Farewell to the Muzzillos, long-time fixtures on Valley West staff
BY KAREN HUELSMAN For Sun-Times Media
Mike and Jenelle Muzzillo, long-time staff members at Valley West, are now retirees.
Without benefit of a cellphone or laptop, Mike Muzzillo was an original in the "mobile workforce" when he worked for a private lab that served Sandwich Community Hospital in 1964.
He would travel from facility to facility, sometimes in other states and often by airplane, to pick up lab specimens and then come back to Sandwich, where he was based. At that time, only he and one other technician ran the Sandwich hospital lab, around the clock, for about 80 inpatients and many outpatients at Sandwich Community Hospital, the forerunner to Valley West Community Hospital.
Now 48 years later, Muzzillo, 67, retired June 30, as vice president of operations at the hospital, shortly after his wife, Jenelle Muzzillo, retired after 40 years as a nurse at the same facility.
"The body of testing we can run today is just amazing compared to what I began with," said Muzzillo. "We have come such a long way in being able to diagnose disease, even at a relatively small facility."
Muzzillo is proud of the progress in the lab, but also about the entire "community attitude" he has seen in the staff, physicians and the board of directors.
"Our employees are local people, and that lends itself to great, personal care," he said. "We score in the top 10 percent of hospitals in patient satisfaction, so it shows that people feel they are getting good care."
He noted that Valley West can provide the primary medical care that the population needs.
"We recognize our limits, but what we can do, we do well," he said. "It's easier in a community hospital to treat the spiritual as well as clinical needs of patients because we really know our patients."
As he moved from the lab to administration, Muzzillo was involved in many facility and service upgrades in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and even more after the hospital became affiliated with KishHealth System in 1998. In the early 1990s, he worked in concert with the hospital administrator to develop a physician recruitment plan.
"That was really the first time the hospital had to recruit new physicians because doctors were starting to retire,'' he said. The fact that many of the physicians have remained and have "vibrant practices" represents a major milestone for Muzzillo.
While Muzzillo said he is proud to see the hospital continue to grow under KishHealth System, he is most satisfied by the relationships he has built with the employees and medical staff.
"The staff has really shown itself to be most committed, and that's what has kept me here all these years," Muzzillo said.
Meanwhile, Jenelle Muzzillo spent 40 years in a variety of roles at Valley West, beginning as a nurse's aide when she was in high school.
"My mom was a nurse at the hospital too, and I just knew what I wanted to do," she said.
Some of her fondest memories involve partaking in community fundraisers to buy an ambulance for the community.
"Before that, people used to bring patients in on a truck,'' she recalled. "We knew we had to get with the times as the emergency medical technician and paramedic training programs began to take off."
She doesn't view her career as a nurse as work.
"It was an honor to care for the classmates of my children and the families I've known for years," she said. "In a small town, I think people still find a lot of comfort in a familiar face."
Valley West will soon break ground on a new wing, and Jenelle Muzzillo said she'll get to watch the whole process from the comfort of her home.
"It's just across a field from our house," she said. "It's good to know that all of this will be carried on for the next generation."