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St. Louis Magazine's Excellence in Nursing Awards 2013

Photography by Matt Marcinkowski

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For the fourth annual Excellence in Nursing Awards, SLM received more than 200 nominations from patients, physicians, and nursing colleagues who wanted to recognize the region’s outstanding nursing professionals. A prestigious selection committee then scored the nominations and chose the finalists. (Note: Health organizations cannot pay to be included.) Finally, SLM asked the 20 winners across 18 categories to share what they’ve learned.

Intensive Care
Mary Mehegan
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
When Children’s Hospital decided in 2008 to create a full-time position to improve oxygen support for patients with severe heart or lung conditions (i.e., an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program coordinator), it chose Mehegan, a longtime cardiac–intensive care staff nurse. Mehegan developed ECMO policies and training, leading the hospital to be named a Center of Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization in 2010. And in her downtime, Mehegan volunteers in third-world countries, helping cardiac surgeons care for young patients.
On Handling Stress: I’m similar to many ICU people: I get through the storm with organized thought and my desire to calm the environment.
Her Advice to Young Nurses: It’s always going to take a while to get comfortable in an ICU setting. You have to be a sponge and soak it all up, lean on your resources, and be open to learning.
The Best Advice She’s Received: Pay attention to your intuition. If you feel like something’s not going right, then investigate it.

Karen Balakas
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
As a full-time nurse researcher at Children’s Hospital, Balakas leads studies on topics such as family resiliency and how extended shifts affect nurses. She also helps build evidence-based practice partnerships, improving treatment by using research, as well as enhancing procedures from stroke screenings to labor and delivery positions.
Her Advice for Patients: Ask your physician if the treatment is evidence-based. Are they using the best research available in combination with the provider’s expertise?
on the importance of research: In the nursing world, when we got our license, we attested to the fact that we would use research as part of our nursing.
The Best Advice She’s Received: Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll learn a lot more.

Kathleen Wallace
Parkway School District
In May 2012, the Missouri General Assembly unanimously passed a proclamation recognizing the importance of school nurses. Wallace, a school nurse at Parkway Central Middle School, had been campaigning for the recognition for six years. “This isn’t the school nursing of 20 years ago,” she says. “We don’t just hand out crackers and Band-Aids. We’re first responders.”
On Change Over Time: I’ve been a pediatric nurse for 28 years and in school the last 12, and I’m seeing a lot more diabetics, asthmatics, children with a whole slew of food allergies—all those are becoming more prevalent.
Her Advice For Students: Eat breakfast. It’s such an important factor at middle-school age. Set your alarm five minutes earlier, and grab a bagel or banana in the morning.

Robert Parker
SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center
Parker, a pediatric oncology/hematology nurse coordinator at Cardinal Glennon, says nursing is in his blood—his grandmother was a nurse for 60 years. Inspired by the St. Jude Telethon, he tried pediatric oncology his last semester in nursing school and has worked in the specialty ever since.
The Best Advice He’s Received: My first year as a nurse, I really bonded with a patient. This little boy had a very aggressive malignancy and ended up dying. That was really hard—it didn’t make sense to me. It was my grandma who told me, “Bobby, if you have the smallest part in taking care of a child and helping them conquer their disease, you’ve done a wonderful thing. But if you have even the smallest part in making the end of a child’s life more peaceful, that’s an equally important job, and you would have done equally good work.”
On Parents Helping Their Sick Children: When the kiddo gets to go home from the hospital, there needs to be as much normalcy as possible. You still have to set some boundaries. We’re going to conquer this, and it would be a real shame if you created a spoiled monster.

Community Care/Ambulatory Care (tie)
Eileen Steiniger
Esse Health
Steiniger comes from a family of nurses: She recalls having tea at Christian Hospital with her mother, a former OB-GYN nurse who worked nights, while in high school. Today, Steiniger often travels to patients’ homes, helping them manage chronic conditions, including depression and diabetes.
On Listening: I take advantage of the fact that nurses are pretty easy to talk to, so I know a lot more details than the physicians do when they’re on a tight schedule.
On the Job’s Rewards: I get more from a patient’s improvement than sometimes I think they do.

Community Care/Ambulatory Care (tie)
Margaret Benz
Saint Louis University School of Nursing
Benz wears more hats than a nurse’s cap at the St. Louis Housing Authority’s Parkview Clinic. Besides caring for people with disabilities and the elderly, the nurse practitioner leads discussions, draws blood, cleans floors… And in her downtime, she volunteers at St. Patrick Center. Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon chose Benz as the first nurse to serve on the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee, and she received the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
On Nurse Practitioners’ Roles: We’re at a turning point in Missouri. We’ve really been behind the curve; as a nurse practitioner, we have a limited scope of practice here in the state. Right now, our state has a lot of people who aren’t getting the healthcare they could if our state would recognize what other states have done and allow us to practice to our full statutory authority.
Her Take-Away: I leave my clinic every day feeling very lucky for what I have.

Acute Care/General Medicine
Linda Black
Washington University School of Medicine
It’s not part of her job description as a staff nurse for urologic-surgery patients, but Black often helps patients in ways beyond the norm: She even purchased socks from Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s gift shop, for instance, for a barefoot patient.
Her Philosophy: It’s really important to me to provide patients with as much dignity and respect as I can. I want to treat every patient like I would want my family member treated.
Her Advice to Patients: Don’t smoke. That’s a big thing in urology, because it’s associated with bladder cancer.
The Best Advice She’s Received: My mother was a nurse—my mom and dad are kind of my heroes. They taught my siblings and me to accept people for who they are. We don’t know everybody’s story…We don’t know what they’re facing.

Emergency Department
Helen Sandkuhl
Saint Louis University Hospital
Sandkuhl has seen a lot over four decades. She’s handled cases in East St. Louis, Ill., and at SLU Hospital, where she’s director of emergency services. She’s volunteered in Bolivia and Haiti, and she’s president-elect of the Missouri Emergency Nurses Association’s St. Louis chapter. She was even saved by her own staff after going into cardiac arrest last June. “All the things I’d tried to instill in them, they gave back to me at a moment’s notice,” she says.
On the Environment: Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all, something new comes in.
On Preventable Emergencies: We spend millions of dollars trying to find cures for rare diseases, and one of the biggest impacts we have should be on preventing violence-related trauma in St. Louis.

Hospice/Home Health/Palliative Care
Benita Austin
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
After three decades as a nurse practitioner—working in oncology, gynecology, and neurology—Austin today provides palliative-care service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She spends hours talking to patients and their families, providing much-needed support as they deal with life-limiting illnesses.

Why She Initially Chose Oncology: I have a family history of cancer. My mother died of ovarian cancer at 32 years old, and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 19 years old. I also had other family members who died of cancer, so I decided I wanted to do oncology. And because I had a personal history with ovarian cancer, I decided to do GYN oncology.
What She Tells Patients: I’m like a bad penny. You can’t get rid of me.
On the Importance of Palliative-Care Teams: The patient loads for most medical teams are so large that they can’t sit down for two hours and talk to a patient and their family… Palliative care is a discipline that’s a wave of the future. The discipline is here to stay.

Medical-Surgical Nursing
Meranda Scherer
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
Scherer’s job as an abdominal-transplant nurse is unpredictable, so she keeps her schedule flexible, and like a Girl Scout, she’s always prepared. She recently won the hospital’s David A. Gee Meritorious Service Award for educating staff about the latest transplant policies and procedures.
The Best Advice She’s Received: You can’t grow a good, hard-working team if there is animosity. I’ve trained all of the staff that’s come in under me to be open and honest, but polite.
Her Pet Peeve: When we take people all the way through transplantation and then you see them back because they haven’t taken their suppression medication or they drink or smoke.
Her Advice For Patients: The small things really take you a long way.

Management/Nurse Executive/Clinical Nurse Leader
Diana Kraus
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
When seconds count, preparation pays off. That’s why Kraus works with colleagues at Children’s Hospital to coordinate trauma care. And Kraus’ work stretches beyond St. Louis: She was dispatched to help after 9/11, and she educates healthcare professionals in small towns across Missouri.
On Reaching Rural Areas: We’re seeing a shift in the way EMS works now. Kids are getting to us more quickly.
Her Advice to Rural Emergency Medical Technicians: We’re used to seeing sick kids, and we get butterflies sometimes. You don’t need to know everything. You just need to have faith in your own assessment skills.
On Working Under Pressure: Just go back to the basics. Don’t freak out that it’s a kid—which can be hard to do. It’s ABC, step by step.

Jacob Kliethermes
Mercy Hospital St. Louis
When Kliethermes started as an orthopedic nursing manager at Mercy Hospital, less than 8 percent of patients went home satisfied. After he introduced a preoperative class that teaches joint-replacement surgery patients about what to expect, not only has patient satisfaction increased, but more patients are signing up for surgery.
The Best Advice He’s Received: Do whatever you can to help as many people as possible.
On Comforting Patients: The words are not the most important part when somebody’s struggling. It’s more about the comfort of having somebody take the time to actually sit down and just put a hand on a knee.
His Secret to maintaining Patient Satisfaction: We treat all of the patients as if they were our grandmas.

Catherine Dill
Missouri Baptist Medical Center
When Dill isn’t helping with premature deliveries, she’s caring for preemies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Always advocating for her tiny patients, she recently convinced a doctor to do an echocardiogram on a newborn with a heart murmur—and they discovered a serious defect. In effect, Dill saved the baby’s life.
On Comforting Patients: I had a dad yesterday, and he was just devastated. He was in tears, and I sat him down and got him something to drink. I found out he was diabetic, so I got him something to eat. Stuff like that means so much.
On Handling Pressure: I try to just stay very focused. My drive home is my relief.
Her Advice For Patients: I reassure parents and try not to let them feel guilty, because they do. You can go by the book and you could still have a premature newborn.

Dana Aronin
Pediatric Care for Kids
After working for more than a decade at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Aronin helped start Pediatric Care for Kids, a clinic in the Central West End that treats children regardless of insurance status or the family's ability to pay.
Her Pet Peeve: Misinformation on vaccines. I have one family that didn’t get their girls immunized until they were about to start school. So for six months, we were giving the girls four to five shots a month to get them caught up. By the third time they came in, the girls would see me and start crying.
The Best Advice She’s Received: You always make the right decision if you look outside yourself and your own needs.

Senior Services
Sister Mary Elizabeth Voss
Mother of Good Counsel Home
When Voss chose her new name as a nun, she chose Mary Elizabeth as a nod to the Biblical story of Mary visiting her elderly cousin Elizabeth when the latter was pregnant with John the Baptist. Now, Voss offers comfort to the elderly as director of nursing at Mother of Good Counsel Home, a skilled nursing-care facility.
Her Pet Peeve: When family doesn’t visit. I would also like to change the perception that this is a place you go to die, because we try to make it a place of life.
On Choosing a Retirement Home: Look at continuity of care. Is there a nurse who will be taking care of Mom or Dad for most of the week? Is the atmosphere peaceful?
The Best Advice She’s Received: Listen to the patient. Get to know them.

Neurology/Psychology/Behavioral Health
Cassandra Ward
Washington University School of Medicine
Ward still remembers how hospital nurses helped her sick aunt years ago, when Ward was growing up. Today, she works with doctors in dementia and neurodegenerative disease, and she has treated foreign dignitaries and princes.

On a Common Problem in her Field: We often won’t see patients until someone has been dealing with a memory-and-thinking issue for quite some time. Caregivers don’t recognize that there is a problem or try to take care of it all themselves.
On Caring for a Relative With Dementia: Start legal and financial planning now. Ask them what life should look like three years down the road. We try to get patients involved in decision-making while they’re still able, so we’re never operating in crisis mode.
Her Advice for Patients: If you don’t use it, you lose it. People with dementia who are socially engaged stay stable the longest.

Women’s Health
Sue Muehling
Missouri Baptist Medical Center
After Muehling had her first child, with the support of a wonderful labor nurse, she decided to become a nurse herself. Then, when the field of lactation consultation emerged, her own struggles with breast-feeding inspired her to help new mothers learn to breast-feed.

A Common Problem Among new Mothers: Lack of knowledge. I educate moms ahead of time about what’s involved in the breast-feeding process. I always say it boils down to commitment and desire.
Her Advice for New Moms: They’re the best one to read their babies. Keeping their babies with them in the hospital allows them to get to know them and respond to the babies’ cues.

Barbara Logue
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
As a staff nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital who cares for cardiothoracic surgical patients (those undergoing heart and lung surgery), Logue enters patients’ lives at a time when they’re most vulnerable. “We are their link to everything,” she says. It’s not a job she takes lightly.
On Why Details Matter: It may not seem important to you that their hair is nice or they have a blanket on, but when the family comes in, those are the things they think of.
On the Small Things: When there’s a change—even a little thing—it means something. I may not know what it means right away, but I need to make sure I notice it. Somewhere it’s going to surface again, and I’m going to understand why it happened or be able to prevent something else from happening.

Educator (tie)
Verna Hendricks-Ferguson
Saint Louis University School of Nursing
Among the nation’s leading experts in pediatric palliative care, Hendricks-Ferguson juggles ongoing research with teaching courses at SLU. Before she became an associate professor at SLU last August, Hendricks-Ferguson developed the first palliative-care course at the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College. A nurse and educator for three decades, she recently won the Oncology Nursing Society’s Pearl Moore “Making a Difference” Emerging Leader Award.
On the Importance of Listening: It’s a struggle for healthcare providers because of increased workload and the nursing shortage. But with proper education, it isn’t hard to be timely and convey sensitivity.
Her Advice to Patients: Always keep a log of questions, so you can be organized and get your questions answered.
The Best Advice She’s Received: Practice in an area you’re especially passionate about. The beauty of nursing is that you can always change that passion and go into another area—the sky’s the limit.

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Apr 27, 2013 04:39 pm
 Posted by  Rev. William P. O'Brien, SJ

Congratulations to all of the recipients, and especially to Sr. Mary Elizabeth Voss, FSGM! Having known Sister for several years, I am delighted but not surprised that the she has received public recognition for her work in senior services. I feel certain that I join Sister in hoping that this award bring more attention both to the Mother of Good Counsel Home, where Sister serves as Director of Nursing, and to the religious community, the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George, to which she belongs.

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