Growing up, Marlyce Cozart wanted to be either a florist or a nurse. She chose the latter, and you could say she’s stuck with it.
Cozart has worked in the long-term care facility at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for more than 40 years, tending to residents’ needs day in and day out.
“This is the place God has for me, in this long-term care facility, with these elders,” Cozart said.
“I’m just trying to brighten their day, every day.”
Her superiors said she makes a critical contribution to the work at the elder house, which is part of PKIMC.
“Chiniak Bay Elder House is an exceptional facility because of the people who work there, like Marlyce Cozart,” PKIMC Administrator Karl Hertz said.
“We are very thankful for her 40 years of service to the community, for her expertise, and her love of both residents and staff.”
Cozart officially started as a nurse in the long-term care facility in July 1980 and has been there ever since. She did a nurse aide program in high school in Utah and that was enough to help persuade her to arrange care plans instead of flowers.
“Ever since I was young, I just liked being with people and helping others,” Cozart said.
Her husband’s stepfather owned Jackson Mobile Home Park. and he came over to manage the park. She’d been a licensed practical nurse since 1974 and started work at the hospital.
At that time, the long-term care facility was called The Care Center. It was in the main building where the rehab department is now.
She was a charge nurse, giving residents medication, helping the certified nurse assistants, monitoring for illness and doing assessments.
She’s done different jobs in the facility over the years. She’s done restorative care, things like range-of-motion exercises and everyday activities that would keep residents in shape and not declining. She’s worked all the eight-hour shifts the facility runs: night, evening and day.
One winter, the acute care wing was shorthanded and she spent a few weeks helping them out.
“Other than that, I think I’ve worked in the long-term facility the rest of the time,” she said.
She got her registered nursing degree from Kodiak College in 2004. Afterward, she started doing resident assessments, looking at each resident every three months and figuring out what direction to take their care.
Then she writes up plans for every resident, going through every sense in the body.
That’s what she still does today, and meeting one-on-one with the residents, she says, is her favorite part of the job.
“I get to find out how they’re feeling about things, and how things are going,” she said.
Those constant interactions have created some deep relationships over her many years. One woman, Cozart said, once told her that she wished they were sisters.
When Cozart gave birth to her daughter, the woman came across the hospital to see her.
“These residents are sort of like my family,” Cozart said.
When there isn’t a global pandemic, she often volunteers to go with the residents on outings whenever possible.
“That just always brings me a lot of joy,” Cozart said.
Now that the residents mostly have to stay put, Cozart has taken to bringing her dog to work to cheer everyone up.
There are other tough parts about the job, too. As Cozart says, the facility is many residents’ last home.
“It’s always hard to see them go but the majority have lived such wonderful lives. It’s sad in a way, but it’s kind of happy in a way,” Cozart said.
“It’s just a privilege to have spent all the time with them. In the 40 years I’ve been here, there’s been a lot of folks that have passed on, and now they’re home again.”
She’s seen a lot of things change in the field over the decades.
Dispensing medication, for one, is hugely different.
When she first started, all the medicine came from a pill bottle. She and the other nurses would place the pills into little paper cups with the residents’ names written on little cards next to them. Those would go on trays that the nurses would carry around to pass out the medicine.
Now, there’s an automated system that requires fingerprinting and there’s several layers of checks, all to prevent medication errors.
“I just have to laugh when I think about that. … It’s a lot different now,” Cozart said.
There were fewer regulations then, too.
For instance, Cozart said there used to be potlucks with nurses and residents’ families. Now, there are rules about sharing food from home.
There’s still plenty of parties and family get-togethers, but the onsite kitchen makes all the food.
When the new Chiniak Bay Elder House at the top of the hill opened in February 2014, Cozart helped pick out all the artwork that would brighten the walls.
“We tried to do a lot of local artists, things like that, so it was a really home-like environment,” she said.
She did almost leave once. When she was working to get her registered nurse degree, she almost switched fields to obstetrics, or working with babies.
The interactions were what kept her put. Babies may be wonderful, but they can’t talk or tell stories or develop friendships.
“A baby is just starting their life. An elder has so many good things to tell you,” Cozart said.
“It just kind of calms you being around them. It’s just a good feeling and a pleasure to be with them until they do meet the end of their life.”
Cozart has thought about retirement, but isn’t heading that way yet. She wants to do at least another year, and then maybe work part time after that. She’s considered getting involved with Kodiak College’s certified nursing assistant program, helping the students do their hands-on work at the long-term care facility.
“Some days I think, ‘You know, gosh, I could sleep in,’” she said.
“But then I’m like, ‘But then what would I do the rest of the day?’”