Meet Mary and Sheila: mentors, friends and teammates

By The Health News Team | March 1, 2022
Sheila Erickson and Mary Elington of Sharp Grossmont Hospital

Sheila Erickson and Mary Elington have been Sharp Grossmont teammates and friends for over 40 years.

The French novelist Marcel Proust wrote: “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” For two women at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, these words couldn’t ring truer.

Throughout our working lives, we cross paths with colleagues whom we simply see on a daily basis, those we socialize with from time to time, and the ones we really get to know (and can name their kids and grandkids). The workplace can make lifelong connections for those who have grown their careers together, watched their workplace change and evolve, and contributed to their community side by side.

Sheila Erickson and Mary Elington, two of Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s long-tenured employees, are two such teammates. Sheila, Sharp Grossmont’s director of acute care, has been with the hospital for 42 years. Mary, now Sharp HealthCare’s vice president of Orthopedic and Neurological Services, has been at the forefront of growing those services and will celebrate her 50-year milestone with Sharp in 2022.

A mutual admiration years in the making
Sheila’s career began in 1980, when she joined Mary’s unit as part of the 3 East housekeeping team. Mary, the nurse manager, ran her unit as one department that embraced everyone, including the housekeeping staff, even though they had their own division.

“I always considered them part of my staff,” says Mary. “I was never going to have an infection-free unit if we weren’t all on the same page, and as a result they took very good care of my patients.”

It was around this time that Mary began to help steer Sheila’s career. Housekeepers were often asked by patients to assist them in going to the restroom or with other tasks. That meant tracking down a nurse to help that patient, which took time. Mary had an idea.

“I told them, you know, if you guys were CNAs, you could help them yourselves,” says Mary. “There were five of these housekeepers who went on their own time at night and got their CNA certifications.”

Sheila was one of them. She and a handful of others began to work in a hybrid capacity. Some days, they filled the certified nursing assistant (CNA) role, other days they worked as housekeepers. And on the days they served as housekeepers, their CNA skills and certifications allowed them to provide additional aid to patients.

“When Mary and I first talked about getting my CNA, I was actually planning to leave Sharp Grossmont,” admits Sheila. “I had already been a college dropout. But having a good mentor who helped me step out of my comfort zone and who believed in me — that was the important part. She helped me see it.“

Forging a new path forward, together
Sheila next went to Grossmont College to become a registered nurse (RN), then advanced into a leadership role at the hospital and continued to climb the ladder. Along the way, she and Mary have worked together championing stroke care, with Sharp Grossmont becoming the first dedicated stroke unit in the hospital and county. Now, they are seeing those efforts realized with the hospital’s Comprehensive Stroke Center designation, the highest designation for stroke care by The Joint Commission.

Sheila was also the force behind bringing stroke education and screening to East County communities. She and her team also visit the Westmont and Lantern Crest senior living communities for stroke screening. “There’s such a joy that comes from being out in the community,” says Sheila.

Having a mentor is one key to a successful career. Having a mentor with the ambition and character of Mary is next level.

“I’m a legend, whether good or bad, I’m not sure,” laughs Mary. “I had a lot of energy back then. My staff used to say they needed roller skates to keep up, though I’ve slowed down these days.”

She’s known as the Sharp historian and paints a vivid picture of just how much the hospital has evolved and grown over the decades. She also once painted her own office.

“Way back when, I had this office with a yellow desk, an orange wall and a green sink,” recalls Mary. “I told my husband I needed to make it more professional, and I think you and I can do it.” They showed up on a Saturday, patched the walls and painted. She’d even bought wallpaper but couldn’t prove it was fire-resistant.

“I didn’t get to put that wallpaper up, but I got to paint,” she laughs.

Mary was also a notable video gamer. “There was a Ms. Pac-Man in this little alcove in the cafeteria, and if you had a bad day, you went down to play some games,” says Mary. “I was darned good.”

It’s no tale, either. Last year for Christmas, her daughter gave her a handheld Ms. Pac-Man for old times’ sake.

Decades of dedication — to Sharp and to each other
With a combined 92 years caring for East County patients, the two women share a mutual respect for each other’s accomplishments, work ethic and support over the years.

“Sheila has become a wonderful leader and champion for the community, as I always knew she would,” says Mary.

Sheila shares this about her mentor of four-plus decades: “Mary has always been a shining star. She has a passion for her job and for people. And she understands what it takes as a human being to come to work and be there. She’s had a huge impact on my life.”

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Mary Elington

Contributor

Mary Elington is the vice president for Sharp HealthCare’s orthopedic and neurology programs.

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Sheila Erickson

Contributor

Sheila Erickson is a manager of acute care at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.


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