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Former RN Turned Philanthropist Supports Nurse Well-being

With Mary Lou's support, the Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Center nursing team took the time to make blankets for Mass General patients and to spend time with one another.

Donor Story

Former RN Turned Philanthropist Supports Nurse Well-being

Inspired by her own experience as an RN and as a patient at Mass General, Mary Lou LeSaffre has established the Nurse Wellness Fund to help nurses prioritize their well-being.

Marie Walton
May 7, 2024

This year, nursing ranked #1 in Gallup Poll’s annual “Most Honest and Ethical Professions” Poll for the 22nd consecutive year.  “Nursing is an incredibly rewarding career,” says Debbie Burke, RN, DNP, MBA, NEA-BC, senior vice president for patient care and chief nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital. “But can also be highly demanding and stressful for those that dedicate their lives to caring for others.” Between the increased stress that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic and the large number of older nurses approaching planned retirements, there are nationwide nursing workforce shortages.

“Mass General leadership understand the immense value our nursing staff provides to the hospital.  We are working hard to help nurses heal from the pain of the pandemic and to bring more joy back into their practice,” says Debbie. “It is important, not only for our nurses, but for their patients and colleagues, that we do everything we can to ensure that they are mentally and physically well in the face of all they experience on the job.”

It is vital that those tasked with providing life-saving care feel healthy in all aspects. Opportunities for nurses to exercise, spend time bonding outside of the hospital, and to pursue continued education are essential to their well-being. Thanks to Mary Lou LeSaffre’s vision in establishing the Mary Lou LeSaffre Nurse Wellness Fund at Mass General to provide resources for the well-being of nursing staff, Mass General nurses are being supported and encouraged to prioritize their own well-being, too. Nurses are empowered to propose ideas for team bonding and self-care, and Debbie is able to allocate resources from Mary Lou’s fund to make their ideas happen.

The Mary Lou LeSaffre Nurse Wellness Fund

The Mary Lou LeSaffre Nurse Wellness Fund allows nursing leadership to support the well-being of their nursing staff in all capacities, and in ways they know will be the most impactful, namely team bonding outside of work and resources that aid in maintaining their physical and mental health. From attending Red Sox games together to reiki treatments to kickboxing classes, the fund has empowered nurses from across hospital settings to care for their bodies and minds and to build on their relationships.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought out the best in our nursing teams and emphasized their unwavering commitment to our patients, but the past three years have also taken an incredible toll,” Debbie says. “I am so grateful to donors like Mary Lou for their dedication to nursing and for understanding the need for our nurses to take care of themselves while caring for others.”

Speaking From Experience

Mary Lou knows firsthand how difficult it can be to be a nurse, spending several years as an RN before becoming an attorney later in life. “On my days off, I would hardly get out of bed,” she recalls. “Nursing takes everything out of you, mentally, emotionally and physically.” But, despite how taxing it can be, she says that nursing was the most rewarding thing she’s ever done. “You leave your shift exhausted, but knowing you truly made a difference.”

As a divorce and real estate attorney, Mary Lou would often tell clients she had been a nurse in order to establish trust. “It says a lot about your values and who you are as a person to take on a caregiving role. Everybody loves a nurse.”

Placing Trust in Mass General

Mary Lou chose to establish this fund at Mass General because of the “excellence in every area” she has experienced here. “I love walking through the front doors for an appointment. There’s just a special energy here, and so much cutting-edge work being done every day,” she says.

From her experience as a nurse, Mary Lou understands how important nurse well-being is to all that is accomplished at Mass General. “You have to take care of yourself in order to care for others,” she says. This is why she’s so passionate about ensuring nursing staff are well taken care of.

PaintingsEllison 11 nurses enjoy a night painting together as a team.

Nurse Well-being is Vital

“A nurse never thinks of themselves first,” Mary Lou says. “You do so much for your patients and their families, anything they need — from helping to identify a medical problem to supporting families through their grief. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses were risking their lives every day to care for their patients.”

“Nurses need to be cared for and prioritized in the same way that they make sure their patients are. I hope to be that advocate for them,” Mary Lou explains. She has already made an enormous impact, with her gift funding nearly 60 wellness initiatives across Mass General this year, with many more to come.

“The wellness of our nurses is critically important to hospital leadership, and I am so grateful to Mary Lou that she shares that same passion,” Debbie says. “She has been a true partner to me in providing support to all Mass General nurses.”

To support nursing wellness initiatives, click here.