Meet James Pottebaum, our OEAA Central Winner

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They refer to him as a gentle giant. Standing at nearly 7 feet tall, it’s not difficult to see why. Watching him interact with patients and staff, it’s all the more clear.

James Pottebaum is a rehabilitation nursing tech at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Cincinnati. He is also the company’s 2021 Outstanding Employee Achievement Award winner for its Central region. Though his height may be intimidating, he’s anything but when it comes to his interactions with patients and staff while serving on the night shift.

“We’re very fortunate to have James on the Cincinnati team,” said CEO Rob Murphy. “I think in our careers and jobs, we all strive to find something we love. James has found that in healthcare. He has a true passion for his patients, and he’s a wonderful coworker. He just does an outstanding job for us.”

Finding His Calling

Pottebaum wasn’t familiar with inpatient rehabilitation or Encompass Health when the hospital opened in Cincinnati, but he remembers being intrigued.

“At first, I didn’t really know what it was, but then I realized it’s rehabilitation for a lot of people who really need it,” he said. “It’s for people with strokes, heart failure … so many different types of patients. I think that’s why I love working here. I saw this building being built, and it was like the universe said you need to work here.”

While Pottebaum started his healthcare career working with children with autism, he said he’s found his calling in rehabilitation. He connects with the older patient population. “I think I’m just an old soul,” he said. He also enjoys finding small ways to help those who might be feeling lonely or down.

Serving with a Smile and a Song

Working on the night shift can be a quiet time for patients and staff, but Pottebaum said it can also be a lonely time, especially after visitors leave.

He makes it his goal to see that all call lights are answered as quickly as possible, and that no patient is left feeling sad or lonely on his watch.

“I feel like my gifts and skills are really utilized best at night,” he said. “We have our fair share of lonely patients. When I encounter those patients it breaks my heart, so I do what I can to make them feel better. I let them know that they are loved, and that they are rehabbing to get better, to go home.”

Pottebaum makes it a point to come to work with a smile, and he’s often heard singing to patients as he makes his rounds.

Miata Bailey was one of those patients experiencing loneliness when she was at Encompass Health Cincinnati on the Fourth of July.

“It was depressing because I couldn’t expect to have my family stay here with me all day,” she recalled. “James made sure I was able to see the fireworks. He pushed us to the window, so we could watch. That’s just what he does. He makes the best out of every situation. The first day I met him, I loved him. He’s a sweetheart, and he’s always singing. If he had a problem outside of work, you would never know it.”

Caring for His Coworkers

Once his patients are soundly sleeping and all call lights are answered, Pottebaum makes it his priority to make the morning run as smoothly as possible for his coworkers.

“At the end of my shift, I make sure all the trash is taken out and the unit is cleaned and looking good,” he said. “I make sure all the patients are checked and changed if needed and that everyone is clean. I just want to do my best to make sure the day shift runs smoothly.”

His efforts and cheerful attitude don’t go unnoticed by his counterparts on the day shift. Sharee Lewis, nursing manager, said they always know when Pottebaum has been working the night before.

“He cares not just about his patients but about his fellow coworkers, his manager and nursing supervisors,” she said. “If he sees you’re having a bad day, he’s like, ‘are you OK; can I help?’ I just adore him. He’s just a really good person.”