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Excellence in Nursing Awards 2012

Recognizing the region's healthcare pros

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For the third annual Excellence in Nursing Awards, SLM received more than 250 nominations from patients, physicians, and nursing colleagues who hoped to recognize the region’s top nursing professionals. Our prestigious selection committee then scored the nominees and chose the finalists. (Note: Health organizations cannot pay to be included.) Finally, SLM asked the resulting 21 winners across 18 categories to share just a snapshot of their daily schedules.

See all of the finalists on the next page.


St. Louis VA Medical Center–John Cochran Division
Community Care/Ambulatory Care

David Aldridge has worked with veterans for years, since joining the Air Force in the late ’80s and being honorably discharged in 1995. “I’ve known Tuskegee Airmen, Pearl Harbor survivors, and have met one person or another from almost every major battle in World War II,” he says. “That’s what’s so neat about it—it puts a face to history.”

Three years ago, when the St. Louis VA Medical Center’s dermatology division moved into new clinical offices, Aldridge, a clinical nurse coordinator, worked alongside chief of dermatology Dr. Ian Hornstra to get the clinic up and running. “One of my patients asked me, ‘Is there anything you don’t do here?’” Aldridge says.

His background as an operating-room nurse has also made him the ideal assistant for skin biopsies and Mohs surgery, a technique to remove cancerous cells from the head or neck. He does scheduling, preoperative prep, and surgical-tray setup with the help of two other nurses. Then there are the little things, like helping an elderly patient with his coat, even when the clinic is busy. “Nobody else,” a colleague notes, “would think to do this.”


Missouri Baptist Medical Center
Acute Care/General Medicine

There aren’t many nurses who can coax a laugh from a woman who’s dying of cancer; pull strings to make sure her children can be with her while she’s receiving treatment; and move from that emotional intensity to practical, soothing care for a man feverish with double pneumonia.

Caryn Rosen is a staff and charge nurse at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, on a 72-bed unit where care ranges from acute to palliative. She’s often asked for by name. She’ll go to the ICU to administer chemotherapy to a patient; calm a nervous patient by holding his hand throughout the night; and take time, after a 12-hour shift, to thoroughly and patiently debrief the next shift.

As charge nurse, Rosen’s responsible for making sure there are enough nurses on the floor at all times; she also makes sure that every patient receives the necessary care—physically and emotionally. “My day can be a surprise,” she says. “But I’ve been a nurse for 27 years. I just love helping people.”


Washington University School of Medicine

After three decades of educating people about managing their blood sugar, certified diabetes educator Clare Blackburn started a new chapter in her career: researching ways to prevent patients from having low–blood-sugar episodes. Blackburn worked with colleagues to develop a computer program that alerts nurses via pager when patients are at risk of severe hypoglycemia. The initial results led to a 75 percent drop in such episodes.

“I looked at this as a big adventure,” she says of her work. “It’s all about changing behavior and the minds of healthcare professionals to improve safety.”


SSM St. Clare Health Center
Management/Nurse Executive/Clinical Leader (Tie)

On November 10 of last year, just before dawn, Kelly Pearce showed up in the emergency department of SSM St. Clare Health Center. He was wearing scrubs, not his usual, crisply tailored suit and tie; he didn’t want to waste time rolling up his sleeves. St. Clare had 26 patients crowded into its emergency department and was expecting 14 surgery patients—and the hospital was completely full. Pearce worked all day, coordinating care.

At the time, he was administrative director of nursing operations; he was recently promoted to vice president of operations. He has spent years coaching new leaders, overseeing emergency-preparedness for the entire hospital, coordinating community events, launching an award to recognize outstanding nurses in the SSM Health Care–St. Louis network, and finding ways to unclutter and speed the hospital’s standard procedures. Efficiency comes naturally to Pearce; asked what drives him, he says, “In the end, most of us become a nurse because we enjoy taking care of our patients and seeing them get better. Anytime we can keep them healthy and keep them satisfied, it’s a good thing.”

And so, by 4 p.m. that November afternoon, the nursing team had cared for and discharged 47 patients. By 4:30 p.m., every patient in the emergency department had a private suite.


SSM St. Mary’s Health Center
Management/Nurse Executive/Clinical Leader (Tie)

The presidential search at SSM St. Mary’s Health Center lasted nearly a year, from late 2010 until this past September, when the hospital named Kate Becker its new president. In the meantime, chief nursing officer Patti Kelley served a vital leadership role. A nurse of 25 years, she encouraged teamwork—even beyond the nursing departments. Kelley led by example, often working more than 50 hours a week and being on-call around the clock. The hard work paid off: During that time, the hospital earned some of its highest marks in quality and patient satisfaction; colleagues recognized how “with every step, she conducted herself with grace and gave of her time”; positive letters from patients about outstanding care poured into the hospital.

Given Kelley’s track record, the results weren’t a complete surprise. Since becoming CNO at the 582-bed facility in July 2008, she’s helped to decrease the nursing staff's overtime hours and implemented a patient-care model that’s boosted both patient and staff satisfaction.

Though Kelley no longer cares for patients on a daily basis in her managerial role, she knows the territory: Over time, she has worked as a nurse in OB/GYN, intensive care, and emergency departments at medical centers throughout St. Louis. “I feel very blessed to be where I’m at,” she says. “I have my dream job.”


SSM St. Joseph Health Center
Emergency Department (Tie)

Dave Hoffman’s previous work was the perfect preparation for his nursing job: combat medic, police officer, undercover detective. He knows how to save lives; how to work tightly with a team; how to respond coolly and capably to any situation.

As nurse manager in the emergency department of SSM DePaul Health Center, he kept the staff prepared for the unpredictable.

“DePaul is a Level II trauma center, but we do get a lot of Level I trauma,” he explains. He smoothed the department’s daily operations, coordinating more than 100 employees and making sure their adrenaline always flowed toward patients’ recovery. He readied the staff for sudden influxes of patients and prepped them to respond to disasters of
all kinds.

Last May, when a deadly tornado struck Joplin, he was one of the first SSM nurses to arrive. His experience made him invaluable. For the same reason, he was just appointed director of the emergency department at SSM St. Joseph Health Center.


St. Luke’s Hospital
Emergency Department (Tie)

During a winter ice storm, the emergency room at St. Luke’s Hospital swelled with patients. Jami Jones calmly conducted traffic, serving as triage nurse and bringing order to what was otherwise a chaotic day. A visitor studying the register nurse’s calm demeanor later wrote the hospital, noting, “She was very professional and never panicked. Because of her, I feel even better about my dad being there.”

And when she’s not caring for patients, Jones strives to keep up with the hospital’s latest advances. When there’s an electronic-charting upgrade, for instance, she’s quick to embrace the new forms and figure out a solution for any kinks in the system. She does the same with any new equipment, studying it carefully so she’ll be prepared when it matters most.


Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital

When Janet Kaminsky first became a nurse, while working in the emergency department, she would begin researching any time she was confronted with an unfamiliar situation. She’d then pass along her findings to other nurses. Kaminsky just “felt an internal drive to learn about things,” she says.

Rather than teach in a traditional setting, though, her skills translated elsewhere. She developed staff orientation for nurses and created emergency-room discharge instructions. Today, as manager of professional practice at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, she conveys the latest information about infection control, wound care, and diabetes. Besides teaching classes, she helps create protocols for things like restraining patients and handling sleep apnea.

Kaminsky’s spare time is no different. A member of the Missouri Emergency Nurses Association, she’s taught nurses across the state, leading classes on everything from basic life support to emergency nursing pediatric courses (which explains why she’s holding a pint-size mannequin, used during training classes, in the photo). “When you’re educating and you’re able to share information and knowledge,” Kaminsky says, “it can really impact other nurses’ practices.”


SLUCare, Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Neurology/Psychology/Behavioral Health

Years ago, when Eve Marie Holzemer worked in critical care, she cared for a 24-year-old mother with a severe stroke who had given birth just weeks earlier. The patient was on a ventilator, in critical condition. When nothing seemed to help, Holzemer proposed that the new mother’s husband record their newborn’s cries and noises, then play the recordings for the mother. Holzemer also fought to allow the baby to be there after visiting hours.

Today, such passion remains for Holzemer, an assistant professor of neurology who sees stroke patients in clinic. Beyond clinic work and research,  Holzemer still finds time to teach new nurses. “I’m not happy if my hair isn’t on fire,” she says, “and I’m not going 900 miles hour.”


St. Luke’s Hospital
Women’s Health

While the majority of Michelle Taylor’s days at St. Luke’s Hospital are spent caring for women who have just brought a new life into the world, at times she is faced with the grim prospect of death.

Taylor, who previously worked as a hospice nurse, sometimes must care for new mothers who’ve just lost their child. In some instances, the parents just want to hold the deceased child and work through their grief. Taylor recalls one case in which the mother and father needed extra time with their baby. “I told them, ‘When you are done holding your baby, just let me know,’” she says.

Taylor’s compassion and sense of humor sometimes help in otherwise dire moments. “Michelle made me laugh, even at my worst,” one patient says.

In another instance, Taylor cared for a new mother with cancer. During the woman’s illness, Taylor later visited the patient at another hospital. After the woman died, the patient’s grandmother wrote, “The world needs more nurses like her. She laughed with me over the new baby and cried with me over the loss of my granddaughter. She is such a caring, beautiful person.”


SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center
Pediatrics (Non-Neonatal) (Tie)

When a baby was diagnosed with complex congenital heart disease before birth at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, Barbara Kountzman counseled the parents about what to expect. The registered nurse kept in touch throughout the pregnancy, giving out her cellphone and pager numbers. After the boy was born, he grew critically ill and was placed on a heart-lung machine. Kountzman stayed late day after day to care for the child and support the parents. Within two weeks of undergoing cardiac surgery, the boy went home in his parents’ arms—with Kountzman at their side on the way out.

“I become very close to the families, and they become close to me,” she says. “I’m privileged to do what I do.”


Washington University School of Medicine
Pediatrics (Non-Neonatal) (Tie)

Laura Kuchnicki knows serious illness personally. The Graves’ disease survivor had surgery on both eyes and bone removed from her skull. “It was terrifying,” she recalls. “It definitely makes you think harder about how vulnerable you feel and how the parents of a sick child feel.”

The clinical nurse coordinator works with children who have seizures, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological issues. About 30 parents call each day with questions, worries, insurance concerns, or just for reassurance. “It becomes my personal mission to see that they get what they need,”
Kuchnicki says.

A foster parent, Kuchnicki has a big heart, which led her to adopt two ill-treated babies. It’s cliché, she says, but she just loves children.

“To find one whose skills match their heart is truly a rarity,” says Dr. Kelvin Yamada, a pediatric neurologist. “She embodies what we all want in the ones that care for our loved ones.”


Missouri Baptist Medical Center
Hospice/Home Health/Palliative Care

When a middle-aged man recently suffered cardiac arrest, it took more than 50 minutes to restart his heart. Afterward, he remained unresponsive. The patient’s wife and daughter stayed next to his bedside, knowing he’d just been playing with his grandchildren days earlier. As the family endured a flurry of emotions, Vicki Boehmer helped them through the process.

A palliative-care specialist at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Boehmer often deals with life and death. She takes a holistic approach to her job, noting how patients are coping psychologically and spiritually. She helps patients and families develop goals and realistic care plans. “Because we’re able to offer the support that patients who have chronic illness need,” Boehmer says, “it’s a rewarding part of the position.”


Washington University School of Medicine

Christine Rimkus thrives on variety. Some days, she focuses on caring for patients receiving cancer treatments. Other days, she educates nurses about oncology care.

“I like being able to do a little bit of everything,” she says. “It’s crazy, but it does feed my passion for this.”

Among her many responsibilities as a clinical nurse specialist, though, Rimkus most enjoys caring for patients, many of whom are dealing with cancer. “Even though people will say to me, ‘Oh gosh, how depressing,’ I disagree,” she says. “A lot of people die, but more people live…

“The majority of the people are resilient and trying to live with something very difficult. If we can help people at the hardest time of their lives, isn’t that great?”


Barnes-Jewish Hospital
Intensive Care

After a young man was admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s intensive-care unit following a motor-vehicle accident, Carrie Sona made room for the patient’s parents to be at his side. Knowing these could be their final moments together, she encouraged the mother and father to spend time with their son. When he passed away soon thereafter, the parents were grateful for Sona’s compassion.

Currently, in her never-ending quest to improve patient outcomes, Sona is working to reduce the number of medical device–related pressure ulcers in the ICU. It’s a process that takes patience and determination.

“It takes a long time to make effective change,” she says. “You have to be patient, and you have to be dogged in your passion for something.”


Washington University School of Medicine

Surgery days are long for Madelyn Curry, nurse coordinator for Dr. John Clohisy. Her day starts at 6 a.m. and doesn’t end until at least 7 p.m., after she’s checked on more than a half dozen patients recovering from orthopedic surgery.

“I get to know every surgical patient pre- and postoperatively,” says the nurse coordinator, who also serves as a first assistant during surgeries “That’s very important to me, so I get a personal bond with them.”

For instance, when a 60-year-old high-school P.E. teacher developed an infection after a total hip replacement and was faced with another surgery and eight more months of recovery, he broke down in tears. Once Curry consoled him, he went through with the surgery—and was happy and working full-time when he returned a year later.

Though she admits her level of involvement is “a bit over the top,” Curry finds it essential. “People are anxious, and they have fear of the unknown,” she says. “It’s important to build that trust and just makes people feel more comfortable.”


St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Pediatrics (Neonatal)

Barbara Gavillet wanted to find one more way to prevent premature babies from getting sick. So she focused on avoiding bacterial infections when a nurse changes intravenous lines (with up to 20 lines per baby). After researching the issue, visiting other NICUs throughout the nation and networking with other health-care professionals, Gavillet advocated that nurses at St. Louis Children’s Hospital change IV lines only once a day.

Since implementing the change, the hospital has noticed a significant impact: The number of neonatal infections at the hospital has dropped from 65 annually to 10. Still, Gavillet isn’t completely satisfied;
her goal is zero.

“It’s more work for the staff, but I’m on the front line with them,” says Gavillet, an NICU central line management nurse. “I know what it’s like and what it takes to do the job.

“The nurses have taken ownership of it and do everything they can to keep babies from getting sick,” she adds. “Every day, we are helping families and helping babies get well.”


Ralph M. Captain Elementary School, School District of Clayton

While most people are grabbing a late breakfast at 10 a.m., Karen Obermark is eating lunch. Why? So she can be available to treat students during lunch hours and recess at Ralph M. Captain Elementary School. The registered nurse also stocks up on crackers for those who missed breakfast or need a midmorning snack. And when a student is injured during recess, Obermark not only administers any needed medical treatment, but also inquires about how the injury occurred so she can pass along the information to the school counselor or principal if necessary.

“I really have my antenna up for kids who are struggling,” she says. “I’m just trying to save them, one child at a time.”

Her effort is arduous. For instance, she tests one diabetic fourth-grader’s blood-sugar levels three times a day, and brings his lunch tray to her office to count his carbohydrates.

“Other nurses do it, too,” Obermark says of her efforts. “I think people don’t really realize how much goes into making things work.”


Nurses & Company
Senior Services

Caring for seniors can take patience, and Jeff Kannady has loads of it. The home-health nurse takes the time to really listen to his patients and explain what’s happening if they’re sick, how to take their medication, or maybe even hear a dying wish.

That was the case with a 57-year-old heart patient who wanted a photo taken with her 14-year-old son, so he could remember her. Kannady arranged for a fellow staff member to fix her hair and makeup and brought in a professional photographer. “Jeff provided this patient’s son with a memory that will last forever,” says his supervisor, Jean Weber.

Kannady literally goes the extra mile. When a patient needed a scooter to get around, Kannady could be seen zipping up and down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, test-driving different models. “He never made me feel like a bother or a waste of his time,” one heart patient recalls. “Not only was he my nurse, but I made a friend.”


Christian Hospital

After 40 years, nursing could get routine, but not for Faye Williams, an ambulatory surgery staff nurse at Christian Hospital. She takes as much time as patients need to explain procedures. Such care and willingness to listen have a big impact.

One breast-cancer patient who was enraged about having to undergo a second surgery, for instance, was “extremely hostile.” Yet Williams didn’t give up. “She started to cry,” recalls Williams. “To her, cancer was a death sentence. I was able to help her process the anger and grieve.”

After the patient’s mastectomy, Williams did something she rarely does: She gave the patient her home phone number. As they continued to talk, the woman healed emotionally and physically. “She came back a completely different person at her six-month checkup,” says Williams. “That was deeply fulfilling to me.”


Barnes-Jewish Hospital

When caring for a critically ill patient from her native Philippines who was experiencing end-stage heart failure, staff nurse Rosario Nievera explained to the family what was happening in their native tongue. It became clear that the patient was dying, so Nievera helped him make handprints for his grieving family, on which she wrote his given name and Filipino nickname.

Known as “Cheri” to co-workers, Nievera often serves as a preceptor, training new nurses about the ins and outs of working at Barnes-Jewish—as well as how to care for patients and their families with compassion and respect. One young nurse recently told a colleague, “You know, Cheri’s taught me how to be a nurse. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Working in the cardiovascular intensive-care unit, Nievera sees a lot of critical cases, including those who have undergone heart or lung transplants or coronary artery bypass surgery, but she always includes the family in her care plan. “Knowing that the family likes you and trusts you being the nurse, it’s a very good feeling,” she says.


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