celebrating 70 years of dedication

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Elena in her office

When you walk into Elena Griffing’s office you’re greeted by her contagious smile and an impressive collection of signed photos from presidents, athletes, and Sinatra himself.

At 90 years old, Elena arrives to work, at Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, CA before her shift begins. She arrives early and, when needed, stays late without a complaint.

Elena just celebrated her 70th year anniversary at the same hospital she walked into in 1946. The secret to keeping an employee this loyal?

“From the day I came they’ve been so willing to always push me to learn more and do more,” said Elena. “I don’t care what my job description is, just give me things that push me a little bit more that make me learn.”

From the day she started at the hospital Elena was always given opportunities to grow her talents, expand her responsibilities, and go beyond her job description.

When she first came to the hospital she started working in the hospital’s lab.

“I was 20 years old when I came to work here and I wanted to learn everything,” said Elena. “Back then EKGs were developed on film. I had never developed film in my life, but I thought why not learn how to now. I then learned how to understand the leads, and eventually learned how to do the EKGs.”

Elena worked in the lab for 25 years before she was transferred to the hospital’s burn unit. Elena recalled one December night she was watching the news in bed when she saw there was a plane crash. Without being called into work, she got up, got dressed, woke her husband up, and told him she had to go to the hospital. When she arrived, the head nurse assigned Elena to be the runner, as 34 patients were on their way to the burn center.

“I was so glad they called on me to do something to help,” said Elena. “Every day is what you make of it, you never know what will be in store for you.”

She worked in the burn unit for 22 years until it was closed. She has spent the last 12 years working as a patient relations representative doing what she does best, taking care of her hospital and making patients feel comfortable.

“I’m just so lucky to have a place to go every day, I have a charmed life,” says Elena, as she points to her wall of signed photos. “The hospital did all of this, they reached out to all these people.”

With a proud smile of appreciation Elena shows off a gold pendant hanging around her neck. The pendant has seven inlaid diamonds, one for each decade she’s been at the hospital.

“They gave this to me on my 10th anniversary and just keep adding to it,” said Elena. “By the time I’m finished there will be a couple more diamonds.”

It’s obvious that the respect and admiration is shared between employee and employer. Because of her unwavering loyalty, Elena’s dedication to the hospital has also caught the attention of President and First Lady Obama, who send her a birthday card every year, thank you notes from patients who have passed through the hospital and have been touched by her kindness, and strangers who have been inspired by her persistence and ambition.

If there was ever a story about great work, loyalty, and overall inspiration, Elena encapsulates it all with her 20-year-old spirit and love for her work.

“From the day I came to work here, people have treated me unbelievably. I don’t know. This is my home away from home, truly. I’ve just been so happy here,” said Elena.


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