UNSUNG HEROES: Dedicated to Nursing and Speaking Out Against Discrimination

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Spring Valley resident Berthilde Dufrene
Spring Valley resident Berthilde Dufrene

One can see Berthilde Dufrene, R.N., M.S.N., B.S.N., CARN, DNP(c) is devoted to her career of the past 17 years and to the people whose lives she touches daily.

“I just returned from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, a five-hour trip each way,” Dufrene said last week when the Rockland County Times called her.

As chief nursing officer for all New York State Mental Health Services delivered by the Office of Mental Health (OMH) in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), she travels across New York State supervising mental health nursing services in the prisons.

Founder of the Haitian American Nurses Association (HANA) of Rockland County, Inc. and Konbit Neg Lakay, both active in Spring Valley, Dufrene was appalled and hurt by the October 15 anti-Haitian ad in the Rockland Pennysaver.
It advertised a female nursing position in West Haverstraw and specified “no Haitians.”

“My response wasn’t that I needed this job, but I was once in a position and needed that job and would have had the qualifications,” Dufrene said. “To not apply simply because I was Haitian was not right to me. I love what I do.”
Jennifer Edwards, a clinician at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, NY, credits Dufrene for encouraging her to continue her education to pursue career goals.

Dufrene and another administrator suggested she return to school which, Edwards said, motivated her to further her career and earned her a promotion. She now helps inmates at the facility cope with their incarceration.
“She is a fabulous advocate for her nurses and is a strong positive leader,” Edwards said. “I’ve learned so much about many things from her.”

Nursing is not an easy profession, and graduates are dedicated to their field, to health care, and to helping others. “Many start and cannot finish the program,” Dufrene said, especially knowing they’ll encounter diseases, and sometimes death. “It takes a toll on you physically, emotionally and psychologically.”

A former psychiatric nursing professor at Rockland Community College, she is dedicated to her career and said mental health can affect anyone. “Every one of us is one episode away from a mental illness,” she said, “and it can stem from having a life experience and not being able to deal with it in the way an average person would handle it.” Dufrene expressed her outrage on her Facebook page, calling on the community, nurses, leaders and elected officials to help her speak against the discrimination. “I knew the ad was illegal and violated civil rights and equal rights and employment rights,” she said. “Immediately after posting, Senator Carlucci responded, people were calling, posting and reposting my post.”

Interim has since apologized as has Pennysaver; however, an apology is not enough. Senator David Carlucci asked the state Attorney General’s Office to take action against Interim and Pennysaver for discriminatory practices.

A successful March last week and recently-opened investigations by the NAACP in Spring Valley and in Nyack started civil rights cases, and other state and federal agencies are also investigating.

Dufrene spoke with the president and CEO (Kathleen Gilmartin) of Interim Health Care, Inc., and the local Interim staffing agency in Nanuet, which, she said, started its own internal investigation. Interim Healthcare Inc. has since fired its top two human resource managers.

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