Not every nurse can be a nurse at AHRC New York City. “This is not typical bedside nursing,” said Coleen Wharton. “A nurse at AHRC NYC, like every nurse, needs to be caring, compassionate, a group advocate, and have solid nursing skills, but it’s the ability to bring that personal aspect that makes someone a good candidate for this work.”

Noreen Keenan, a Nurse with Residential Services, brings that personal touch to her work with Bronx-based residents in AHRC NYC-supported homes. Nearly 20 years ago, after a run of success working as a private nurse for individual clients, a friend of hers, Julia Hunt, recommended AHRC NYC to Noreen for additional per diem opportunities.

Becoming an Advocate for Her Clients

Julia wore me down and I finally said yes,” Noreen recalled. “In a short time, I was doing more and more of the AHRC work and less and less of the private work.” She believes there are many nurses like her who would thrive in supporting neurodiverse populations.

Noreen Keenan is a nurse supporting people living in AHRC NYC residences

Noreen Keenan

When you start in this field, you quickly get pulled in. Being exposed to it is the hardest part because there is so little exposure to the public,” says Noreen. “If more nurses are introduced to the field, they would fall in love with it as I did.”

Noreen is among the strongest advocates for the residents she supports. She says the medical establishment is quick to overlook patients with developmental disabilities.

Sometimes, the medical community doesn’t offer our community all the options that are available to the rest of the public,” Noreen explained. “There’s a certain mindset that the people we support may not need to be on a transplant list or not to take the next step that would further their comfort or possibly to make them better. It’s my job to say just because they have a disability does not mean they don’t need to be presented with every option that’s available to them.”

How the Pandemic Changed Lives

Noreen and her colleagues in Residential Services interfaced with doctors and hospitals throughout the COVID pandemic. It upended the lives of everyone within AHRC NYC’s orbit, especially nurses.

One day in March 2020 our whole lives changed,” Noreen recalled. “In the early days, we had no knowledge that there would a vaccine. Everything was minute to minute—clinically, we had to think on our feet every second. At the same time, you had personal concern for your own safety and your family’s safety. Are you bringing it into the residence, or are you bringing it home to your family? It taught me that you can’t take anything for granted.”

Three residents that Noreen worked closely with passed away from virus complications. It was not the first time she has had to comfort residents, colleagues, and herself after the loss of a beloved housemate.

In this setting, you become emotionally tied to people and are with them for a long time. They do become like family,” Noreen said. “Every day I do as much as I can to help that person so that they can flourish and enjoy life. When they pass away, I have no regrets because I know I’ve done everything that I can to help them. Death is a natural progression —with the pandemic, it brought us all to the realization that it can happen at any day and any time.”

Appreciation Goes Both Ways

Noreen’s consistency and reliability are an irreplaceable asset to the Bronx residences she supports.

I don’t know how she remembers each person’s case for each house. She’s very thorough, always letting us know what we need,” said Alicia Sy, Residence Manager at Greenberg residence. “We’re never left in the dark with anything medical. She speaks to us like we are all part of a team to do this together. We can call her anytime, day or night. I know we can count on her.”

Similarly, Noreen says she relies on her colleagues to accomplish their shared goal of helping their residents lead healthy, productive lives.

It’s been my pleasure to work with all of the managers and DSPs,” Noreen said. “They have so much responsibility. They’re a huge part of nursing as well. I’m not able to make a valid, professional recommendation without all the facts. They are really on top of their game here in the Bronx. I rely on them heavily as well. Nursing is nursing but it really is a team effort to get the job done.”