Nurses of Note Awards 2021: Week Four

 

PerfectServe’s Nurses of Note awards program focuses on the many nurses who deserve recognition for the dedication, sacrifice, and resilience they bring to work every day. For the inaugural Nurses of Note Awards, we have the privilege of highlighting a new level of commitment, strength, and integrity in nurses from around the country who have battled on the front lines of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

The actions of this diverse group of nurses highlight the extraordinary among us. Their stories give us a glimpse into the unique ways our nurses have fought this pandemic and made a difference in the lives of their patients and the communities they serve. Out of hundreds of nominations, we selected three nurses and one team of providers to spotlight as recipients of this award.

Honoree 4: Chief Operating Officer Erica Johnson and the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, Hampton Roads Community Health Center (Portsmouth, VA)

Erica Johnson and her team at the Hampton Roads Community Health Center (HRCHC) are not just nurses—they are educators, community liaisons, and friends to the people of Portsmouth, VA. This team of five nurses, dubbed the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, worked with unwavering resolve to serve the underserved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Their names are Nicol Franklin, LPN; Daira Person, MA; Lawona Smith, RN, BSN; and Shaye Spellman, LPN. As Chief Operating Officer, Erica (who has been with HRCHC for 14 years) is the spokesperson for the team and shared how the facility had to adapt to continue providing the quality care they always strive for.

HRCHC is a federally funded, non-profit care center. Erica and her team serve an underserved population and pride themselves on being a “one-stop-shop” for “cradle to grave” care for those who would not normally have routine, accessible healthcare resources. As early as March 2020, the HRCHC was one of the first testing sites in the area for COVID-19. Dr. Vladimir Markovic, HRCHC’s Chief Medical Officer, implemented the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team, and Erica led the team through 11- to 12-hour shifts, sometimes five to six days a week. The team updated their COVID-19 policies every weekend, adjusting to keep pace with the rapid flow of information and new understanding about the virus.

As a community health center, HRCHC couldn’t afford to stop primary and general care—the needs of the community didn’t cease to exist simply because COVID-19 was around. Erica and her team were able to continue seeing regular patients thanks to their rigorous attention to detail with infection control best practices. They were able to screen people and see regular patients as well as provide triage care over the phone. Amazingly, they had no in-house COVID infections thanks to their diligence.

As soon as the vaccine became available, HRCHC was one of the first vaccination locations in the area. But, as you might expect, they didn’t stop at just vaccinating those who came to their center—they also provided transportation to the clinic. They carried out community outreach and education about vaccination for those who were scared or nervous. Erica and her team acted as community liaisons, taking federal updates and translating them to make them more digestible for the people they serve. Erica’s team prioritized their outreach to the most vulnerable, striving to educate and encourage conversations about vaccination to alleviate hesitancy among their patients.

The Hampton Roads Community Health Center’s nominator wrote this about Erica and her team: “The due diligence and resiliency of HRCHC’s COVID-19 nursing team are undeniable, as they continue to be a living embodiment of our mission: serving as frontline, healthcare safety net professionals, delivering much-needed, accessible, quality healthcare to tens of thousands throughout the Hampton Roads region.”

What is one positive thing you and your team learned from COVID-19?

The team learned the value of talking and listening to people; in a pandemic, every vulnerability, every concern—everything was heightened. Heightened apprehension, depression, and anxiety. It made every word that everyone said potentially critical. We also learned that creating a learning environment is important. We realized that nobody knows anything when we’re supposed to know everything!

What was your team’s outreach strategy to encourage vaccination?

The most significant thing we’re doing is asking, “Why?” Everyone has their own reason for being skeptical. We approached the vaccines from an unbiased point of view and encouraged conversations around it. Once we talked to people about the vaccine and why it works in general terms, then we’d ask, “So do you want the vaccine?”

If you had to think of a word to describe the work your team has done during the pandemic, what would your work be?

Relentless … resilient. There have been so many challenges and barriers where we could have stopped. But for so many people, we are the only healthcare outlet they have. We couldn’t stop. We had to persevere.

What is your advice for new nurses coming into the field?

Do not expect anything particular; appreciate everything that happens, even the challenges. There’s no facet of healthcare that can’t utilize nursing in some capacity. Be open to different experiences. All of your patients are important, everyone is valuable, and everyone has something that makes them unique. Even COVID has made us stronger providers and practitioners of caring and healing. Always focus on the healing component of nursing.

Thank you, Erica, and the COVID-19 Vaccination Nursing Team at Hampton Roads Community Health Center!

Erica, your team’s service to the Portsmouth community has been impressive, honorable, and inspiring. Thank you for your dedication to underserved communities and for leading a relentless and resilient team!

Read the Full Winners List

Nurses of Note Awards 2021: Week Three

 

PerfectServe’s Nurses of Note awards program focuses on the many nurses who deserve recognition for the dedication, sacrifice, and resilience they bring to work every day. For the inaugural Nurses of Note Awards, we have the privilege of highlighting a new level of commitment, strength, and integrity in nurses from around the country who have battled on the front lines of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

The actions of this diverse group of nurses highlight the extraordinary among us. Their stories give us a glimpse into the unique ways our nurses have fought this pandemic and made a difference in the lives of their patients and the communities they serve. Out of hundreds of nominations, we selected three nurses and one team of providers to spotlight as recipients of this award.

Honoree 3: Missam “Sam” Merchant, MBA, BSN, RN, CCRN, PCCN, RN-BC, NE-BC; Hospital Supervisor for University Health System (San Antonio, TX)

Missam Merchant—who goes by Sam—wanted to be a doctor at a young age. His family could not afford that educational path, but Sam still found his way to a career in healthcare; nurses were needed in the United States, so his family agreed that nursing school would be his best bet. In school, he realized he could change the world by helping one person at a time, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Sam’s nominator described him as someone who shows humanity to every patient regardless of identity or background. He started to appreciate the impact he could have on the lives of others after providing care for a homeless man facing diabetic complications during nursing school. Since that moment, Sam has been utterly dedicated to helping his community and those who are underserved. In the past two years, he spearheaded many campaigns and fundraisers that provided donations for the homeless. He has conducted fundraising to the tune of more than $16,000 for blankets, hygiene kits, and more to support the homeless population and many shelters in San Antonio.

Even though it’s not what drives him, Sam is no stranger to recognition for the services he provides to his patients and coworkers—he has received many awards for his work. To name a few: The Weezie’s Angel Healthcare Hero Award, Best 25 Nurses of South Central Texas, and the 20 for 2020 Nurse Award (given by the Texas Nursing Association). As a leader, speaker, coach, and mentor, Sam is also a major proponent of higher learning and continued education.

Even with the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, Sam was still able to help launch the San Antonio Indian Nurses Association (SAINA), a not-for-profit organization with over 300 nurse members intended to serve as “a professional body and resource for all licensed professional nurses of Indian descent/origin and heritage” in the United States. In fact, in the past year alone, he has given speeches, served as a mentor, submitted journals for publication, and founded not one, but two organizations. He also works to give free certifications to nurses in leadership and professional development (he’s taught 17 classes this year), equipping them with the training needed to move the needle on healthcare and education policy at the county and state levels.

A true advocate for diversity in nursing, education, and leadership, Sam is active in many diversity-centered associations and boards. He serves as president for SAINA, director for the Asian American Alliance of San Antonio (AAASA), is a member of the governing board for the National Association of Indian Nurses of America (NAINA), and is involved with many others. Sam provides safe and educational forums for nurses to collaborate on practices and how to best serve their communities.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

Nursing fell into my lap in India in 2003. I had a light bulb moment when I took care of a homeless patient who suffered from severe diabetes and had not received foot care for a year. I treated this patient, and at the end of the procedure, he gave me 10 rupees—the equivalent of about 14 cents. I realized how much impact I had on this one patient, who felt cared for and loved and was willing to give me his most valuable possession in return. 15 years later, I am proud and humbled to be a nurse who can continue to make a difference in patients’ lives.

What’s one piece of advice for nursing students entering the field?

Right from the beginning of your career, find a mentor who you can trust. The mentor will help you see things that you cannot see for yourself and will help to motivate you through feelings of burnout. Nursing is not easy; it requires ongoing learning, hard work, commitment, and selfless service.

What would you like to see change for nursing in the future?

The future of nursing is bright. Nurses are fighting for safe staffing, better access to care, and a healthy environment—both for themselves and for their patients. I want to see two things in the future of nursing: greater diversity and leadership. Diversity, equity, and leadership in nursing is the key to sustainability. The ability to compassionately care for our communities is the wave of the future.

How do you combat burnout in your professional life?

Burnout is real, but it’s seldom addressed by leadership and often ignored by nurses themselves. It then manifests itself in poor care, poor relationships, and broken homes. There are three levels to curbing personal and group burnout: Organization, microsystem, and personal. The organization level is a commitment from senior management to acknowledge burnout and put prevention measures in place. The microsystem level focuses on your team and team leader understanding workflow as a whole—how that workflow can lead to burnout when not managed well or when things are not adjusted when needed. This level can be managed by staffing correctly, promoting teamwork, creating acuity plans, and other leadership and organizational work. The personal level is an inward look at being mindful of when we are feeling burnout. Know the signs your body gives, know how to take mental health breaks, and know how to separate work and home life.

What’s your passion outside of nursing?

Working for non-profit organizations and impacting lives. I have been involved with various non-nursing organizations that are involved in early childhood education, alliance for minorities, and others. These organizations have made a big impact on my community.

If you had to pick one song that describes you as a nurse, what would it be?

“Firework” by Katy Perry. I am a nurse that believes in empowerment; inspiring the next generation of nurses to not give up and to push through to make a difference. Everyone is unique, and everyone needs to be able to shine in nursing and life.

Thank you, Sam!

Sam, through your commitment and dedication, you certainly light up other peoples’ lives—just like a firework. Thank you for your continued service to your patients, your fellow nurses, and your community, and congratulations for being named a 2021 Nurse of Note.

Read the Full Winners List

Nurses of Note Awards 2021: Week Two

 

PerfectServe’s Nurses of Note awards program focuses on the many nurses who deserve recognition for the dedication, sacrifice, and resilience they bring to work every day. For the inaugural Nurses of Note Awards, we have the privilege of highlighting a new level of commitment, strength, and integrity in nurses from around the country who have battled on the front lines of the still-raging coronavirus pandemic.

The actions of this diverse group of nurses highlight the extraordinary among us. Their stories give us a glimpse into the unique ways our nurses have fought this pandemic and made a difference in the lives of their patients and the communities they serve. Out of hundreds of nominations, we selected three nurses and one team of providers to spotlight as recipients of this award.

Honoree 2: Vera Hall, SVP/Chief Nursing Executive for St. Elizabeth Healthcare (Cincinnati, OH Area)

In the fourth grade, Vera Hall wrote that nursing was her dream profession. Her older sister told wonderful stories about her time in nursing school, and it made Vera want to help people in their time of need. As it turns out, that dream never faded. Vera now serves as the SVP and Chief Nursing Executive at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in the Cincinnati area, and she has amassed more than 26 years of experience in the field.

Vera’s service throughout the pandemic can best be described as proactive, innovative, and transparent. Before the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was fully realized, Vera took immediate and strategic action to designate one of the five St. Elizabeth Healthcare facilities as a COVID-19 facility. She then worked vigilantly with supply and management teams to purchase 30 HEPA filter fans and to convert over 160 patient rooms to negative pressure rooms.

Vera’s perceptive planning didn’t stop there. She deployed the Infectious Disease Response Team (IDRT) to provide comprehensive care for patients with COVID-19, protecting both patients and healthcare workers. She then expanded the IDRT team from 50 to 400 associates—an 800% increase—when the pandemic continued to intensify.

To protect the jobs of many coworkers, Vera also implemented a Surge Staffing office, placing associates and healthcare workers where additional staff were needed instead of furloughing them or eliminating their jobs. Workers were able to call Vera’s Surge Staffing office to receive shifts and help alleviate some of the pressure caused by high case numbers. Due to Vera’s novel and proactive approach, no St. Elizabeth associate was furloughed or laid off.

Vera collaborated with many local health departments, colleges, educators, healthcare facilities, and others during the height of the pandemic and as vaccines became available. Innovative solutions during times of peak case numbers included manual proning beds for improved oxygenation of patients, iPads for patient communication with families, cameras in rooms for remote patient monitoring, and expanded telemetry monitoring capacity as need arose. Vera also worked to onboard 33 retired nurses to assist with vaccinating the public.

Vera has been intensely dedicated to her facility and team during the pandemic. She visited nursing units day and night to provide much-needed support for nurses and other staff. Vera made sure to provide timely COVID-19 communication to keep all St. Elizabeth associates safe and informed over the past 14 months, and she continues to do so today.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

In the fourth grade, I had a class assignment to write an autobiography that included my dream profession; I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a nurse. My sister was in nursing school, and I had always looked up to her; hearing her stories and experiences really inspired me. I wanted to help people in their time of need and make their patient experience as personal as possible. I followed this career pursuit and have never looked back. This career has been an absolute blessing to both me and my family.

What’s one piece of advice for nursing students entering the field?

First and foremost, embrace every moment and experience. Some days will feel longer than others. No matter what type of day or challenge you have, there will always be something new to learn. Nurses are trusted, valued members of the healthcare team, and this has never been more evident than it is today. Your success will continue to grow as you remain open to new experiences and new ways of doing things. Support your peers who are entering the profession, prioritize your health and wellness, and above all, always remember why you decided to become a nurse!

What would you like to see change for nursing in the future?

Even prior to the pandemic, demands in the nursing profession had intensified due to a high volume of nurses retiring in the last decade and a patient population that is more and more composed of aging individuals. In addition, we’re experiencing physician shortage nationwide. We are seeing nurse practitioners practicing independently in a greater capacity. That said, we need to continue to offer more nursing education options—whether that be online or for specialized areas of nursing—so that these growing healthcare demands can be satisfied.

How do you combat burnout in your professional life?

As a young nurse leader, I was not the best example of managing a work-life balance. I eventually learned to leave work at work so I could fully embrace my life outside of it. I value time with my husband and family, though at times work crosses over into my personal life (especially over this past year). I have been doing a better job of disconnecting; whether it be through travel or simply reading a book, I can allow my mind to rest, which is the best way I can manage burnout.

What’s your passion outside of nursing?

I absolutely love the beach—it’s always on the top of my travel list. The laid-back atmosphere, smells of the water and air, and beautiful natural sights and scenery; the overall environment is so relaxing.

If you had to pick one song that describes you as a nurse, what would it be?

The song “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson Five!

Thank you, Vera!

Vera’s nominator described her as someone who “lives for others.” It’s an apt testament, because her unwavering efforts and focus on readiness over the past 14 months have likely saved lives in her community. From the entire team at PerfectServe, thanks for the work you do every day, and congratulations for being named a 2021 Nurse of Note.

Read the Full Winners List