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Nurse.com announces Mountain West Nursing Excellence Award winners

Wednesday October 3, 2012
(Photos by Darrylee Cohen, Perfect Party Pictures)
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The stage was set Aug. 10 for a night of celebration and recognition for the 24 regional finalists of Nurse.com’s 2012 Nursing Excellence program. The stellar event, held at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino in Chandler, Ariz., culminated in the regional awards presentation during which six of the 24 were named regional winners.

The evening was hosted by Judith G. Berg, RN, MS, FACHE, former vice president and nurse executive of Nurse.com West and Heartland/Midwest editions, who expressed the company’s continued commitment to honoring the many exceptional nurses who can be found in the Mountain West area.

“We consider it a true privilege to recognize nursing excellence in this beautiful way,” Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and CNE at Gannett Healthcare Group, publisher of Nurse.com, said about the program. “We wait with great anticipation for this night all year; truly it is one of the highlights of the year for us at Nurse.com.”

Each of the 24 Nursing Excellence regional finalists were garnished with a corsage and received a plaque bearing his or her name and regional achievement. Of those 24, six extraordinary nurses were chosen to represent Mountain West in the national Nurse Excellence awards to be announced this fall. The six regional winners each received an elegant sail-shaped, etched-glass award to commemorate the evening.

See if you or someone you know appear in photos from the gala at www.Nurse.com/Gallery/MTWNursingExcellence.

The program's national sponsors are The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future and University of Phoenix College of Nursing.


Judy A. Huntington, RN
Advancing and Leading the Profession

Judy A. Huntington, RN, MN, executive director, Washington State Nurses Association, Seattle

Huntington’s nominator wrote, "Judy has truly altered the course of Washington state history, particularly for the nurses." Huntington replied, "No one accomplishes these things alone. We all stand on the many, many shoulders of people who have come before."

That kind of team-player attitude has helped make Huntington an influential advocate for nurses and patients and guided her through issues, such as healthcare reform, workplace safety, public health and standards of practice.

As head of the Washington State Nurses Association since 1999, Huntington said she tries to provide accurate, important information that affects nurses’ professional lives and growth. She also advocates for nurses at the state and national level, has contributed to the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing initiative, supports an extensive environmental health program, tracks nursing trends and works collaboratively with organizations that impact nurses and patients.

Huntington began her nursing career as a staff nurse in Seattle. Pushing for change was in her blood, so she helped found the Washington Committee for Affordable Health Care, a coalition of leaders in healthcare, business and public policy that crafted and lobbied for the successful passage of the Washington State Basic Health Plan.

"Healthcare reform was a passion of mine from the get-go" Huntington said. "It’s one of things I’ve been involved in since the ’70s and ’80s."

This passion for progress led her out of Washington state and into Washington, D.C., where for 10 years she worked for the American Nurses Association and was responsible for areas that included governmental affairs, labor relations, strategic planning and healthcare reform.

"During her tenure, WSNA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of nurses and patients has been remarkably successful with numerous new laws and rules enacted to protect nurses and ensure patient safety," wrote Huntington’s nominator, Sally Watkins, RN, PhD, WSNA assistant executive director of nursing practice, education and research.

Huntington helped spearhead WSNA’s efforts to pass Safe Staffing Legislation, she aided in development of the Washington State Strategic Plan for Nursing and advocated for an organization to focus on workforce supply issues. Huntington said she takes the most pride in her role developing Nursing World and the online Journal of Issues in Nursing.


Christina Tussey, RN
Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Christina Tussey, RN,C-OB, RN,C-MNN, MSN, CNS, women and infants clinical nurse specialist, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix

The word “commitment” conveys what drives Tussey. She got married and became a nurse in the same year and still is dedicated to her first two loves 30 years later.

Tussey has managed to work through and around burnout, boredom and workplace issues that often drive nurses away from inpatient care. A clinical nurse at Banner Good Samaritan since 1982, Tussey said she loves what she does and credits her employer and co-workers with supporting her work.

“You excel when you really enjoy what you do,” she said. “Banner is a Magnet facility that embraces [nurses’] autonomy and being innovative. They have allowed me to explore and be successful. The nurses, residents and physicians always want to see the best patient outcomes.”

Tussey worked with an OB nurse to create the “peanut ball” technique to decrease the duration of labor for new mothers, wrote her nominator, Susan Phillips, RN, MSN, PMHCNS-BC, senior manager of professional development.

When a nurse noted that women were requesting spinal anesthesia more often than in years past, Tussey listened. The nurse told her that because the anesthestic numbed patients’ legs, she couldn’t have the patient do “all the little tricks,” such as walking and showering, to help the baby move down the birth canal. The laboring women had to stay in bed.

The nurse thought “opening the pelvis” might help labor progress, and Tussey supported a 200-person controlled study in which an exercise ball shaped like a peanut was placed between the knees and legs of patients lying on their side. The nurses concluded that the position did shorten labor and reduced the need for cesarean section.

“The practice has been embraced by the system clinical practice group and has gone systemwide,” Tussey’s nominator wrote.

Tussey said she encourages staff to come to her with any ideas they have, and hopes they think she’s easy to approach and noncritical. According to her nomination form, colleagues said Tussey asks nursing staff every day to consider their practice and ask questions about how it can be improved to provide the highest quality care and patient experience.

Tussey’s golden rule for clinical care lies in trying to make a difference in patients’ lives. “I try to give more than 100%,” she said. “I think if you do that every day, you can be successful and will have good outcomes. Come to work with integrity, respect and compassion and just be positive.”


Freya M. Brewer, RN
Education and Mentorship

Freya M. Brewer, RN, MSN-Ed, instructor, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Phoenix

With 30 years of experience ranging from the ICU and ED to home health and public health among Native Americans, Brewer brings broad experience to the classroom that informs her students in new — and often unexpected — ways.

“I kind of have a unique style of teaching,” Brewer said. “I don’t use PowerPoint or traditional lecture. I use a lot of examples from my knowledge base. I put a name, a face and an identity to each disease process. I even went through a case study in class that was my daughter’s dog, Timmy, who had a defective valve that enlarged his heart, forced fluid into his lungs, and he was coughing up sputum.” Of course, the students didn’t know the “patient” was a dog until the end.

Brewer teaches didactic and lab health assessment classes at Chamberlain to 75 to 80 new students for 16 weeks. Her nominator, Pat Bishop, MSN-RN, chair of nursing faculty, wrote that Brewer’s students love her creativity in acting out disease and assessment processes, and have done better in clinicals and on exams as a result.

Bishop said Brewer’s method involves pairs of students learning system diseases by interviewing a “patient,” selecting assessment techniques, documenting the process and presenting subjective and objective data and typical findings. The other students then must determine the diagnosis.

“Previously, students did not thoroughly understand the nursing process and these basics that must be transferred for success in adult health,” Bishop wrote in her nomination. “[Now] clinical instructors boast of the bright students.”

Brewer becomes the patient, too, stricken by the disease or injury of the week. “I’ve been stabbed, shot, fallen down the stairwell, decided to kill myself with carbon dioxide. I try to show them how things look,” she said.

Describing herself as a practical, hands-on, down-to-earth person, Brewer said she also tries to use various modalities to teach the same information in different ways, based on each learner’s individual style. She and a colleague also have been working with the Native American Tribal Councils in Phoenix to provide a community health experience for students. It’s an experience, Brewer said, that can be compared to working in a different country with unique laws, healthcare issues and cultural traditions.

“I don’t want to be in clinical care because ... that’s a small group,” Brewer said. “By teaching my students, who will go out and take care of thousands and thousands of patients, I can have the greatest impact.”


Amy Olson, RN
Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Amy Olson, RN, BSN, pediatric hospice nurse, Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center

Most of us would not choose to immerse ourselves in the work that Olson welcomes: pediatric hospice care. Nurses are trained to help and heal, especially when a child is ill. But being a pediatric hospice nurse requires skill, compassion and a counter-intuitive approach.

“I never felt like I had to fix it for them,” said Olson, who has seen some 30 children die in the past year. Olson started her nursing career in 2006 in the pediatric ICU at Tucson (Ariz.) Medical Center where the children with terminal illness ended up in her lap, she said.

But she was comfortable taking care of them and helping their parents cope. “I would tell parents, ‘We can’t change this, but I can be here for you,’” Olson said. “Parents need someone to acknowledge that their child was here and that their child mattered, and I’m happy to provide them with that.”

Her nominator, Peggy MacMacken, RN, MS, NEA-BC, associate administrator for clinical practice at Tucson Medical Center, wrote that Olson does the difficult duties of a hospice nurse, such as providing clinical care, pronouncing the death and calling the mortuary, but also helps the family through their emotional crisis. “She connects with her patients and families in such depth that she attends funerals and maintains long-term follow-up,” MacMacken wrote. “The challenge of the job calls for more than being a nurse; she is a mentor, a guide, a witness, a colleague, a friend.”

Olson credits support from her husband, children and hospice team members with enabling her to do what she does, and finds hospice families’ strength inspirational. Recalling a mother and grandmother faced with losing an infant, Olson said, “the transformation in that family from totally broken and devastated to these incredible advocates was amazing. I see parents every day who are absolute warriors for their kids, but their goal changes from life to a comfortable death.”

Olson planned and orchestrated “Always Loved,” a semiannual memorial that brings together families who have lost children. Activities honor the deceased children, and ongoing support is offered to their families. She works on the pediatric pain and bereavement committees and has helped redesign hospital resources, including providing forms in Spanish, to customize them for hospice families.

“Death is not a one-size-fits-all experience,” said Olson, who also designed and taught an educational program for hospice nurses.


Eric Peterson, RN
Patient and Staff Management

Eric Peterson, RN-BC, MSN, director of inpatient services, University of New Mexico Hospitals Psychiatric Center, Albuquerque, N.M.

Peterson went into psychiatric nursing with his eyes wide open. He worked his way up from cook at a psychiatric hospital to mental health tech to staff nurse to supervisor to director.

He said he made a deliberate choice to move away from his first path as an artist to make a difference in the lives of people with mental illness. “I really wanted to express my ideas and make the environment as best as I could for the patients and staff,” Peterson said. “When you’re in a management position, you have the ability to effect that kind of change. When you have a management title connected to your name, people listen to you more.”

Of course it takes more than just a title to get others on board. Peterson’s nominator, Margaret Edwards, RN, MSN, UNMHPC executive director, wrote that her director’s creativity, interpersonal communication and win-win goals empowered nurses and got walls painted. Peterson supports his nursing supervisors’ autonomy and accountability and delineated their roles, resulting in improved quality care with less restraint use and increased patient satisfaction, she wrote.

Peterson also identified safety issues and aesthetic improvements that resulted in freshly painted units, new beds and furniture, installation of security cameras, improved showers and noise-reduction modifications. “I had to be a squeaky wheel with environmental services to improve the maintenance,” Peterson said. “I had to time it right and push and push and push.”

Peterson said his approach to management is not democratic, but is not authoritarian, either. “It’s a combination,” he said. “I have high expectations. If [staff] fall short, I address it, but also reward really positive [outcomes].”

With 24/7 administrative and clinical responsibility for 47 adult beds for voluntary and involuntary adults housed on three separate units, Peterson still finds time to barbecue weekly for the patients. He gives them his card and encourages them to call him if they have a concern.

Peterson said he tries to foster a highly respectful environment for staff and patients, and expressed frustration with how the public misunderstands people with mental illness. Under Peterson’s leadership, the center recently received a grant to hire two people who had recovered from severe mental illness to facilitate group meetings with patients.


Sue Averill, RN
Volunteerism and Service

Sue Averill, RN, BSN, CEN, MBA, president and co-founder, One Nurse At A Time, and ED nurse, Swedish Medical Center, Seattle

When faced with the choice of continuing to work for a luxurious cruise line or working in undeveloped, inhospitable and far-flung places, Averill chose the work that paid her nothing.

A nurse for 33 years in the ED, her own home care company, hospital management and business operations for Holland America, Averill changed course midstream in 1996 when she decided to work as a per-diem nurse stateside and as a volunteer nurse anywhere else that needed her.

Averill’s humanitarian work began with the 1985 earthquake in Mexico when she and 19 others grabbed their gear, flew south and helped set up a free clinic. Some time later, Guatemala called. Then Liberia. Then Ethiopa, Uganda, Nigeria, Cambodia, Darfur, South Sudan, the Philippines and Pakistan, where mothers and grandmothers of girls having surgeries wanted to take care of her.

“They were so kind and so loving and wanted to take me in,” Averill said. “They’d say, ‘Come up here on the bed with us,’ and we’d sit around together. I had a lipstick with a mirror. I’d take it out and put on the lipstick and then pass it around. Pretty soon everyone had on bright red lipstick and there was this huge bonding over it. Lipstick was not allowed in Pakistan society, but we could do that as this secret little group of women at the hospital.”

Averill said every country and group of people, no matter how different they were in terms of security concerns or heartbreaking situations, became a passionate interaction that made her feel alive. “Your focus is totally different,” she said. “Everything is new and you notice every little thing. Stepping away from our routine makes us feel alive. I come back from missions a better person, and then I also like nursing better.”

To connect other nurses to the satisfying experience of humanitarian work, Averill founded One Nurse At A Time, which links nurses with volunteer opportunities, offers scholarships for travel costs and provides preparatory information on international work and diseases uncommon in this country. Tens of thousands of underserved people across the world have received medical services through ONAAT’s support of nurses, her nominator said, and it is the go-to resource for volunteering information.

Averill, however, believes she is the lucky one. “I’m just this little nurse in Seattle and look at this amazing life I’ve been allowed to live,” she said.

To nominate a nurse for the 2013 awards or for more on the program, visit www.Nurse.com/NursingExcellence.


Lori Fagan is a copy editor. Send letters to editorWest@nurse.com or post a comment below.