TMH executive and deputy coroner, reflects on her commitment to lifelong learning
July 18, 2011
Years before Beka Warren was born, her family arrived in America with a dream.
Chasing that dream meant sacrifices.
"My dad's family was part of the Black Watch in Scotland, which is a military regimen, for many, many generations," she said. "They gave all that up to come to this country so they could be educated. They left their families. They left their work.
"Therefore, education in my family is a very big deal."
Warren is deputy coroner for Moffat County and chief quality officer for The Memorial Hospital in Craig. Stamped on her TMH nametag are two red letters — RN for registered nurse.
Although becoming a nurse is the result of Warren's childhood dream, that achievement was hardly an endpoint.
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"I'm kind of a school-aholic," she said. "I've been in school every semester pretty much all of my adult life."
Warren holds a doctorate in psychology and degrees in anthropology, ornithology and post-secondary education. She has taken post-graduate studies in death investigation, corporate compliance, law and more.
"People do things to blow off steam or relax," she said. "I study to relax, so I'm always studying. It's a way of life for me."
Warren, 61, was born in Glenwood Springs to Ed and Eileen Prehm, both first-generation Americans.
Before she reached her teenage years, Warren decided what she wanted to do with her life.
"I knew when I was 9, 10 or 11 years old I wanted to be a nurse," she said. "That was always my goal. In fact, I lied about my age when I was 11 so I could get a job in a hospital. I was hired and paid 90 cents an hour to clean utility rooms.
"About two months after I was hired, the head nurse figured out I was only 11 and called my father. I got in a lot of trouble."
Ten years later, in 1971, Warren returned to that same hospital — Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs — immediately after finishing a two-year nursing program at Mesa College, as it was known at the time, in Grand Junction.
Eventually, Warren married, gave birth to two sons and worked various jobs, including at several hospitals in Denver, a county jail, an emergency medical flight company and more.
Warren came to Craig in 1987.
"I love rural areas. I love the sense of community, and I love little hospitals," she said. "I just love them."
Warren first served as a nurse in the emergency department and eventually worked her way up to become a nursing manager.
In 2006, shortly after Chief Executive Officer George Rohrich arrived in Craig, Warren was promoted to chief quality officer.
"Beka is a person of incredible knowledge and intelligence," Rohrich said. "And the goal here was to give her the opportunity, through an executive position, to move quality to the forefront.
"I just decided that I definitely wanted her on the executive team."
Along the way, Warren has continued to collect credentials. Her interest in psychology was informed by her work as deputy coroner. Since 2000, Warren has served under two Moffat County coroners.
In her duties, Warren encounters families dealing with shock and grief. Warren said she tries to find common elements for families to rally around.
"Sometimes what pulls people together when a patient is dying is the family experiences they had, the values they had around that person," she said. "You see this come out in death rituals, like funerals.
"The items that someone chooses to have at a funeral, such as Grandma's knitting, are things the family associates with Grandma and that brings them together to get them through a terrible experience."
Warren acknowledges that such steps may be slight in the grand scope of loss and grief, but they're helpful nonetheless.
"You're not curing. You're not solving those problems for them," she said. "But, if you can help them gather the things that pull them together, to get in a better place faster, why wouldn't we do that?"
Owen Grant, former Moffat County coroner, said Warren takes her deputy responsibilities seriously.
"Beka is great," he said. "She constantly wants to learn. I don't think you could ever satisfy her interest in learning. She gets all the training she possible can, and she's been that way the whole time I've known her."
Currently, Warren is studying historical language.
"I promised myself as a teenager I would study languages some day, and I figured, 'I'd better get that done, because I'm running out of life,'" she said with a laugh.
Despite the numerous degrees, Warren said her early dream of becoming a nurse is still a good fit, even if she spends less time on the patient floor than in the past.
"When you're a nurse, you take care of people. That's your job," she said. "If you're writing policies and making big decisions about what happens at the hospital, that's an appropriate job for a nurse. If it's emptying a bedpan, that's OK, too.
"One thing that would irritate me to death was people would say, 'Are you working as a nurse now?' I would say, 'Am I working as a nurse? No, a nurse is who I am.'"