Doing her best brings her peace and pride



Powell web

Bernice Powell learned the values of working hard and caring for others from her parents, and she lives out those values every day.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Bernice Powell likes to start her day with an early morning walk, letting the singing birds serve as her soundtrack.

It’s good for her body and good for her mind – helping to bring a sense of peace and focus for the day ahead.

Powell, mother of three and grandmother of two, has worked in environmental services for IU Health going on 23 years this summer, the past 12 at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Previously, she was at IU Health University Hospital 11 years.

Bernice Powell IUH ID

At first, she wasn’t sure she was cut out for hospital work, but that concern “went out the window” before too long, the soft-spoken woman said.

“Just seeing the patients brought out a passion in me.”

That’s because she saw a need. A need that she could fill with a smile, a kind word and a gentle touch. Not to mention, total dedication to her job.

Though she was responsible for cleaning patient rooms and public areas at University, she found time to connect with patients who were alone.

“There were some who didn’t have anyone come visit, and that brings tears to my eyes still,” Powell said. “I would come back on my breaks, just to talk to them. That convinced me I was in the right place. I stopped looking at myself and started looking at the patients.”

In time, however, she felt the weight of that role, especially when patients wanted her to come in on her day off if they were having surgery.

“I felt like I had to be there, like I played a part in their healing.”

Bernice Powell converses with team member

The move to the Riley Outpatient Center, which puts her in closer proximity to children, has been wonderful, she said. She shows her pride by buying Riley T-shirts for her grandkids, her sisters, her grandchild’s bus driver and herself, sporting one over her uniform on casual Fridays at the hospital.

“I’ll go broke buying Riley T-shirts,” she laughed.

But giving to others brings her joy.

Powell learned all about giving back from her parents who raised her and her 11 siblings with the values of hard work, service to others and doing the right thing.

She was about 8 when her parents moved the family from Mississippi to Indianapolis, where they were raised in a house with a backyard big enough for a prized garden that fed the large family throughout the year.

“The only thing we had to go to the store for was meat, flour and sugar,” she said. “We ate from the garden.”

She learned compassion from her mother, accompanying her as a child while the older woman cared for her brother when he was ill.

“She taught us well and explained to us that this is what we are supposed to do – help others. Give your best to others because somewhere down the line you might need help, too.”

Being on the receiving end of help is harder for Powell.

“I’m not always comfortable receiving because I’m a giver, but being able to accept help is a gift too, so I’m having to learn that.”

Her parents are both in their 80s now, and she’s been looking in on them from a distance during COVID. She leaves work at Riley most days and first checks on them to make sure they’re OK and asks if they need anything.

Then she’s off to meet her young grandkids when they get off the school bus, staying with them until their mom gets off work.

She puts in a full day but says she looks forward to going to work, taking satisfaction in being a team player and putting 100% into whatever job she does.

“I was taught to give my best and that my work represents me,” she said. “I have to be happy with my work. That gives me peace, knowing I’ve done a good job.”

That dedication and commitment hasn't gone unnoticed.

"Bernice is a wonderful person and one thing that everyone loves about her is that she always has a beautiful smile, she is always willing to help others and always goes above and beyond to keep our families safe," Jose Torres, environmental services shift supervisor said.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,