Knopp reflects on long career of helping people in transition

By Bryan Richardson

Monday morning was the start of a new era in Nancy Knopp’s life.

Knopp finished her final days as the director of care management at Mercy Regional Health Center last week after 26 years of working at the hospital.

“It does feel really strange to think I won’t be walking in the front door of this hospital on Monday morning,” she said last week. “After 26 years, you fall into a routine. That’s going to be really difficult to not be around the patients and the families.”

The balloons, flowers and gifts from fellow employees sitting in Knopp’s office on Thursday afternoon made it apparent things were coming to an end.

Knopp said she decided to step down from her position as the social work role in the hospital is being restructured.

Via Christi Health took full ownership of Mercy in February.

“This was a time for me to step aside and let others make those changes,” Knopp said.

Knopp said she never thought she would be comfortable in a hospital work environment.

“I can still remember the smell of the antiseptic as a child from one of my early shots,” she said. “I always felt like I was fearful of all those machines and equipment.”

Knopp started at Saint Mary Hospital in Manhattan in 1988. It and Memorial Hospital both served Manhattan prior to their merger, which formed Mercy in 1996.

Before she took the job, she said her hospital ties were with Memorial Hospital, where she gave birth to three children and she served as president of the Memorial Hospital Auxiliary.

“When the two hospitals merged in the ‘90s, it was real easy to help be a bridge for those two entities,” Knopp said.

Knopp said life as a social worker involved handling patients and their families in times of crisis and transitional periods.

She said this applies to various aspects of the life and death spectrum such as living arrangements, when to stop treatment for a loved one, and adoptions.

“Helping people through emotional support through all those times in their lives from birth to death,” she said. “That’s one of the most remarkable aspects about this work in a hospital environment.”

Knopp said she would look for clues when walking into a patient’s room, anything from books to flowers to cards.

“I work really hard to start with that and figure out where they’re at right now,” she said. “That helps me connect with them.”

Knopp said she knew she wanted to be a social worker as a student at Belleville High School after attending a Methodist mission tour, seeing places like an Indian reservation and home for unwed mothers.

“I didn’t know it was called social work, but I just knew that was the kind of work I wanted to do,” Knopp said.

Knopp said classmates in high school and Kansas State University would feel comfortable enough to open up to her.

“It seemed like people would come to me with their problems,” she said.

Still, Knopp didn’t start out immediately in social work as a student at K-State.

“When I started at K-State, I still didn’t know the words for what I wanted to major in, so I majored in Spanish,” she said. “It was about my sophomore year when I figured that this thing I wanted to do was called social work.”

After graduating in 1974, Knopp’s social work journey took her to working with a young adult male offenders in Topeka, Social and Rehabilitation Services, and K-State human ecology dean’s office.

Her desire to help others also extended to memberships on the Kansas Children’s Service League board and the Manhattan-Ogden school board.

“Social work, I discovered, was just what I hoped,” Knopp said. “It helps people whether you’re in prison or a school setting or a hospital.”

Knopp said social work is all about setting people up with a plan.

“We all need some help from time to time as we transition through life’s changes,” she said. “Social work can be a very important part of that process.”

As for her own transition, Knopp said her future plans involve spending time with her new granddaughter while keeping her eyes and ears open for ways to use her skills.

Just as patients need support, social workers need help for themselves as well.

Knopp said the support of family and friends will help her in the next chapter of her life.

“I have a dear friend in my husband, who is a great listener and sounding board,” she said. “I have many dear friends in our community.

“I’m blessed to have that.”

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