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Maria Cardenas

Employee of the year

When Maria Cardenas came to California at age 15 with few English skills, she was very shy and reluctant to speak to people outside her family for fear they would not understand her. Twenty-seven years later, she found herself speechless once again, when named Community Hospital's Employee of the Year.

"I just couldn't believe it," says Cardenas from her Prunedale home. "When they announced my name, I was so surprised, I couldn't even talk. Of course, it was an honor just to be nominated, and all 10 nominees are great employees."

Eighteen years ago, when Cardenas interviewed to work in housekeeping at Community Hospital, she was honored just to be hired. Some 11 years later, she decided it was time to change jobs, so she started taking computer classes at Pacific Grove Adult School. From there, she enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College and began taking courses in medical assisting and medical terminology.

"When my manager found out I was going to school," she says, "he told me once I was ready, I could apply for the receptionist position on Garden Pavilion. I have now been the unit receptionist for seven years. It was very hard at the beginning; learning the system was very difficult. But today it is home."

In support of her Employee of the Year nomination, more than 20 colleagues invested the time and appreciation to contribute comments about her work and presence on Garden Pavilion.

"It is not uncommon for a Spanish-speaking-only patient to come through the unit," writes Jason Garcia, a social worker at Community Hospital. "Being in the hospital can be a scary experience, amplified by not being able to communicate one's needs. Maria's bilingual skills, in combination with her compassion, patience, and knowledge, have made many patients' treatment and stay more beneficial."

"This is a great place to work," Cardenas says, "because it's like a family, a second home. Sometimes it's hard to deal with people, but I always want to smile and make them feel comfortable because I know it can be scary for patients and visitors. It is always hard to have a loved one in the hospital, so my main job is to be reassuring.

"I'm not that shy any more. I want people to feel good when they come in, and I understand that whether they are working or visiting a patient, it is not easy. What makes it easy for me is that I work with really, really nice people."