Danielle Vazquez will never forget how hospital workers rallied around her when her mother died of pancreatic cancer. She said she felt, then at age 22, as though they took her in as a daughter.
“I decided that I wanted to make every patient, visitor and family member have that same great experience during trying times,” said Vazquez, now 27, of Wicker Park.
“I saw how a hospital’s support staff was integral and important in my coping with loss and with my wellbeing.”
Vazquez, a Long Island native whose mother died at Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, has started on her life’s mission in a new job that could have been designed just for her.
She is the director of support services at RUSH University Medical Center, overseeing strategy for 12 departments ranging from security to housekeeping to front-desk greeters at the main campus on Chicago’s West Side and at the RUSH Oak Park Hospital.
Vazquez started her career by besting hundreds of competitors nationwide to earn a fellowship at RUSH that let her job-shadow the hospital’s senior executives. She had graduated with a bachelor’s in health services. She then completed dual master’s degrees in business administration (MBA) and public health (MPI) from the University at Buffalo, New York.
Vazquez attended school on a Division I scholarship in track and field, specializing in the 5k and mile runs — and she served as co-founder of Linking Leaders, the University at Buffalo’s first minority career conference.
Just as Vazquez had started working with RUSH’s executive team, America’s worst pandemic in more than a century hit.
Vazquez plunged into a 14-hour-day, seven-day-a-week routine at RUSH’s COVID Command Center, working with top executives in a boardroom, mapping out how to safely treat the incoming flood of COVID patients while amping up staffing, planning recovery strategies and reporting out on new infection rates. In that role, she worked for a year as senior project manager for Angelique Richard, the chief nursing officer and senior vice president of hospital operations at RUSH.
Vazquez said she was enthralled by watching Richard navigate the crisis, and ultimately saw the boardroom as her safe space, since everyone rallied around each other during the lockdown.
The RUSH team became a family, and even created their own games to deal with the stress — tallying the number of times someone was annoying or sassy, even noting the length of a sneeze.
Now, Vazquez’s mission is to make RUSH’s non-clinical staff feel valued.
“If they don’t feel their best, they won’t give their best to the patient,” she said. “Support staff are so important in a healthcare system. Sometimes it’s just asking, ‘Do you need anything?’”
RUSH offers a big opportunity for anyone who wants it.
“The sky is the limit,” Vazquez said. “RUSH is such a huge system” that’s growing in services, outpatient practices and support service roles. That’s exciting because the employees can help implement new strategies to improve patient experiences, she said.
That bigger mission is what keeps Vazquez motivated. “My job isn’t easy. There are trying times,” she said. “It’s more than an eight-hour shift. You’re putting out your all, so you might as well have a mission. You’re not only helping yourself but a whole community and city get better.”