For Lito and Lucita Casilang and their daughter Sandra Gruenig, Rapid City is very different from their native Philippines 7,500 miles away. The food, the culture, the weather — especially the weather — are different.
But what is not different is that hospital patients need to receive health care with skill and compassion. The family’s hard work and attention to detail has attracted the attention of patients and staff.
All three family members work at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital. Sandra is a Registered Nurse in the Float Pool. Lito is a Nurse Aide in the
Progressive Care Unit. Lucita is a Nurse Aide in the Inpatient Oncology Unit.
In August 2021, Sandra received the hospital’s DAISY Award for RNs who go above and beyond in patient care. In January 2023, Lito received the TULIP Award honoring support staff who make a difference in the lives of patients and families. And Lucita received employee of the month honors in her oncology unit.
Sandra believes that the family’s awards could be due in part to the Philippines’ culture, which emphasizes extended family and care for others.
“I know when a person loves his job. Lito goes out of his way to clean and to ensure everything that needs to be done is taken care of.”
- Tulip Award nominator
“We do not have nursing homes and assisted living in the Philippines. We take care of our families at home,” Sandra said. “And when you say family in the Philippines, you don’t mean just your mom and your dad. It’s your aunts, your nieces, your cousins.”
Marriage brought Sandra to Rapid City in 2015. Two years later, she began work as a nurse aide while attending nursing school. She graduated in 2020 and became an RN. Her class was the first group of new nurses to start their careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After achieving citizenship, Sandra filed a petition to bring her parents to the United States. Neither had a health care background. Lucita had a small business in the Philippines, and Lito, who studied law in the Philippines, was working as a security officer and sometimes bodyguard at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
“When I came here, I was thinking of a job maybe in security or cleaning. I did not think I would be employed as a nurse aide,” Lito said. He admits he was a little intimidated by the idea of patient care at first. “As a security officer or a bodyguard, for example, you will just look around for a suspicious person. And that's it,” he said. “As a nurse aide, you will go into the room and take care of the patient.”
One of the patients who nominated Lito for the TULIP Award wrote: “I know when a person loves his job. Lito goes out of his way to clean and to ensure everything that needs to be done is taken care of.”
Lucita, who started work as a nurse aide in July 2022, said she also loves her job, even though it can be difficult working in inpatient oncology. Some of the hospital’s sickest patients are treated there. And she still is trying to adjust to South Dakota’s winters.
Two more members of the Casilang family, Sandra’s brother and sister, are still in the Philippines. Lucita said they hope to bring them to the United States as well.
Written by Dan Daly
Photos by Bob Slocum