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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: Billie Allard

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, February 12, 2006

North Adams Regional Hospital Vice-president of Patient Care Services Billie Allard
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident whose actions contribute to the Berkshires way of life.

Clarksburg - Billie Allard of Clarksburg may best be described as an achiever and a believer.

The 51-year-old Vice-president of Patient Care Services at North Adams Regional Hospital has consistently demanded excellence of herself , encouraged it in others, and the personal and professional results are truly impressive.

"I Was Supposed To Be A Boy"

Allard grew up in North Adams as Billie Johnson, and it was her father, former Drury High School athletic coach and physical education instructor Herb Johnson, who named her when she was born.

"He named me 'Billie' because I was supposed to be a boy," Allard said during a Feb. 10 interview.

Herb Johnson's coaching [football, track, skiing, and gymnastics] and P.E. instruction career covered the years Allard was a high school student.

"It was tough growing up when your father is a football coach and a P.E. teacher," she said.

Herb Johnson was a member of the former Dutch Hill ski patrol, and the family hit the slopes most weekends and school vacations, Allard said.

"In high school, when it was more fun to go and meet boys, my father was on to me," she said. "He'd say 'get out of that lodge and get on the mountain.'"

But a life-long love of skiing was cultivated during those years and Allard remembers skiing as part of a former NARH ski team. The "Hot Shots" and "Hot Shots II" teams once spent Wednesdays at the Mount Snow ski resort in Southern Vermont. Allard's husband Ed is a ski coach with the Charles H. McCann Technical High School ski club and Allard joins him at Jiminy Peak for school-sponsored ski trips.

"Give Me a 'D'"...

Allard was a member of the Drury varsity cheerleading squad and spent hours cheering for the players her father coached.

"We did a pyramid that we built and collapsed, and then rebuilt," Allard said of the squad. "We were so proud of that. And I did a pretty good 'russian [physically rigorous toe-touch cheerleading jump].'"

She admitted that she recently attempted the maneuver, and confessed that the result was not quite comparable to the jumps of her youth.

Allard said that she tried to engage cheerleader interest in the games as they progressed so that appropriate cheers could be delivered.

"I wanted my father to see that cheerleaders had an important role," she said.

Candy-striper Beginnings

An interest in caring for others and healing was taking root even then; Allard volunteered as a NARH "candy-striper" during her youth.

"I wore the little pinafore with the white blouse," she said. "I just loved it. I got to feed babies and hold the hands of elderly people who were scared. I spent hours there because I loved it so much. I was always fascinated by what would make sick people better."

Academically, biology, anatomy, and physiology classes taught by former Drury teacher Charles Boisvert captured her interest. Allard said.

A Bump In The Road to Nursing

Allard graduated from Drury in 1972 and was accepted as a pre-nursing student at the University of Massachusetts. She was excitedly anticipating enrolling in the school's registered nursing program, which was offered to third-year university students, when a major disappointment struck.

At the end of Allard's sophomore year, 50 nursing program slots were available. But a significant number of students, some who were enrolled in pre-med programs and were not doing particularly well, decided to change their majors. About 250 students applied for admission to the nursing program that year, she said.

Despite excellent academic grades and an unwavering commitment to becoming a nurse, Allard was not among those accepted into the program.

"I was devastated," she said. "I was at the end of my sophomore year and I started applying at different places."

Five Years, Two Degrees

And ultimately, Allard made choices and decisions that proved very beneficial. She remained at the university for another year, changed her focus to Human Growth and Development, and earned a bachelor's degree in that field at the end of her third year at the school.

She was then accepted as a registered nursing student at the Berkshire Community College and completed the two-year program; in a five-year span of post high school education, Allard earned a bachelor's degree as well as an associate's degree and was a registered nurse.

She was hired to work as an RN at the NARH orthopedic section in 1977.

The Way They Were

"I was hired by Claire Roy," Allard said. "I still see her now. She is a mentor. She sent me a card when I got this job [current post] and congratulated me."

Hospital stays and nursing care have changed considerably since the 1970s, Allard said.

"In those days, we wore the white uniforms, the nurses' caps and our nursing pins," she said. "We wore the highly-polished white shoes. Back then, when people came to the hospital, they stayed for weeks. And nurses equipment was a stethoscope, a thermometer and a blood pressure device."

"There were no computers and cardiac monitors were just starting," she said. "The only way to get a reading of oxygen in the blood was to draw blood; now a sensor is used on the fingertip. With IVs, we used to have count drops; now, machines count drops and deliver [the medication or substance]."

There were fewer paperwork demands 30 years ago, and nurses spent more time with patients, she said.

"We were at the bedside more," she said. "And patients were less sick, so we could do the back rubs, the long walks, the massages. Now, if you are well enough for long walks, you are probably at home."

Physicians were sometimes condescending to nurses during that era of health care, and that has changed for the better for the most part, Allard said.

"We have much more of a peer relationship with doctors today," she said. "For the most part, doctors and nurses are a team."

Allard married during those years and in 1978, son Scott was born.

In 1981, Allard moved to the critical care unit and enrolled in an educational program focused on critcal care nursing that was taught by Catharine Horsfall Tomlinson. Tomlinson was the CCU Director and worked closely with Barbara Rinaldi, who was a very experienced CCU nurse.

"They taught me so much," Allard said.

Daughter Kate was born in 1981, followed by Jennifer in 1984.

The 1980s marked the "working mother" era of Allard and many of her co-workers. Many of Allard's peers chose 3 p.m. -11 p.m. work shifts so that they could be home during the day with their children.

"We had a good time, we all talked together and shared tips," she said.

A Change In Plans

By the time the late 1980s rolled around, Allard's children were at or approaching school age, and her professional attention was honed on a part-time evening nurse supervisor position.

She interviewed for the job with former Vice-president of Nursing James O'Malley and discovered that he envisioned a very different path for Allard.

"He was someone who came in and made a lot of changes, did new structures and new committees," she said. "I interviewed with him for that job and he said 'no, you are going to be the nurse manager of the cardiopulmonary unit.' That was a full-time, day job, and I said 'no, I only want to work part-time.' He wouldn't give up and after a week of pressure, he convinced me."

Allard remained in the job for three years.

"And I loved it," she said. "I loved being able to make changes, loved helping new nurses get started."

"Everything I Had To Give"

Allard became the NARH Emergency Department's Director of Nursing Services in 1988 and held that post until 2003.
"From the moment I got down there I loved it," she said. "I loved the challenge and I believe the job used everything I had to give."

She was able to utilize her nursing skills as well as her managerial skills while at the job. Numerous Emergency Department improvements occurred during those years.

"We made changes," she said. "We raised our competency level and we received an award."

During Allard's time as an ER administrator, NARH was one of two hospitals within the state that met a 100 percent nurse certification rate in advanced cardiac life support, trauma, and pediatrics.

"I believe the changes made for a better ER," she said. "We would hear from the [Life Flight] helicopter crews, 'wow, you guys did a great job.'"

She has been the NARH Vice-president of Patient Care Services since 2003.


Job Cuts and Choices

There were trying times that Allard and her family had to reckon with.

Ed Allard was a city middle school teacher during the early 1980s and his job was among those cut when the state's Proposition 2 1/2 property tax control measure was put into place. Allard remembers being about nine months pregnant with daughter Kate, marching down Main Street carrying a sign that protested the job cuts.

But jobs were eliminated and Ed Allard, who was also a master plumber, went to work in that field.

He was able to return to teaching after being hired at the Charles H. McCann Technical High School during the mid-1980s. Allard teaches chemistry, biology, and physics at the school.

When Ed Allard lost his middle school teaching job, the family did consider leaving the area, Billie Allard said. Both Ed and Billie Allard investigated opportunities set in other locales.

"We did go on a couple interviews," she said.

Some Things Money Can't Buy

But money isn't everything and very few places can measure up to the beauty, the sense of comunity, and the personal connections of the Northern Berkshires.

"I felt safe here," Billie Allard said. "I knew the people here. What was really important for Ed and I was that our parents were here. I was brought up in this town with both sets of grandparents and I wanted my children to have that gift. I know I was very blessed. I learned many lessons from my grandmothers; I know Grandma Johnson's apple pie recipe and I remember Grandma Clark's songs, sung with a Scottish brogue."

When the couple's youngest child, Jennifer, graduated from Drury High School, thoughts of moving crept into the couple's discussions again.

And again, a decision was made to remain in the region.

"I just can't believe the grass is greener," Allard said. "I know people who did, and now they regret it."

Full Circle

Her life here is full and focused; while working at the ER, she was asked to teach a leadership class at the BCC campus to University of Massachusetts-enrolled student nurses. She accepted the job and enjoyed it so much that she now tries to teach one class yearly at BCC. She has also taught a writing class for nurses.

In 2004, the BCC registered nurse graduating class sought Allard as the ceremony's guest speaker.

"It was such an inspirational moment," she said. "I had graduated from that school years before. I had tears. It felt like I had come full-circle."

When presented with a Science of Nursing master's degree from Russell Sage College, tears fell again, Allard said. The quest for a master's took seven years and at one point, Allard was taking one class per semester - but, as she's proven time and again - persistence paid off.

Once A Cheerleader...

She is very proud of her three children, all of whom were involved in high school athletics. Allard herself could get pretty involved at times, she said.

"Being a cheerleader, I was a maniac at their games," she said, and recalled being at a Western Massachusetts championship girls basketball game. Allard's daughter Jennifer was a member of the team; Allard was overcome with school spirit.

"We were in the last minutes of the game and the cheerleader in me just took over," she said. "I got down in front of the crowd and I started leading a chant, a cheer. I couldn't help it, I just couldn't stop myself."

Allard was a member of the Drury "Moms Club," which are clubs comprised of various team mothers who offer support and assistance to team players.

"It was fun, it was so great," she said. "We'd be making our chili, our hot dogs [for sale at games] cheering our children. It was a treasure."

More To Come

She continues to set goals for herself and believes at least two more career milestones can be accomplished.

"Someday, I want to write a book," she said. "And another thing I've always wanted to is travel across the country as an inspirational speaker."

"Blessed," "special," "wonderful," and "treasure" are words Allard used to describe her life, her work, and her family.

As the Northern Berkshires, the City of North Adams, and NARH move forward, people from outside the area are discovering just how special the region is, she said.

"I love my job and I love helping this hospital be the best that it can be," she said. "Experts from across the country have been coming to North Adams Regional Hospital and they are exposed to this area. And across the board they say 'do you know how special this place [hospital and community] is?' I do think we have something very special here. Those who have never been anywhere else, well, you may not know it. There is something here that you won't find anywhere else."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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