Sue Bell, the longest tenured employee at Excelsior Wellness, has an official start date of Jan. 1, 1976. But it was hardly the first time she had set foot on campus.
Starting a human resources practicum at Spokane Falls Community College, Sue recalls walking in the doors of The Sisters of the Good Shepherd home on Oct. 28, 1975, which was then her 20th birthday.
“At the end of the practicum (November 1975) the sisters asked me if I wanted to stay; and I said yes of course,” Sue says.
She eventually went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University and most of her tenure at Excelsior has involved serving patients.
“It’s been uphill, down the hill, around the hill… and I’m learning every day,” she says.
Despite her experience, Sue’s supervisor, clinical director, and psychiatric nurse practitioner Miranda Hennes, says Sue remains humble in all she does. With the title medical coordinator, Miranda says Sue’s experience allows her to take on wide range of duties.
“She is a legend, but she is so modest,” Miranda says. “I love working with Sue. If I need to know something I can ask her. And if she does not know the answer, she will find someone that does.”
Adds Miranda, “The dedication that she brings here to Excelsior has contributed to my five, going on six years in January. She’s been so supportive to me as a nurse practitioner.”
Despite Miranda’s praise, Sue credits those she works with – and once worked with – as the ones responsible for helping her to excel at her job each day.
“Throughout my stay here I have worked with some pretty darn incredible people,” Sue says. “They’re smart and they care about the kids.”
At the outset, however, not everyone was sure Sue was making the right career choice.
“When I first started my mother says, ‘You are going to work with kids? You don’t even like kids,’ ’’ Sue now says with a laugh.
But looking back, Sue says she was the babysitter that parents wanted when she was a teenager.
“I understand structure,” she says. “And what I’ve learned throughout the years is the trauma piece.”
And after 46 years at Excelsior, she says each year brings a new set of challenges for today’s youth.
“And it’s heart wrenching. But that’s part of the passion, too. I want to take care of them,” Sue says. “If I feel that somebody here is not taking care of them the way I think they should be, they might hear from me about it.”
About the children, Sue is emphatic when she says, “It’s not their fault that they’re here.”
Sue appreciates hearing from her former patients.
“There is nothing more rewarding than hearing from kids, now adults, who’ve left the program and call me later and say, ‘Hey, Sue, I get what you were trying to teach me,’ ’’ Sue says.
Born and raised in Spokane, and with a 40-year-old son in Reno, Nevada and three grandchildren, Sue says she has no plans retire anytime soon. This despite suffering a heart attack in 2020.
“I will keep going until I can’t anymore,” she says. “There’s something going on at Excelsior all the time; it’s so exciting.”
Just late last month, Excelsior allowed she and another colleague to transport a client to the West Side of the state to admit a youth to another group home.
“It made me almost cry because this kid is very fragile,” she says. “It was such a good transition. The caseworker picked us up, we got to see the new group home, and the kid is smiling while waving us goodbye and isn’t traumatized.”
Adds Sue, “How can I leave when we’re learning so much about how to take care of these traumatized children?’