By Angela Brandt, Staff Writer,
Chris Abe is made for emergencies. Whether it’s a nurse being accidentally pricked by a needle or a worldwide pandemic, she is able to to remain calm and think of solutions under pressure.
Her coworkers at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego say Abe is always available by phone at all times of day or night, and often in the office by 3 a.m.
“I don’t know when she sleeps,” said Dr. Alice Pong, an infectious disease expert at Rady. “She’s the rock.”
Megan Medina, director of regulatory and accreditation programs and infection control at Rady, recalled a day that she was stuck with a needle when she was a nurse. Medina was worried about being exposed to an illness through the stick.
“She talked me through the risk. She really just calmed me down so much,” Medina said. “I’ve seen her respond like that all the time.”
Pediatrics has always been a passion for Abe, a Poway resident who started at Rady in 1986 as assistant manager of the medical unit and is now vice president of operations. Rady Children’s Hospital is a nonprofit, 511-bed pediatric-care facility. It is the only hospital in the San Diego area dedicated exclusively to pediatric health care and the region’s only designated pediatric trauma center.
In recent years, Abe has taken on a number of new roles. In all, 18 department report to her, including clinical support specialist, infection control, disaster response and occupational health. She also oversees the lab and the pharmacy.
Her whole career, which includes 36 years at Rady this month, prepared her to take charge when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
During the height of the outbreak, the hospital provided testing for first responders. Abe organized and set up the lab quickly when the county laboratory was overwhelmed.
The first day that vaccines were available, the hospital was giving shots to employees, Abe said.
“It was really busy,” said Abe, who at times worked 20-hour days.
The hospital averaged about 2,000 vaccinations per day in a clinic set up in the cafeteria. Half of the cafeteria remains a vaccine clinic.
Rady also provided for drive-up testing, Abe said.
“It was fairly amazing for us to be able to do that,” she said.
During the pandemic, Abe has had to constantly adapt to changing policies and protocols. Sometimes they would change by the hour.
“Every day you learn something new or the situation changed,” she said. “Every moment is learning.”
She set up weekly town hall meetings that were attended by upwards of 2,000 people. She’s done more than 100 of them.
While organizing all the pandemic assistance at the hospital, Abe said her main concern was the children.
“We make sure those at bedside can take care of the patients. Their only worry is to take care of the patient,” she said.
Abe started working with children in her youth as a lifeguard, a position she continued through college.
“They’re so excited about life. They always want to learn,” Abe said. “They can handle so much. They’re like little sponges.”
“I like adults, but kids are a lot more resilient.”
Her coworkers said she makes quick decisions and does so with grace.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen her overwhelmed,” Medina said. “She was already making a plan. She always seems a step ahead.”
Through it all, Abe remains humble.
“We’ve done a really nice job with incredible teams,” she said.
Abe is also approachable, Medina said.
“She can be a little intimidating at first because she has so much responsibility,” she said. “She knows who needs to be involved in discussions. She’s built a lot of great relationships.”
Pong, who has worked with Abe about 20 years, said simply “she does everything.”
“She’s been here long enough that she’s probably been in every department,” Pong said.
Through high-stress, high-consequence scenarios, Abe stays levelheaded and in the moment. She is able to soothe situations whether it be a complaint from a family member or speaking with administrators, co-workers said.
“She never makes it about her. She listens to everybody,” Pong said. “She’s not reactive — she’s proactive.”
Abe is especially skilled at working with the families, Pong said. She listens to them and gives credibility to their issues.
“Her priority is always kids. I think that people get that when they talk to her,” she said.
Abe said she knows she’s in the right place at Rady.
“It’s an amazing thing to work with kids — a privilege actually,” she said.
Published with permission from the U-T Community Press