The beauty of birth, the devastation of disease — up to her last day of work as a patient liaison coordinator, Rosie Sipley has experienced the ups and downs of the lives of the people she has advocated for.
Sipley retired June 30 after 20 years of helping Stuttgart military community members navigate the German health care system, and perhaps more remarkably, after more than 43 years of service to the U.S. Army. “Rosie has just been a superstar, not only in the clinic, but in the Stuttgart military community. I could always rely on Rosie to be at work and do her job. She never missed a day,” said Col. Larry Connell, the health clinic commander, at Sipley’s retirement party last month. Connell said Sipley was solely responsible for the hospital bus tours, labor and delivery tours, and the birth certificate assistance program. “She started them on her on accord and initiative, and she’s done an awesome job with them,” he said. Sipley, a local national employee, began her career with the Army in 1968 as a clerk in the civilian personnel office at Robinson Barracks. After two years, she transferred to 5th General Hospital; eventually working her way up the ladder to become the civilian personnel officer. When the hospital closed at the end of 1992, Sipley went to work at the health clinic on Patch Barracks as a patient liaison coordinator trainee. “Of course, being in civilian personnel, I had no medical experience,” Sipley said. But through on the job training, “I learned a lot.”
As a patient liaison, Sipley, visited American patients in the area hospitals and assisted with cultural and language issues.“I tell them in Germany, just because it’s done differently doesn’t mean that it’s wrong,” Sipley said.
Assisting patients and acting as an intermediary between doctors, nurses and hospital staff allowed Sipley to do what she said she enjoys most: help people.
“They’re sick, they’re in a strange country, their tolerance level for things that are different is at rock bottom,” Sipley said of her patients. But helping people cope with some of the most intense, raw and intimate experiences they may ever endure can be draining, no matter how deeply one loves the job. “Sometimes all I do is hold their hands and tell them we’re going to get through this … and explain the next step, when it is happening … why it is happening.
“Many times I’ve gone home and cried because there is nothing that can be done. You see a 34-year-old man who has a brain tumor and young children … and you go home and think life is really [hard],” Sipley said. Even so, there are moments of pure joy. Sipley recounted how six years ago she serendipitously helped an adopted man find his German birth mother after 55 years.
According to Sipley, the man, assuming he’d been born at 5th General Hospital, had called the health clinic front desk and asked to speak to whomever had worked at the clinic the longest. The call was transferred to her. “I listened to his story and within 24 hours, I was able to find out who his mother was; two weeks later, he was standing in my office,” Sipley said. Because Germans must register every time they move, Sipley was able to follow a paper trail from city hall to city hall, aided by city employees who felt that “everybody has a right to know who their mother is.” “Again, unbelievably, within 24 hours I found out where she lived. The next day, we went to visit her,” Sipley said.
“Now, when he comes to visit her from the States, he comes to visit me.”
“It’s a nice story,” she said. “I made somebody happy.”