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Murfreesboro nurse Wendy Underwood welcomes many tiny babies into the world
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Registered Nurse Wendy Underwood plays a massive role in caring for a Murfreesboro hospital’s tiniest patients and getting them ready to take on the outside world.

Underwood, one of the team leaders for the Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), said nursing has been in her thoughts since before kindergarten. While her childhood friends were drawing up pretend lesson plans to play school, she was laying the groundwork for what would eventually become her career.

“All my friends were playing teachers, had little notebooks and were doing teacher stuff, while I had a patient chart notebook,” said Underwood. “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a nurse.”

She kicked off her career in healthcare a little later than anticipated after marrying her high school sweetheart at 18 and moving to Tennessee from Georgia. She had been working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) before enrolling in Columbia State Community College’s nursing program where she graduated in 1996.

Her connection to neonatal nursing came a bit later when her eldest daughter, Amber, was born premature at 34 weeks that same year.

The Nashville hospital where Wendy was working didn’t have a NICU, according to Underwood. Instead, there was a Special Care Unit.

“Seeing all the nurses in there taking care of those sick babies made me realize, ‘Yes, I want to be a NICU nurse,’ ” said Underwood. “I did pediatrics for a year, and then we opened our NICU July 1 of 1998.”

Amber, now 25, chose to follow in the footsteps of three generations of nurses in her family: her mother, her paternal grandmother and her paternal great-grandmother, Letisha Breedlove Stoker, a nurse for 15 years in Rutherford County. Stoker’s portrait hangs on a wall at the hospital as part of a graduating class of LPNs.

“With my mom, I grew up knowing what phalanges were, and what jaundice babies look like,” said Amber on her decision to keep the family nursing legacy going. “Growing up and seeing that all the time really helped influence it.”

Amber, who graduated from Columbia State in March, is on the dayshift with her mother on the postpartum floor as she works to complete her 12-week nurse residency program. She plans to stay in the same area when the program ends this summer.

The mother and daughter live under the same roof and share the 40-minute commute from Eagleville to the hospital regularly.

“She’s met a lot of my friends, and I’ve gotten input back on how she’s doing, and so far, she’s doing good. I told them all just because she’s now working there does not mean she gets out of doing dishes at home,” Underwood said. “We love working with each other.”

Amber said she felt a bit nervous following in her mom’s footsteps, but the transition into the hospital setting has been positive.

“I’m new. I don’t know everything she knows yet, but it’s exciting too,” said Amber. “I work with my mom. I work where my mom loves to work.”

Daily nursing responsibilities

As a NICU team lead, Underwood’s shift at the hospital starts at 6:30 a.m. when she receives reports from the hospital’s night shift team with updates on the NICU babies and potential labor and delivery calls.

Underwood then makes the day’s assignments for each NICU nurse, who usually care for three babies each day.

Underwood said that the NICU nurses help with any high-risk labors including Cesarean sections, multiple births and meconium deliveries (the infant produces a bowel movement in utero). NICU nurses also respond to any delivery that is less than 36 weeks.

The amount of time a newborn will stay in the NICU varies, but Underwood said the nurses usually tell parents their due date is a good starting point to estimate the duration of stay. The goal is to get the babies breathing without respiratory support, feeding without intubation or IV fluids and maintaining blood sugar and temperature.

“That usually happens right around the four-pound mark,” said Underwood, who, along with other nurses, teaches parents infant CPR before discharge.

There is also a “transition nursery” for babies who aren’t well enough to stay with their parents but not sick enough for the NICU.

“Those are the babies that we need to watch just a little more closely to make sure they transition from in-utero to outside life,” said Underwood. Babies usually stay in the transition nursery for no more than four hours, or as soon as they can be safely returned to their parents.

The hospital’s NICU unit treats between 350 and 400 babies annually, according to information provided by the hospital.

Underwood, a mother of three herself, said the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of her job is the “adrenaline” that comes with facing “the unknown.”

“The going to delivery and just not knowing what you’re going to be handed,” said Underwood. “I love taking care of the babies, doing what we need to do, resuscitating, getting them better and sending them home with their families.”

She plans to put her newborn knowledge to good use at home when she becomes a grandmother for the first time this summer. Her son Brandon and his wife, Meghan, are expecting their first child, Everly, in July.

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La Vergne couple separates grass from graves
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The Roulhac-Hill Cemetery, which is the resting place of the founders of La Vergne, was recently discovered to be unkept and full of weeds.

A Facebook post brought the issue to light and almost immediately, La Vergne residents James and Mindy Adamson jumped into action.

“I’ve lived in Rutherford county for the last 20 years, a few of those years in La Vergne,” James said. “My wife and I graduated from La Vergne High School. If the Marine Corps has taught me anything, it’s pride.”

He said that the pride he felt meant to him and his wife, that he needed to step up.

“I felt if that were my family, I would be ashamed,” James said. “But after reading a bit about the absence of any local family, I felt bad that no one cares anymore. Coincidentally, my wife and were talking about our ideas about what happens after death. (Was that a) coincidence?”

He said he is “doing a bit of research about caretaking and headstone care, so I can take proper care, without disturbing or damaging the headstones.”

While La Vergne does not have a “city” cemetery, there are dozens of old family cemeteries throughout the town, according to the city’s website.

City spokesperson Anne Smith said that now, the official count of cemeteries in La Vergne numbers 22. Of those, 12 are being mowed by the city, according to Smith. There are a number of others around town that the city hasn’t recognized.

According to the website “Rutherford County Tennessee Cemeteries,” there are 38 cemeteries in La Vergne, as well as 13 that are identified as La Vergne, but located in Davidson County. Those cemeteries were enumerated by the Rutherford County Historical Society in 1975.

However, when that information was gathered, city officials could identify at least four more cemeteries not recorded in the cemetery source, including Batey-Rowland, Mason, Roulhac-Hill, and Franklin cemeteries.

According to the website, the city has compiled the names of 51 separate cemeteries from various sources including county records, books, word-of-mouth, and observation.

In 2008-09, city historian Margie Murphy put together a document listing cemeteries still in La Vergne. It listed 21 cemeteries, but they are not all the same ones as the city leaders are counting now.

Mayor Jason Cole said the issue of the city mowing private cemeteries was discussed at the city’s planning retreat.

While the board of mayor and aldermen agreed that something needed to be done, they are aware that the cemeteries must be mowed.

“I know of two cemeteries that cars have crashed through,” Cole said, noting that the families of those buried in the cemetery should be responsible for the maintenance. “It’s not just the mowing. There are fence repairs, headstone repairs, tree removal, things like that.”

Cole said the city is searching for a title company that could help locate owners of the cemeteries so those owners could begin to take care of the cemeteries themselves.

There are two cemeteries that are noted as Waldron Cemeteries. Calls, texts and emails to Alderman Dennis Waldron about whether relatives are buried in the cemeteries and whether his family would take over maintaining them, were not returned.

City mowing may stop

Often, the cemeteries are family plots that have been forgotten over the years. Cole said that the practice of the city mowing the lots should stop.

“Number one, this is not a service of the city,” Cole said. “It’s private property and public funds shouldn’t be going to mow private property.”

Also, he continued, by finding an owner, the city can help “connect a family back to their heritage. They can make connections and those ties may help in the long run.”

The cost for mowing the cemeteries is not available because it is broken down into mowing, personnel and other line items in the budget.

Cole said that the city has budgeted $10,000 to find a title company and reaching out to those who own the cemeteries.

There is a line item in the 2021-22 budget that is strictly for cemeteries, Cole said. It falls under the city administrator budget and will be for the title search.

“Hopefully, we will be taking first steps in the journey of locating the owners,” Cole said. “We will begin this budget year and in subsequent years, get each one. How do you eat and elephant? One bite at a time.”

For more information about city history and cemeteries in the area, go to https://tinyurl.com/kbpfezxt.

Murfreesboro City Council approves two MED pension plan amendments

The Murfreesboro City Council voted unanimously to approve two amendments to the Murfreesboro Electric Department (MED) Pension Committee’s plan document during their special joint meeting last week.

The first amendment would correct typos made within the plan document, and the second would serve as a “self-correction” to rectify past administration methods that did not align with the document’s language.

“As a result of that past administration, benefits were calculated in a manner that was inconsistent with the requirements of the plan,” said City Attorney Adam Tucker, who pointed out that all of the plan miscalculations were to the benefit of employees.

Councilman Rick LaLance pointed out that this “benefit of employees” is simultaneously at the “detriment of the ratepayer.”

The misinterpretation of the document creates a legal issue with the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements for a tax-exempt “qualified plan.”

The amendments up for approval were recommended for the city’s pension plan to maintain its qualified status. City staff reached out to Cowden Associates, Inc., an actuarial and consulting firm, for guidance about correcting the administrative issues.

Tucker said the two options brought to the table were to “claw back” $460,000 from beneficiaries and reduce benefits going forward or amend the plan language to match the past administrative practice.

The latter was the recommendation.

City Human Resources Director Pam Russell provided a timeline of events from the transition of MED to Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. Russell said there was a meeting last year to sort through employee files and review the pension process.

“Time was also of the essence because seven active employees were eligible to retire on July 1, 2020,” said Russell.

HR Benefits Administrator Chris McFarlane worked with committee member Lori Williams, MED Certified Public Accountant (CPA), and P.D. Mynatt, MED Controller and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), to go over how the plan was to be administered. McFarlane was responsible for calculations of pension applicants, according to Russell.

The first deviation from the plan document was made in 2006, according to HR and Cowden’s findings. Misinterpretations of the plan document became apparent again around mid-2017.

Mayor Shane McFarland asked Mynatt why there was a change in plan administration for the individual employee who retired in 2006, and Mynatt said there had been no change.

“The plan has always been administered the same way from day one,” said Mynatt, “It predates me.”

LaLance asked for further clarification on the start of the 2019-2020 plan year and if the employee raises from Jan. 1, 2020 were included in the salary for the five highest consecutive earning years. An employee must work 1,000 hours within the plan year, starting July 1 and ending June 30, to receive High-Five eligibility for that year.

“The deviation occurs when you allow someone to get credit for a full plan year when they only maybe worked one day or a week or used benefit hours for one day,” McFarlane explained.

City Manager Craig Tindall said the plan states that the salary from the first day of the plan year is to be used in this High-Five calculation.

Tucker clarified this statement by listing the High-Five dates included for employees employed with MED on June 30, 2020 without the amendment in place. These dates are July 1, 2019, July 1, 2018, July 1, 2017, July 1 2016 and July 1, 2015.

The mayor went on to point out inconsistencies in how the plan was administered in relation to cash payouts for sick and vacation time.

One employee who retired in 2018 received a $77,000 cash payout without having worked 1,000 hours in the plan year, but another employee who retired the following year wasn’t given this option.

“Any which way you look at it, no matter how it was done in the 80s or 90s, it ain’t right,” said McFarland.

Tucker pointed out a pattern that was found in the plan with more employees choosing to retire in the first half of a plan year (second half of a calendar year) starting in mid-2017, when the opposite was true for previous years.

Williams said she wasn’t sure of the cause of this trend in retirement times but emphasized that it was the actuary, Michael Guyton, who calculated benefits not MED management or individual employees.

The awarded amount of benefits, based on employee start dates, retirement dates and High-Five years, was eventually signed off by management and the pension participant.

Williams said she had not read the plan document or the audits at the time.

LaLance suggested going outside the plan document and the amendment in order to write checks to the 36 pension plan participants who were not paid the same as the seven employees who had their benefits miscalculated.

He wants the Jan. 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020, period to be included.

“We would then calculate for each of those 36 people what the present value of that difference in their High-Five would be, and write them a check,” said LaLance. “I think that’s the only way you can fix it.”

McFarland said he thinks the check suggestion would be “almost like rewarding a bad mistake that was made.”

He said he’d be willing to put this discussion on “rank and file” but will not vote in favor of management receiving a cut of this money.

The MED Pension Committee will continue to oversee the pension plan following the approval of these two plan document amendments.

Operations Center allows walk-ins

The Rutherford County Health Department is now giving COVID-19 vaccine shots without an appointment at its State Farm Operations Center at 2500 Memorial Blvd. in Murfreesboro.

The shots will be given Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Individuals seeking a COVID-19 vaccine can schedule an appointment at vaccinate.tn.gov or search vaccinefinder.org to find a local vaccine provider.

The Rutherford County COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center is open Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. for assistance in signing up to receive a vaccine. Call (615) 898-7997.