Failing at retirement: Veteran Marco nurse returns to help during pandemic

Lance Shearer
Eagle Correspondent
Nurse Betsy Novakovich. She retired after 41 years in the profession, but came back to Marco Island Urgent Care to help during the COVID pandemic.

Betsy Novakovich thought she was through with nursing and with COVID-19.

After 41 years in the profession, the veteran registered nurse hung up her scrubs in December 2020, having gone through what was thought to be the brunt of the coronavirus siege, and transitioned to a well-deserved retirement.

One year later, with the omicron variant of the virus rampant, Naples Community Hospital was finding its nursing staff seriously stressed and put out a call for reinforcements.

One of those was Kaitlen Magdalener, a supervisor at NCH Marco Urgent Care. Magdalener had been promoted to her position by Novakovic, worked for her for six years, and was familiar with the regular seasonal pattern of hiring for medical staff.

Nurse Betsy Novakovich, left, with Nurse Supervisor Kaitlen Magdalener. Novakovich retired after 41 years in the profession, but came back to Marco Island Urgent Care to help during the COVID pandemic.

“With season, the population doubles, and the patient load quadruples,” Magdalener said. “We really need to pump up the nursing staff. But we were having a hard time hiring seasonal nurses. I called Betsy, and she said without hesitation she would be happy to come back. Without her, we would have been very short-staffed.”

Novakovich was familiar with nursing on Marco Island. With various professional license acronyms behind her name (she also is a paramedic) she served as director of NCH Emergency Services and Urgent Care with responsibilities extending throughout the hospital system, although she was based at the Marco Urgent Care. Returning to the department, she was working for the nurse she had previously supervised but said that everything she has seen has confirmed her choice of Magdalener to fill her role on Marco.

“She’s doing great. I knew she was going to,” said Novakovich. “She was ready, she just needed a push. It’s funny, a little reversal of roles, but it’s a good feeling to know I can help out.”

“She’s been a great mentor,” said Magdalener, who seemed unfazed by having her former supervisor working under her. “She was always available if I needed her.” 

Marco Island Urgent Care. Nurse Betsy Novakovich retired after 41 years in the profession, but came back to Marco Island Urgent Care to help during the COVID pandemic.

“My family say I am failing miserably at retirement,” laughed Novakovich. “After I left NCH, I did a consulting job in Miami. And when Kaitlen called, I said I will be there — but not on the days my husband’s softball league is playing.”

Her husband, William, is a retired fire chief of Cortland, Ohio, where the couple spends their summers. He knows how hard nurses work and the stresses they have been under during the pandemic.

“Nurses are tired. They have been working really hard for two years with no real break,” said Novakovich. “What I’m doing now, I honestly don’t feel like I’m working. When you

come from working 60 hours a week, and now I’m working 24 hours, three eight-hour shifts, it’s great.”

She put in a lot of hours in the emergency room and worked hands-on with patients as well as performing her administrative duties, managing to go a year and not catch COVID herself. Not on the job, that is.

After she retired, or attempted to, Novakovich contracted coronavirus from a family member. She said she had a “very mild case” and made a full recovery prior to returning to nursing.

Nurse Betsy Novakovich runs a test. She retired after 41 years in the profession, but came back to Marco Island Urgent Care to help during the COVID pandemic.

Novakovich is scheduled to work her final shift April 3 and then return to that interrupted retirement. She won’t be sitting around, though. She and her husband have two Caribbean cruises on their itinerary, voyages they had to put on hold due to the pandemic.

But next season? “If she’ll have me, I’d come back,” said Novakovich.

She said she knows that travelling nurses can make a lot more money.

“It’s not about that," she said. "It’s about being in a place you enjoy, a place that has the same mission and values that I have as a nurse.”