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North Charleroi retiree spent almost 4 decades in medical profession

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AChris Buckley | The Valley Independent
Gwendolon Houchins of North Charleroi checks out a medical book at the Monessen Public Library Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. A compassion woman, Houchins spent nearly four decades in the medical profession.

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Gwendolon Houchins found her nearly four decades in the medical field “fulfilling.”

Her compassion for people was a perfect fit for the profession.

“I'm a people person and that was needed in the profession,” said the North Charleroi resident. “I have compassion for people who are sick.

It was the compassion that ultimately caused her to retire, in order to provide one-on-one care for an ill family member.

Growing up in Charleroi, she moved to Philadelphia after graduating from Charleroi High School in 1959 to pursue better job opportunities.

She worked in retail before moving back to the Pittsburgh area in 1967, when she accepted a job at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh, working as a receptionist.

Within two years, she became office manager in the diagnostic radiology department, where she managed all nontechnical staff, including medical residents.

“We had to teach them to dictate and be concise with their dictation,” Houchins said.

Houchins spent 21 years at St. Francis Hospital before retiring in 1988.

She then accepted a position in medical billing for Transcomp Medical Billing in Pittsburgh.

Houchins helped restructure the company's billing system. She retired from the firm in 2006 to take care of her cousin, Josephine Taylor, who was in failing health.

“It was a choice of either a nursing home or bring her home to care for her,” Houchins said.

For two years, Houchins cared for her cousin at her North Charleroi home before she passed away in 2008.

Houchins still resides there.

“My greatest joy was working with the nuns (at St. Francis Hosppital,)” Houchins said. “They bent over backwards to assist me.

Houchins said her aunt, Gwendolyn Dececilo – Taylor's mother – was the second African-American woman to graduate from California State Teachers College. She taught in a segregated school in Baltimore during the 1950s.

Houchins also was a bit of a trailblazer in her profession. She was the first African-American woman hired as a manager at St. Francis Hospital.

Houchins said she did face racism on the job from patients.

She recalled one time when a patient was brought in with kidney stones. He was violently ill but ,when she approached, he told her to stay away.

Undaunted, she held him and cared for him, even cleaning him up after he heaved on himself and her.

After recovering, he later found her in the hospital and apologized for his earlier attitude.

“He said, ‘I don't know what I would have done without you,'” Houchins recalled.

Houchins said the hospital employees were very close.

“I considered the hospital as family,” Houchins said. “If anyone had a hardship, we took care of them. If you got a call at 2 a.m. that an employee had a house fire, you'd get blankets and food for them immediately.

“We came to the rescue and considered everyone, even down to housekeeping and the kitchen help, as family,” Houchins said.

Houchins is an active member of the Wayman Quinn A.M.E. Church in Monessen.

She also is involved in the Girls with a New Vision, a mentoring program for girls ages 11 to 15 who are given guidance on social norms and learn about various professions from guest speakers.

“We try to get people from the community to speak on their professions,” Houchins said.

Her goal is keeping active, to an extent. Houchins said she used to love to roller skate, but two back surgeries caused her to hang up her skates.

“I'm 73,” Houchins said. “I could have been working still if not for my back.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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