Filipina nurse gets British Empire Medal for ‘tireless work’ during pandemic

Filipina nurse Minerva “Minnie” Klepacz was awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of her “tireless work to support her colleagues and community” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Klepacz, a matron for ophthalmology, leads the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network of Royal Bournemouth Hospital in Dorset, England. She has been working for the hospital for at least 19 years now. 

She had driven the University Hospitals Dorset National Health Service (UHD NHS) Foundation Trust’s response to provide risk assessments for all BAME staff, and created a wellbeing hub for her staff to take breaks in. (READ: Working with fear and anxiety: Filipino nurses as UK frontliners vs coronavirus)

The UHD NHS Foundation Trust, of which the hospital is a part, mentioned how Klepacz had provided “exceptional support” to the Filipino community outside work, cooking meals for colleagues recovering after being in intensive care, helping others move houses, and organizing virtual community events to offer comfort.

Having lost 11 friends to COVID-19, Klepacz did these in a bid to extend help to those who need it during the pandemic.

“COVID was really challenging, and most hospital staff affected by it came from a BAME background. I had my own worries but I had to put that aside and think, how can I support people, what act of kindness and humanity can I provide. If people need help, then I’ll help them,” Klepacz told UHD NHS Foundation Trust on Saturday, October 10.

According to UHD NHS Foundation Trust, Klepacz “never thought in her wildest dreams” that she’d get the award.

"When I saw an email from the Cabinet Office I was so worried and thought I’d done something wrong. I plucked up the courage to read it again and responded asking if it was a spam email because I just couldn’t believe it. They told me it was true and then rang me to reassure me, I couldn’t believe it," she said.

The British Empire Medal is an award recognizing hands-on service to the local community through long-term charitable or voluntary activity, or innovative work done in 3 to 4 years that has made a significant difference. It is among the honors and awards given by the Queen of the United Kingdom.

The Filipina nurse was only 17 years old when she moved from Manila to England in 2002 to work at Royal Bournemouth Hospital. Since she started working there, Klepacz has been helping overseas and minority ethnic staff settle in the hospital and be content while working there.

Klepacz dedicated the award to all staff from a BAME background.

“This award is not just for me, it’s for everyone who works here and goes above and beyond. As a Filipino, I’d also like to share this award with all staff from a BAME background. I’m truly humbled to work with amazing colleagues. They inspire me and give me confidence," she said.

Since she won’t be able to visit her family, Klepacz will be sending her medal to the Philippines for her family to have.

“I’m going to send my medal home to the Philippines. Growing up, my mum always used to display all our awards prominently in the lounge as she was so proud of us all. As I can’t visit my family right now, it’s only right they have my medal,” Klepacz told the UHD NHS Foundation Trust. –