bill. Dr. Davis had already written off his bill and was deeply saddened by the death. It was summertime, and the older kids took care of the younger siblings (the youngest was 11 months), so Helen started working as the equivalent of a CNA, again, with on-the-job training. The job stuck and she worked there for 36 years. Eileen overlapped at CCH, working alongside her mother, for 20 of those years. She recalls working alongside Dr. Celada when he was in surgery because Eileen was bilingual, and Dr. Celada was learning English.

After a year of working on the floor and training and she passed her certification, Eileen found that she was a good fit for being a surgery technician. When the outpatient surgery center opened in Alamosa at Stuart Avenue, she was asked to assist there 2 days per week. After the passing of Dr. Thomas, the main surgeon at CCH, the surgery center was phased out and Eileen began full days in Alamosa, eventually at the Regional Medical Center where she is today.

Dr. David Geiger has worked alongside Eileen for many years.

"Eileen saw almost unimaginable changes in surgical technology over the course of her 50 years. She has long been a valued member of the surgical team,” Geiger said. “Eileen goes so far as to proactively adjust the position of the video monitor during cases. It will be a long, long time before anyone else serves healthcare in the Valley for 50 years. Congratulations on 50 years!”

Eileen retired this past March, had the month of April off, and in May when there was a shortage of surgery techs, she was called and asked to come in PRN (part-time, on-call, no benefits) to help fill in until they could get fully staffed again. Her loyalty and dedication to the patients, to her team, and to the organization is commendable. Eileen has a good heart and an excellent skill set, and she’s been through three major pandemics, so she is “seasoned” as well.

The HIV pandemic in the 1980s was personal and scary. Dr. McAuliff lost his first wife, Allison, to the disease.

“I loved working for him. I remember when it happened because we canceled the Christmas party that year to show our support for him. He was the Chief Surgeon at the time,” Eileen said.

In the late 1990s, another scare was the swine flu that was sweeping across the world. It’s a virus that is a hybrid of human, bird, and swine flu viruses that is often detected in pigs. She recalls a lighter moment when she was called into the nursery to see a very unusual baby, and it was a baby pig someone had brought in a blanket.

“It’s imperative to keep a sense of humor when you work in health care,” laughed Eileen.

COVID-19 was a scary time. Should she get the vaccine? She thought, well, I see a lot of doctors getting it, so we will either survive or die together. The surgery department basically closed its doors for over a month to elective surgeries. They only were called in for traumas or emergencies.

In reflecting back on the changes in healthcare delivery, she remembered when surgeries changed to laparoscopic. That was a huge game changer, along with eliminating ether. She remembers when they switched from cloth to disposable for their masks, gowns, and booties and when they eliminated glass for IV bottles, syringes, and needles. Becoming a plastic and paper disposable society changed healthcare practices tremendously.