Albie Perino was 19 years old when he was hired as an orderly at Doctors Hospital of Modesto, a few months after it opened in 1962.
He said he never has seen any reason to work anywhere else.
As the center marked its 50th anniversary this year, Perino passed the half-century mark as a hospital employee.
"It never entered my mind to work at another hospital," he said. "I always had what I considered a good job here."
Perino, 69, has stayed just ahead of another name on the seniority list at Doctors. Pat Fontes, director of nursing support services, has notched 48 years. She began her work at the West Orangeburg Avenue hospital as a student and was in the first class of the Modesto Junior College nursing program.
Back in those days, the hospital staff took care of patients in sparsely equipped rooms, delivered babies and operated a small emergency room. Fontes became the house supervisor, which meant she oversaw the nursing unit and was the sole caregiver in the emergency room.
When someone pushed the buzzer at the back door, a switchboard operator notified Fontes and she came down to take care of the patient.
"The hospital had one EKG machine and we didn't have cardiac monitors," Fontes recalled. "When we had a patient with chest pain, we relied on our clinical skills, taking their vital signs every 15 minutes."
Perino earned his nursing license through the MJC program in 1968 but wasn't the first male nurse in Modesto. Fontes said there were three men in her class who graduated in 1965.
According to timelines furnished by Doctors, a group of 28 physicians founded the center as "an alternative hospital to the greater Modesto community," opening with 56 beds on July 7, 1962. The hospital was sold in 1969 to National Medical Enterprises, a company that later changed its name to Tenet Healthcare Corp.
The name of the hospital changed to Doctors Medical Center in 1979.
Milestones in the center's development included the launch of 24-hour emergency services in 1974 and open-heart surgeries in 1976, and completing a tower with 15 surgical suites and 81 beds in 1993. The hospital has 398 acute-care beds today, operates a trauma center for patients transported from a six-county area and is on track to have 80,000 ER visits this year.
There for 1st heart surgery
Perino, an operating room shift supervisor, has worked in the cardiac program for 36 years and was there for the first open-heart surgery, he said. He recalled the cardiac team went to Santa Clara and Stanford Medical Center for the first surgeries on Modesto patients.
The first open-heart patient at Doctors was a woman, and the surgery went well, he said.
The longtime nurse said he has stayed with the same employer because of the collegial interaction with doctors and other staff. Plus, the workplace always changes and offers learning experiences.
Perino has seen the characters come and go at Doctors. One of his favorites was a well-heeled surgeon. That is, the doctor wore expensive footwear.
"He had a pair of brown-and-black alligator shoes, and every time he wore them, he would ask you, 'How do you like these?' One day, I saw him leaving the building with the turquoise tennis shoes he wore in surgery," Perino said. "I asked him what had happened. Someone had stolen his alligator shoes."
The Modesto resident has three children who became registered nurses. One works at Doctors, another across town at Memorial Medical Center and a third at the University of California Medical Center in Sacramento.
Serves as a mentor
Fontes said the joys of working with talented people have kept her on the job four years beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. Among the more than 2,000 employees at Doctors, there is no one with more knowledge about the workings of the hospital, colleagues said.
"She has been a mentor to more employees or nurses than anyone in the nursing department," said Carin Sarkis, director of business development. "If anyone has a problem, they always call Pat."
Both Fontes and Perino plan to retire next year. They were presented with gifts at an anniversary celebration at Doctors last month.
"I never thought of going anywhere else," Fontes said. "You come into contact with so many people. Everyone has a different talent and they all share their talents with each other."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.