Photo: Night Charge Nurse Joe Trejo on the steps to the Special Care Unit.
As the sun sets and the Hill Country darkens, human activity winds down at La Hacienda.
In the Special Care Unit, a smaller nighttime crew replaces the daytime nursing staff. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. they tend to patients in the detox unit and respond to all patients’ medical concerns.
After the clinical staff leaves at midnight, the nursing night shift also care for patients who can’t sleep.
“We deal mostly with insomnia or anxiety,” says Joe Trejo, the Night Charge Nurse, a position he’s held for 25 years. “I have a good crew, so I don’t have to direct too much.”
Joe adds that sometimes the care involves convincing patients that medication is not what they need.
“We serve people with addictions, and they’re often looking for a pill to fix their problems.”
Aiming for the Same Goal
Like many of the La Hacienda staff, he finds the work satisfying because he witnesses patients recovering their health.
“I see them from the beginning of their treatment to the end. I see the improvement in their appearance, their mood, and in their outlook on life. It turns from negative in the beginning to positive and hopeful at the end.”
And he likes the team spirit.
“The people I work with are all shooting for the same goal.”
Joe admits that working on a reduced staff is one of the reasons he likes the night shift.
“I have to answer to myself for my actions,” he explains. “I am responsible for what I do.”
In Good Hands
Nurse Administrator Rikke Sorensen is confident with Joe in charge overnight.
“We know that La Hacienda is in good hands between midnight and dawn when Joe is here. His length of service has exposed him to most of the scenarios that can occur, and he handles situations in a calm and organized way.”
His experience and self-confidence also allows Joe to be the go-to person for other staff members and a composed responder to patients in need.
“Joe always take the time to talk to patients who struggle with poor sleep, anxiety or other forms of discomfort during the night. He engages with them in a manner that makes them feel cared for and gives them comfort.”
The Odds Favored Nursing
A native of Alice, Texas, Joe took time off after his freshman year at the University of Houston, to consider his options. That’s when a male cousin who is a nurse told him he should consider nursing.
“‘Nursing, that’s for women,’ I told him,” says Joe.
Nevertheless, he visited the cousin in nursing school. Sure enough, there were 88 women and two men in the class. The cousin noted that the female students fawned over the males, providing them with food and even doing their homework.
If that didn’t have enough appeal to a young, single male, a nursing instructor told Joe that there was a demand for men in nursing – getting work would be easy.
“I never swayed after that,” says Joe with a smile. “With a few exceptions, I’ve been a nurse since 1974.”
From Houston to the Hill Country
His nursing career started in Houston and included a stint on the famous Dr. Michael DeBakey’s heart surgery team in Houston.
Joe also worked six months for a Saudi prince who was living in Houston. The prince asked Joe to go back to Saudi Arabia with him, but a friend advised Joe not to go.
In 1994 he bought a home in Center Point and moved his family there from Houston. For six months, Joe continued to commute to Houston and do contract work (16-hour days).
Feels Like Home
Tired of driving to Houston, Joe began to look for work locally. He had not heard of La Hacienda, but he responded to an ad in the newspaper.
It turned out that the La Hacienda nursing director at that time had worked for Joe in Houston. She offered him a job, and he accepted. It meant a cut in pay, but there was an offset upon which he could not set a value.
“I got ‘the feel’ as soon as I walked on campus,” says Joe. “Then one night after I started here, I went up on Serenity Hill. I got the feeling that this is home. And this is where I have been since.”
An Affinity for Sports
After his divorce, Joe moved to Kerrville. His youngest son, Gabriel, joined him there and completed secondary schooling.
Joe still spends lots of free time with Gabriel, either in Kerrville or San Angelo, where the son is a senior marketing major at Angelo State University.
Father and son go to sporting events frequently. They have season tickets for the Cowboys, and often attend Texans, Rangers and Astros games.
Vacations in Port Aransas and barbecues with friends are two of Joe’s other free-time pursuits–when he’s not working the night shift.