LONDON—Filipino nurse Minnie Klepacz was recognized in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and was awarded the British Empire Medal “for her tireless work to support her colleagues and community during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Klepacz, who hails from Pasig City, came to the United Kingdom to work as a nurse when she was 19 and worked her way up to become matron for ophthalmology at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, now University Hospitals Dorset NHS Trust. She also leads the hospital’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network and was key in the hospital trust’s response to provide risk assessments for all BAME staff.
“I’m truly honored and privileged to accept the Queen’s honor and be awarded with British Empire Medal. This is the service I contributed as well to the staff from the Black, Asian minority background, especially for the Filipinos during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also the rest of the University Hospitals Dorset,” Klepacz said.
While doing her daily matron duties, she also provided exceptional support to the Filipino community.
Outside her work, she cooked food, delivered groceries and home-cooked meals with the help of her husband who drove her around, and administered over-the-counter medication to those who had been experiencing symptoms and those recovering after release from intensive care.
Equally important is the emotional support she provided.
“As you know, staff from the ethnic minority background, especially the Filipinos, are highly disproportionately affected, who became seriously ill and also dying of this virus. Despite my own worries, I set that aside and took my own initiative on what I can really do to provide support,” Klepacz told ABS-CBN News.
“I took the initiative of what can be done to protect the staff, providing them the risk assessment to make sure some guidelines are in place to protect our staff. This has been truly embraced by our hospital.”
Those who experienced trauma and needed reassurance during the precarious situation, she helped, too.
“I continued providing them with health support by having some sessions with our clinical psychologist and also empowered them to speak up at the time when they felt unsafe in specific environment,” she said.
The onslaught of the novel coronavirus disease has killed a significant number of health care workers. According to an Amnesty International report, more than 540 health and social worker in England and Wales died, from 3,000 global fatalities.
Of more that 500 health social care workers in the UK who perished, 20 percent are from Black, Asian Minority Ethic (BAME) backgrounds. The Filipino Nurses Association-UK, of which Klepacz is an officer, listed 56 deaths among Filipino heath care workers.
“For me, it’s not really a personal award. I would like to share this award to all the amazing staff that we have working here in UK, all nursing staff working in healthcare sector in the Philippines, working above and beyond. It’s been extremely hard, especially during the pandemic. I also want to share this award to the interim officers of the Filipino Nurses Association UK," she said.
At the onset of the pandemic, Klepacz and other Filipino nurses in the UK founded the group Filipino Nurses Association UK to help each other and fellow Filipinos experiencing difficulties both at work and home fronts.
She said being a Filipino nurse in the UK in this pandemic meant having two faces: one that is worrisome and the other proud.
“It has two sides: it can be slightly worrying as well. Loads of researches are still ongoing why Filipinos are disproportionately affected by this COVID-19. There’s load of initiatives to find out. But there is no definitive answer, “ explained Klepacz.
But she is extremely proud of her background because she said her upbringing molded her to be strong and resilient.
“We grow up in the Philippines (we are used) to face all of the calamities, but we always rise above the waters,” she said.
MORALE BOOST DURING THE PANDEMIC
Many of her colleagues described Klepacz as a true professional and the “epitome of a compassionate leader.”
“We are so happy and proud of you. I know all the praises and accolade are very against your very nature, being down to earth. But sister bask on the glory of your success because your success is the success of every Filipino nurse not just in the United Kingdom but all over the world,” said Susie Lagrata, a fellow officer at the newly formed Filipino Nurses Association UK.
“I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Filipino nurses in the UK for raising our profile, for showing the world how amazing Filipino nurses are, not just in their clinical work but also in their advocacies.”
On social media, congratulatory messages were sent to Keplacz from the University Hospitals Dorset, as well as British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
“What a proud day for #TeamUHD - our brilliant matron @KlepaczMinnie has been recognised in the Queen's birthday honours list with a British Empire Medal for her tireless work during Covid-19. We cannot think of anyone more deserving!” the UHD tweeted.
“Very proud of you. Congratulations @KlepaczMinnie !,” Locsin said.
“Congratulations to @KlepaczMinnie for her BEM in the #QueensBirthdayHonours. We are truly fortunate to have so many talented, dedicated and compassionate Filipino healthcare professionals working in the UK's #NHS. Maraming salamat Minnie!,” Ambassador Pruce said.
Klepacz dedicated the award to her family, friends, colleagues and fellow Filipino nurses, especially frontliners who have died in the line of duty.
“My mom has been amazing to me. She is my prayer warrior. She guides me on what to do and an emotional support during this time. My husband, my fellow nurses in the Filipino Nurses association- UK, our Filipino colleagues who lost their lives during the pandemic-- I would like to dedicate this to their family and friends. I lost 11 friends from US, UK and Philippines,” said Klepacz.