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A retirement party was about to get started for Araceli Cartagena, but the guest of honor was running late.

Cartagena, a nurse at Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, was still tending to a patient, reviewing discharge instructions.

“That’s just the kind of nurse she is,” said Joan Florczyk, a nurse manager at Saint Michael’s. “She’s a tireless professional, a helpful coworker and caring nurse. She never stops.”

Cartagena is retiring after 38 years at Saint Michael’s and St. James, whose employees were transferred to Saint Michael’s when the hospital closed in 2008. Known as Cely, she is one of the longest serving nurses at Saint Michael’s.

Cheryl Hayes, who first started working with Cartagena at St. James and transferred to Saint Michael’s at the same time, said she will miss her longtime colleague on the A7 nursing unit.

“I’m happy for her that she is moving on to retirement, but I’m going to be sad that she is not here with me,” Hayes said. “She is caring, she is giving, she will do whatever she can to help you out. She’s such a team player. She never complains about anything. She takes whatever assignments she has and makes the best of it.”

Jenny Lindo, who also works on the A7 nursing unit, said Cartagena is the epitome of Florence Nightingale, the founder of nursing.

“She is a caring nurse with excellent nursing skills, especially inserting an intravenous line,” Lindo said. “She’s empathetic, sympathetic, a team player and a good friend.”

Nancy Bisco-Flora, the chief nursing officer at Saint Michael’s, called Cartagena a dedicated professional — who was also kind and compassionate.

“She is always goes out of her way to meet the needs of her patients,” Bisco-Flora said. “Throughout the pandemic she was always smiling and helped everyone that needed it. She was an asset to the nursing department and will be truly missed.”

Originally from the Philippines, Cartagena came to the United States to be a nurse. She originally was a pediatric nurse at St. James and later switched to caring for adults.

“I’m going to miss working with my colleagues,” Cartagena said. “I know most of the staff here, especially on A7. We’ve been working together for so long.”

Araceli Cartagena, seated, with her Saint Michael’s Medical Center colleagues who work with her on the A7 nursing unit.