Billye Tollackson

Billye Tollackson, Chelan County Regional Justice Center healthcare manager, works on a patient’s toe on May 9.

WENATCHEE — For Billye Tollackson, working as a nurse at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center has meant seeing medical things she didn’t even know were possible.

“There are things I’ve seen here that I never even imagined could happen, let alone I would apart of it,” Tollackson said. “Let alone figure out how to treat it.”

Self-mutilations, strokes, psychotic breakdowns, suicide attempts, she’s seen it all, she said.

Jail Healthcare Manger Billye Tollackson received the North Central Washington Nurse of the Year award for excellence in volunteerism. She is the jail’s lead nurse and has worked there for 17 years. She received her associate’s degree in nursing from Wenatchee Valley Community College in 2001 and is a registered nurse

It is the first time a nurse at the jail has received this award, said Laura Gaukroger-Holland, North Central Washington Nurse Week Committee treasurer.

Tollackson said she took the job because she wanted to get involved with mental health. But she’s stayed in the position because of the opportunity to work with law enforcement and encounter unique medical situations.

“Your assessment skills here are top-notch because you’re not drawing from all these different departments and you’re not putting (patients) on all these different machines,” she said.

Jail Director Bill Larson said in his nominating application for Tollackson that she provides incredible work ethic, professional competency, teamwork and leadership.

Tollackson said a typical day at work involves figuring out what happened the night before, checking medical requests and processing new inmates. The day a Wenatchee World reporter interviewed Tollackson, an inmate had been punched in the face over a game of cards. He was taken to Central Washington Hospital and received stitches.

“Like this individual came in last night, he’s one of our regulars,” Tollackson said. “He is a chronic alcoholic. So I have to check has he been started on alcohol withdrawal protocol and, if he hasn’t, that needs to be done ASAP.”

The jail is often the only healthcare many individuals ever see, she said. So she knows her patients most likely have not taken their medication, for things like heart problems, since the last time they were in custody.

It’s a tough job that requires Tollackson to work a lot of overtime, she said. She sometimes gets calls at 3 a.m. to deal with issues.

“I got a call last night while I had my girls in the bath,” she said. “And that’s okay, it’s what I do here.”

Even her husband has asked why she doesn’t change jobs, Tollackson said. But she loves what she does, the variety and the opportunities it presents.

“I had a surgeon, really a local doctor here in town,” she said. “He found out I was nurse and he asked me, ‘Where do you work?’ And I said, ‘I work at the Chelan County Jail.’ And he said, ‘Oh well, you know what, you got to start somewhere.’”

Tollackson said she “giggled” in response to the doctor. It’s how the community thinks about the jail. It’s somewhere people go before they move to someplace bigger, but not for her.

Environment, county and health reporter

Tony Buhr has been a professional reporter for almost seven years. He worked for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin as a cops and courts reporter. The Ellensburg Daily Records as a cops and courts, breaking news, agriculture and water reporter.