Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center

L to R above: Debbie Buffham, BSN, RN, CEN, Executive Director, Emergency Department  |  Celina Barba-Simic, MD, Medical Director, Emergency Department  |  Bailey Wojcik, BSN, RN, MICN, Manager, Emergency Department


Founded in 1943 by the Sisters of Providence, the 2,500 employees, 300 volunteers and 700+ physicians of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center provide diagnostic, treatment, care and support services for San Fernando Valley communities. The medical center’s emergency department is certified as an Emergency Department Approved for Pediatrics, a Comprehensive Stroke Center and a STEMI Receiving Center for heart attacks.

Leading the emergency department staff are medical director Dr. Celina Barba-Simic, executive director Debbie Buffham and manager Bailey Wojcik. Dr. Barba-Simic has been a member of the Providence Saint Joseph medical staff since 2004. She is board-certified in emergency medicine and a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Debbie has worked as an RN for 25 years and is a Certified Emergency Nurse. She started working with Providence Saint Joseph in 1995 as a nursing assistant. Bailey joined the Providence Saint Joseph team in 2010 and holds the Mobile Intensive Care Nurse certification.


The new emergency department (ED) was under construction when the pandemic hit. How did you make the necessary changes?

Dr. Barba-Simic: “We used this incredible opportunity to review the construction plans through the lens of the current pandemic. We were able to increase the number of negative-pressure rooms, review patient flow inside the ED and improve outside waiting areas.”

Debbie: “We worked together to align with the developing information, the executive leadership team and the architect. Dr. Barba-Simic has been instrumental in leading the way to ensure we are providing a safe environment for our patients and the caregivers in our current ED, so we frequently reviewed the plans and discussed the best options. She is an expert in emergency medicine and an incredible advocate for our community.”


How will the new emergency department empower you to care for the community?

Bailey: “Time is tissue in so many emergencies (heart attack, stroke, sepsis). With our new ED, we will be able to care more quickly for these patients. Having the CT scan in the ED will save precious moments that matter for stroke patients. We will also be able to provide more timely care and decrease the number of patients in the waiting room as we go from 24 beds currently to 44 in the new ED.”

Debbie: “The new ED is designed to empower caregivers to provide the most efficient and timely care to our patients in need. We designed a more efficient triage area to minimize a backlog of patients in need of our care. We have rooms designed to keep our behavioral health patients safe from harm and cared for in a dignified manner while minimizing disruption to other patients. In every phase, we focused on caregiver satisfaction and the patient experience as much as we could with the footprint we were provided. We are so blessed to be part of this new ED, made possible by generous community philanthropy.”


Where do you find your inspiration?

Debbie: “I find my inspiration in my faith. Knowing my calling. I am a nurse, but I am responsible to a much higher power, to my family and to my caregivers. I am inspired by the care our team provides to patients at their most vulnerable times. I see the moments that make me grateful to be a nurse and for this life. My colleagues, especially Dr. Barba-Simic and Bailey, challenge me to be my best and support me when I need the love. I am part of an incredible team that inspires me daily.”


What is the best part of your day?

Bailey: “Nursing is the greatest, most rewarding career. We all enter this profession because we want to help our community. As manager, my favorite part of the day is when I round on patients and hear from them how great my team has been caring for them. It is rewarding to see people feel better and know that my team made a difference! When this job gets tough, and it will—like during a global pandemic—we need to remember why we became nurses.”


Has motherhood made you better?

Bailey: “Absolutely. Being a mother has impacted my life tremendously. This has allowed me a different perspective on our patients and caregivers. I always considered myself nurturing, but after becoming a mother I feel that even more.”

Debbie: “Motherhood made me understand love like nothing I have ever experienced. That indescribable feeling you have with your child makes you understand others as well. It makes you kinder but more protective. It makes you think before you act because you have a constant audience that parrots you. It makes you choose your words and actions, because children learn first at home.  Being a mother made me understand my mother. It made me better.”


What is the silver lining of the recent pandemic for the hospital?

Debbie: “The silver lining is that we banded together to do what was needed for one another and the community. Everyone worked together to not only care for our patients but one another. The community embraced health care workers and supported  us through words of encouragement, supply/PPE donations and food. We truly were—and are—exhausted, but we felt the love and it was an honor.”