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Meet a Modern Nursing Pioneer

Long before hospital-acquired infections became a major national concern, Olive Gray Emmert-Coe understood the importance of proper handling and sterilization of hospital supplies to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of infection. Olive, a 1944 graduate of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing, is a trailblazer in the area of central sterile supply, now known as materials management or supplies distribution.

Olive Gray Emmert-Coe, nursing pioneer, and her daughters. 
Olive Gray Emmert-Coe, 1944 Jewish School of Nursing
graduate, center, with her two daughters, Cyndy Emmert
and Barbara Schiller

With knowledge and skills gained at nursing school, she helped usher in a new way of thinking about aseptic techniques to keep supplies sterile. Notably, she created a college course and certification—the first of its kind in the country—to improve operations in hospitals’ central sterile supply departments. She also founded two educational organizations—the American Society of Central Service Personnel and the Texas Society of Central Service Personnel, sponsored by the American Hospital Association and Texas Hospital Association, respectively—that are still active today.

She is now paving the way for other nursing students with a scholarship fund and lecture series in her estate plan through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital at her alma mater, now known as Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.

These stellar contributions to nursing were recognized by Goldfarb during an annual homecoming celebration where she was named one of the school’s distinguished alumni.

“Olive is one of the individuals who established a whole specialty field focused on science-based practice,” says Michael Bleich, PhD, RN, the president and Maxine Clark and Bob Fox Endowed Professor and Dean at Goldfarb. “She was a visionary who helped link infection control to supply chain management practices, especially in the use of invasive surgical equipment.”

A Vision for the Future

During her career as a nurse, Olive had a talent for spotting potential sources of cross-contamination. She noticed supplies trays were wheeled from room to room and patient to patient without being disinfected. In the 1960s, staff members responsible for sharpening needles for syringes, before the days of disposable “sharps” used today, made just 75 cents an hour and never received formalized training.

A picture of Olive Gray Emmert-Coe as a nurse at the Jewish Hospital School of NursingNever one to accept “good enough,” Olive created an educational program to solve these problems and attract qualified personnel to central sterile supply departments. She also took part in educational seminars around the country sponsored by the American Sterilizer Company, the American Hospital Association and Texas Hospital Association.

“My experience for a month in the central sterile supply department as a student nurse gave me the confidence to go into that field,” she says. “I am and always will be proud of my excellent education. I was well prepared for whatever challenges arose.”

Even before the Internet delivered the world to our fingertips, Olive understood the importance of a global perspective. She traveled to Hawaii, Hong Kong, Thailand, India, Germany, Austria, France and England to research and observe methods of sterilization, processing, packaging and distributing reusable and disposable supplies.

“We are in awe of this groundbreaking work that started at the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing,” Dean Bleich says.

Educating the Next Generation

Olive decided to give Goldfarb the ultimate gifts by leaving a bequest in her will and giving the school the remainder of her charitable gift annuity through the Foundation so other nursing students can benefit from the excellent education that took her so far.

Her bequest will create the annual Olive Gray Emmert-Coe Seminar on the Principles and Practices of Aseptic Techniques. She hopes these lectures will educate the next generation of nurses on the latest and most effective aseptic techniques to prevent infections acquired in hospitals.

She also established The Olive Gray Emmert-Coe Nursing Scholarship Fund.

“I hope the scholarship will be given to nurses who really want to do something to make a difference in the hospital and health care, so they won’t have to worry about money and can focus on their education,” Olive says.

Her expertise also had influence closer to home. Her daughters, Barbara Schiller and Cyndy Emmert, both became nurses.

“She’s always been a great role model to us,” Barbara says. “She forged ahead in a field where her input was often not welcome. She managed to get past several barriers.”

With her gifts to the Foundation, Olive will do the same for many other nursing students for years to come, and her influence and generosity will be felt in the nursing field for generations.

Goldfarb Goes “Full Sail Ahead”

'Full Sail' sculpture, which features two large sails representing the past and future of nursing. 
“ I hope the scholarship will be given to nurses who 
really want to do something to make a difference in
the hospital and health care.”
—Olive Gray Emmert-Coe

In October, students, faculty and scholarship donors gathered at the campus of Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College to “sail ahead” at the school’s homecoming.

The night before homecoming, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital hosted a dinner for Goldfarb scholarship donors and recipients. During a special ceremony, a sculpture was unveiled near the school’s main entrance. The ceramic sculpture called “Full Sail” features two large sails representing the present and future of nursing. The design incorporates bricks from legacy schools, Jewish Hospital School of Nursing and Barnes Hospital School of Nursing, to celebrate Goldfarb’s heritage.

“The sculpture’s prominent location and intent is to celebrate the rich history of more than 100 years of the two St. Louis legacy schools for all students, alumni, faculty and area residents to see,” says Michael Bleich, PhD, RN, the president and Maxine Clark and Bob Fox Endowed Professor and Dean at Goldfarb.

During homecoming, the sculpture was officially dedicated. In addition, the school also recognized two past nursing students with the Distinguished Alumni Award for their contributions to the nursing profession: Olive Gray Emmert-Coe, Jewish Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1944, and Margaret Stark, Barnes Hospital School of Nursing Class of 1959.

Please support the future of nursing by making a gift to the Goldfarb School of Nursing Area of Greatest Need at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospitalby contacting Eric Barkley at 314.286.0551 or [email protected].

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St. Louis, MO 63110
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