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Carmel Valley resident honored for work in behavioral health at Scripps

Marlene Nadler-Moodie was named the Behavioral Health Person of the Year for San Diego County.
Marlene Nadler-Moodie was named the Behavioral Health Person of the Year for San Diego County.
( / Courtesy photo)

Carmel Valley’s Marlene Nadler-Moodie has been honored as the Behavioral Health Person of the Year for San Diego County. As an expert in psychiatric nursing care, she has for nearly 40 years informed the compassionate treatment of patients both locally and nationwide. As a clinical nurse specialist for the Scripps Behavioral Health Team, she acts as a consultant, educator and clinician and has a drive to bring more psychiatric nurses into acute care and medical-surgical settings.

Nadler-Moodie received her award May 29 at the San Diego Behavioral Health Recognition Dinner.

“I did not think that I would win this award,” she said. “I was really honored by that and it was a surprise to me.”

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For more than 25 years, the award has recognized and honored individuals who have provided outstanding service to the mental health community.

“In the course of a career that spans nearly 40 years, Marlene Nadler-Moodie has consistently promoted and advanced psychiatric mental health nursing in multiple and varied venues,” wrote Jerry Gold, administrative director of the behavioral health care line for all of Scripps in his nomination letter. He cited her “expertise, her passionate commitment to service excellence, her untiring advocacy for mental health clients, and her exquisite clinical understanding and energy with a can-do spirit” as her most outstanding qualities.

Among her accomplishments are promotion of safety and openness for geriatric patients, her development of alternatives to restraints and more humane treatment for those who need restraint, and her support for trauma-informed care that is raising awareness among caregivers for the need for more compassionate treatment of patients on all floors of the hospital, not just in behavioral health.

In 2009, Nadler-Moodie was awarded the Psychiatric Nurse of the Year by American Psychiatric Nurses Association, perhaps the biggest honor of her career.

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She was elected president of the APNA and served three years, and is now president of the APNA California chapter, traveling all over the state. She is also the APNA’s representative to the American Nurses Association, attending national meetings to discuss psychiatric nursing.

“(Nadler-Moodie)’s inspiring work to de-stigmatize mental illness and to insure the provision of competent compassionate care for those that struggle with mental illness is greatly applauded,” wrote Gale Osborn, chair of the awards committee. “(Her) innovative efforts have clearly made a difference in the lives of countless individuals and their families who are challenged with mental disabilities.”

Nadler-Moodie has been a nurse since 1970, working as a psychiatric nurse for 43 of those years.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said, tracing the origins to the third grade, when her teacher gave her a book about nursing.

Choosing her specialization came early in her career, after doing her psychiatric nursing rotation in a “male active ward” in New York when she was just 18.

“In that unit, men were (lying) on the floor in straitjackets, and it was pretty deplorable,” Nadler-Moodie said.

For showers, the men were put in a shower room and sprayed by orderlies with a hose. Nurses dispensed medications from a glass cage. She found the patients’ treatment “horrific” and discovered a lifelong mission toward compassionate care.

“I was very young and very naïve, and I felt like I could make a difference,” Nadler-Moodie said.

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She went to work in an orthopedic surgical unit and honed her skills talking to special patients, like a paranoid schizophrenic that everyone was afraid of. But Nadler-Moodie realized he just needed someone who would listen.

She remembered working with a 13-year-old patient who was paralyzed from the neck down.

“It was very powerful to me,” she recalled. “He needed me to care for more than just his body.”

From there she worked for about eight years at Cornell Medical Center’s psychiatric inpatient unit and went back to school for graduate degree before taking a job at Lenox Hill Hospital.

At the time, Lenox Hill had no psychiatric unit and wanted to try a “scatter bed” system, where psychiatric patents were placed throughout the regular floors. Nadler-Moodie was the only psychiatric nurse.

“On my first day, they all really hated me,” she said, because many of the nurses were frustrated that the psychiatric patients were on their floors.

She had to try and persuade the staff that they had to work together.

Her first success came within a few weeks, when the head nurse called her to see an elderly woman who wasn’t eating and wasn’t getting better, no matter what they tried.

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Nadler-Moodie consulted with the patient and determined she was depressed. After electroconvulsive therapy, the patient was sitting up in bed, talking and eating. She had wanted a hot dog, so the head nurse went down and got a hot dog from a street vendor.

The nurse had seen the benefits of the scatter system and Nadler-Moodie’s influence, and encouraged colleagues to be more open.

Nadler-Moodie was at Lenox Hill for five years and said she might still be there, had she not become a mother. When her son was born in 1983, she and her husband, psychiatrist Dr. Larry Moodie, were considering leaving New York to raise their family. He went to San Diego to interview for a job.

When Larry called and told her he was interviewing in sunny Balboa Park with a doctor wearing Birkenstocks, Nadler-Moodie took one look outside at the snow that seemed like it was stacked all the way up to their place on the 19th floor and consulted: “Take the job.”

The job was at Kaiser, where he continues to work.

Her son Brett is now a lawyer, and her son Justin, an artist, came back to San Diego after college to teach at his alma mater, Torrey Pines High, and also at Canyon Crest Academy.

While her children were young, Nadler-Moodie worked mostly part time doing consulting and teaching out of the UC San Diego extension. She came to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest in 1994 to oversee a re-organization of care delivery and educate a psychiatric unit. The work evolved into a position, and she has been there for the past 20 years.

She now works two days a week.

At 64, Nadler-Moodie said she is often asked when she is retiring.

“I am retired. I work two days a week and I love it,” she said. “I couldn’t do less than this.”

While Scripps Mercy is the only one of the five Scripps hospitals in San Diego to have a psychiatric unit, all hospitals get psych patients.

“One in four people has a mental health challenge,” Nadler-Moodie said. “It’s very prevalent. So a lot of patients get found on other floors.”

Her role as a clinical nurse specialist involves staff support, policy work, consulting on difficult patients and providing a lot of education about care.

“One of my biggest passions is working with staff to eliminate restraint use,” Nadler-Moodie said. “That’s something I’m most proud of.”

In 2009, Mercy received an award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness for restraint reduction, having gone 16 months without using restraints. Nadler-Moodie helps the staff with guidance, support and education about alternative techniques and approaches to use to calm patients. It is one of the biggest challenges of her work, but it’s where she has found a lot of success.

Her newest project at Mercy is incorporating psychiatric nurses into the medical surgical setting.

She said often nurses don’t feel confident that they have the right skills to work with patients with mental health challenges, so there is a need for more psychiatric nurses and psychiatric clinicians. Already she has seen three psychiatric nurses hired for general acute- care units.

“All psychiatric patients are in recovery; they all can reach a level of functioning,” Nadler-Moodie said. “That may be different for each of us, but we work toward helping patients meet the highest level of achievement that they can.”


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