JoAnn Birch, 57, head nurse at Md. General and Hopkins

March 05, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

JoAnn Birch, a former head emergency nurse at Maryland General and Johns Hopkins hospitals, died Monday at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., of complications from an infection. Formerly of Canton, the Newark resident was 57.

Born JoAnn Howanitz in Baltimore and raised on South Decker Avenue, she attended St. Casimir's Parochial School and was a 1964 graduate of Catholic High School.

She earned a nursing degree from Maryland General Hospital in 1967, and began working there - becoming head nurse in the emergency room within a few years. She later earned a master's degree from the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

"She was an energetic, bright, vivacious person, fun-loving," said Maryland General nursing classmate Deena Schrauder, now manager of nurse recruitment at the hospital. "She was a sweet person. She worked her way up to the top of her profession and that takes dedication."

"She told me she could handle just about any situation in an emergency room except one where an injured child came in," said her sister, Janice M. Faust of Odessa, Del. "Those were the hardest for her."

Mrs. Birch left Maryland General in the late 1970s to become head nurse for the shock trauma unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In 1984, she met Roy Birch, then a commander in the British Royal Navy, who was visiting Baltimore aboard the frigate HMS Broadsword docked at the Inner Harbor shortly after the Falklands war. They married a year later.

The couple moved to Ohio in 1989, when Mrs. Birch was named vice president of nursing at the Cleveland Clinic.

After moving to Delaware in 1993, she joined Bay Health Medical Center, which has hospitals in Dover and Milford there. In 1995, she was named vice president for patient care services, including jurisdiction over nursing, pharmacy and home care. A year later she became a member of the American College of Health Care Executives.

"She was hardworking and took pride in her role as a senior executive," said Terry Feinour, Bay Health's vice president for corporate services.

Mrs. Birch and her husband also bought a restored home in Lewes, Del., and opened the Royal Retreat bed and breakfast. She worked on weekends there, prepared the gardens and baked sweets served at its high tea.

The couple divorced two years ago.

"Nursing was her life," said her former husband. "She had a long history of being a bedside nurse, and she was quite good at it. She was a vibrant person and always believed in being fair to the nurses who worked for her. She understood deeply that her nurses were to be taken care of as well as the patient care they were to administer."

Graveside services were held yesterday at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Dundalk.

In addition to her sister, survivors include a son, Kevin McClure of Dover; a daughter, Jessica Betta of Bear, Del.; and three nieces. Her previous marriages to Michael McClure and Bob Betta also ended in divorce.

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