Nurse with ‘palengkera’ smarts rises to top of Ventura, Calif. public health | Inquirer

Nurse with ‘palengkera’ smarts rises to top of Ventura, Calif. public health

Matthew Tufte, chief of operations for nursing at VCMC and SPH and Geneveve Zapeda. CONTRIBUTED

The marketplace is where one encounters different kinds of people – the “manggagantso” (scammer), those who love to bargain but do not buy, extreme critics and a lot more.

Laking palengke ako (I grew up in a market). I always use my ‘Quiapo’ smarts to ward off racists and stalkers here. I learned how to make effective sales talk,” Geneveve Zapeda laughs.


The Zapedas had a garment stall at San Jose Public Market in Occidental Mindoro. She and her parents frequented marketplaces in Quiapo, Divisioria and Baclaran in Manila to buy goods.

Growing up in this kind of environment honed Geneveve’s skills in dealing with different kinds of peoples in marketplaces in the Philippines, the Middle East and, finally, America.

She has become the third Filipino to hold one of the most important positions in the health care system in Ventura County, California.

Loved white uniform

Geneveve’s dream was to become a chemical engineer because she wanted to formulate a soap that the Filipinos could use every day. But her father encouraged her to study nursing so she could go to the United States.

But what actually convinced her to study nursing were the students in white uniforms.

After finishing nursing at the Far Eastern University in 1997 and passing the board examination, she worked in several hospitals in the Philippines, including Philippine General Hospital as a Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) nurse.

She realized that wearing white was not that glamorous if you had 10 to 15 patients a day. With a ratio of 1:15, the health of both nurse and the patient is compromised. Malpractices and negligence often result.

Immigrating for job security


In 2003 Geneveve was hired to work in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) in Texas. Her papers were approved in 2005. From Texas she moved to California.

Nursing practice in the US is not a guarantee of quick dollars. For the next six months, Geneveve juggled with two to three jobs to make ends meet and used a car pool. She only had two uniforms, which she washed every other day. While at the SNF, she also started working in Ventura County Hospital as PACU nurse.

After three months, she was able to pass the driver’s license test and finally got her own car. She used to sleep in her car after the night shift, then proceeded to her morning shift.

Geneveve has Public Health Nurse and American Case Management certifications and a master’s in Public Health Administration. She had Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training in leadership skills.

Despite her stellar job performance, discrimination was still inevitable; but Geneveve’s “palengke” wit has helped her a lot. She advises that EQ (emotional quotient) and pakikisama are important to survive in any place.

“I was in LA for a two-day conference. I was the only Filipino. An Italian national told me that nurses from the Philippines are boastful of their US working visa, and other comments,” Geneveve shares.

“During that conference I showed them my worth–intellect, professionalism and leadership style,” Geneveve says.


After acquiring US citizenship, Geneveve petitioned her widowed mother. She doesn’t consider it a hassle to live with an elderly parent who does not work. Her mother is still independent and cooks for her and tends their garden.

Geneveve Zapeda and her mother. CONTRIBUTED

“It is the children’s responsibility to take care of their parents when they can’t take care of themselves anymore. Time management and prioritization are what we need for ourselves and our family,” Geneveve says.


Public health leader


Geneveve since 2013 has worked as the manager of Utilization Management and Social Services of Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC) and its sister facility, Santa Paula Hospital (SPH) since 2013. She is also VCMC representative to the Ventura County Home Health and Skilled Nursing Facility Alliance.

Home Health Agencies and Skilled Nursing Facilities Alliance collaborate with Ventura County Hospital to improve the coordination of care, including medication safety and the management of patients with chronic conditions and behavioral health issues.


Geneveve explains that upon admission, assessments are done by the healthcare team (physicians, discharge planners, social workers and ancillary staff like physical therapy, etc.) not only on the patient, but also the family, or caregiver and other support systems.

It is important that the hospital staff connects the patient to the community available community resources–such as free transportation services for the elderly or disabled, affordable medication for patients with low incomes, chronic care management, etc.–before discharging the patient.

“The family has a significant role in the patient’s recovery. The healthcare team will ensure that the family is willing and capable of doing the treatment plan (provided by the health care team) after discharge. If the family couldn’t take care of the patient, the patient will be discharged to an appropriate post-acute facility,” Geneveve explains.

Since she assumed the position readmission rates have been reduced.


All praises

Matthew Tufte, the chief of operations for nursing at VCMC and SPH, who has worked with Geneveve for seven years, is all praises.

“I did not think of Ms. Zapeda as a foreign worker but as a smart capable nurse with good experience and a lot of potential. She has been the Ventura County representative and lead for the newly created ‘Hospital to Home Alliance’ that has resulted in a decrease in hospital readmissions, proving that she is on the forefront of healthcare innovation.”

Geneveve works only on weekdays. She enjoys driving her mother around and eating out in their favorite restaurants. She continues to hope that the Philippine healthcare system will be improved for the sake of the people and to prevent the mass immigration of healthcare providers.

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TAGS: Health and Wellness, hospitals, MediCal, nurses, Public Health
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