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Meet the Greater Chicago Nursing Excellence GEM Award winners

Monday June 3, 2013
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Each year, a national search is held to find the most exceptional nurses in the U.S. Nurses from across the country are nominated by colleagues. This year, Nurse.com continues its tradition of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of these dedicated nurses at regional awards galas held throughout the United States, the culmination of which results in the naming of six special nurses as 2013 Nursing Excellence GEM awardees. In each region, five remarkable nurses in six specialized categories were chosen from the hundreds of nominations received.

"Our program has a sparkly new look and a shiny new name," said Cheryl Portner, RN, MSN, Nurse.com vice president of staff development and training and nurse executive, Greater Chicago region. "The GEM Awards are our way of publicly recognizing excellence in nursing by awarding nurses who were nominated, selected and celebrated by other nurses, and who represent the best of the best in our profession. It is our privilege to honor them."


Patti Ludwig-Beymer
ADVANCING AND LEADING THE PROFESSION

Patti Ludwig-Beymer
RN, PhD, CTN, NEA-BC, FAAN
Vice president and CNO
Edward Hospital and Health Services, Naperville, Ill.


A few days after being named the winner in the Advancing and Leading the Profession category on May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill., Ludwig-Beymer still was in awe of having received the award.

“I’m beyond speechless,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “Really, I was in tears. It was just a huge honor.”

As vice president and CNO, Ludwig-Beymer knows that she must lead by example.

“I try to be a role model and demonstrate my values and the values of the profession,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “I try to support nurses who are delivering care, and I try to ensure that they have an environment that is safe and focuses on the evidence behind the care they provide.”

Education has been a priority for Ludwig-Beymer. Her nominator described her as “inspiring, motivating, and a mentor and educator to all whom she encounters.” In fiscal year 2012, 152 continuing education programs were made available to the nursing staff at Edward.

She also worked to launch a culture, language and religion committee. The committee identifies needs of employees and creates resources to maintain a culturally competent staff. Supported by Ludwig-Beymer, guidelines were developed to promote understanding of patient groups based on culture, religion, race and ethnicity.

“I think I learn from the nurses at Edward every day,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “They really do a wonderful job of providing compassionate and competent nursing care. Their passion for what they do really serves to fuel my passion for what I do.”

Under her guidance, Edward has stepped up its research programs. From 1991 to 2001, Edward had seven nursing research studies. In 2012, with Ludwig-Beymer at the helm and instrumental in helping colleagues receive Institutional Review Board approval, the facility implemented 181 nursing research studies. Working with several area universities, she developed an annual Evidence-Based Practice Conference, launched in 2003. Last year, 200 nurses attended the conference.

“I’ve been a nurse for 40 years, and I can’t imagine being anything else,” Ludwig-Beymer said. “We have a rare opportunity to touch people’s lives in times of happiness and in times of sorrow. One patient at a time, we can make a huge difference in their health, in their well-being and in their knowledge and their ability to take care of themselves and their loved ones. And we’re so fortunate to be a part of that.”


Pamela Reetz
CLINICAL NURSING, INPATIENT

Pamela Reetz
RN, MSN, PCCN
Clinical coordinator PCU
Adventist Hinsdale (Ill.) Hospital


Reetz listened to the stories about the other nominees in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category on May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill., and was humbled by what she heard.

This made her feel even more honored when she was announced as the winner in the category.

“It was quite an honor,” Reetz said. “It’s a blessing to be honored for something you love to do.”

While she won an individual award, Reetz, a clinical coordinator, recognized that teamwork got her to where she is today.

“Everybody does their share,” Reetz said. “Everyone is part of the team. Collectively, we work toward a common goal. I would be nowhere without the rest of my team.”

Her individual qualities stand out, though.

According to her nominator, she’s well-respected by staff and by doctors who intervene based on her assessments. Reetz was cited as a calm force who uses evidence and research to build her case and draws out diverse opinions in the process. She is an enjoyable mentor who is respectful of people, using humor and a style that builds bridges, self-esteem and confidence while it teaches.

Her clinical and medical skills have helped save the day outside the hospital setting, too. While at an area restaurant a few years ago, she saw another diner fall to the floor. Reetz determined the diner was having a heart attack and she performed CPR until emergency medical technicians could arrive. The victim ended up at Adventist Hinsdale the next day for a five-vessel bypass and eventually had a full recovery. Reetz was honored by the Chicago Heart Association for her actions.

“I like the feeling of gratification when we’ve made a difference and helped somebody and impacted their life in a positive way,” Reetz said.

While working on her master’s, Reetz completed a project on congestive heart failure. As part of this project, the hospital called all discharged patients from her unit to assist in the transition from hospital to home. As a result, 30-day readmission rates in the unit fell to 6.7%, compared with 21% hospitalwide. The principles now are being implemented throughout the hospital.

“I see things in a different way,” Reetz said, “and I pursue my daily activities in hopes of making a change, of making a difference, with the patient in the foremost of my mind and as my center of direction.”


Marcia Murphy
EDUCATION AND MENTORSHIP

Marcia Murphy
RN, DNP, APRN, FAHA
Assistant professor/adult nurse practitioner
Rush University Medical Center, Chicago


Murphy was surprised and honored to find out she was named the winner in the Education and Mentorship category May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill.
“The other finalists in the category of Education and Mentorship were outstanding finalists,” Murphy said, “and therefore I was very surprised when my name was called and thrilled to receive this recognition.”

Known as a favorite lecturer, engaging students and conveying the latest research and best practices of nursing with enthusiasm and passion, Murphy brings to the classroom her real-world experiences as an adult nurse practitioner.

“I really made a commitment to advise and mentor nurses to pursue graduate school and become leaders,” Murphy said. “I’ve mentored countless staff nurses to pursue leadership positions. ... All have the potential to leave an impact and create a legacy. I have truly been fortunate to work with exceptional people at an exceptional place.”

It was Murphy who guided Rush into a new era more than 25 years ago as its first president of shared governance. She pioneered a tradition recognized in 2012 when Rush University Medical Center’s nursing shared-governance organization named a mentorship award after her. The president of shared governance each year gives a nurse that has mentored him or her the Marcia Murphy Mentorship Award.

One nominator shared insight from Rachel Start, RN, MSN, a shared governance past president and a Murphy protege. “I had been a nurse for eight years, knew the job, knew it was an honor and a calling to be a nurse, knew it required compassion,” Start said, “but never did I understand so clearly until Dr. Murphy’s passionate explanations, that nursing was a profession; vital to society, dependent only on its own body of knowledge for self-regulation and practice boundaries, a science all unto its own, equal and on par with that of every other profession, essential to the patient’s health and care continuum, advanced only with a grave sense of accountability by its practitioners.”

Murphy also serves as chairperson of the Rush College of Nursing Task Force to develop the DNP Direct Care Capstone Project, collaborating with faculty across programs to strategically integrate older adult content into the adult management courses.

“I see every professional nurse as a leader at every level,” Murphy said, “and I hope in some way I’ve inspired them to use their leadership skills in a variety of ways.”


Colleen Butler
HOME, COMMUNITY AND AMBULATORY CARE

Colleen Butler
RN, C-NPT
Staff nurse, neonatal/pediatric transport team
Advocate Children’s Hospital, Oak Lawn, Ill.


As the informal leader of a team that completes more than 1,700 transports a year via ground and air, Butler knew whom she wanted to acknowledge after being named the winner in the Home, Community and Ambulatory category May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill.

“I just want to acknowledge the incredible team I work with,” Butler said. “My manager has put a lot of work and dedication into the team to make it what it has become. The nurses and respiratory therapists I work with are incredible, and it’s wonderful to work with such incredible people every day. I wouldn’t have been able to get this award without them.”

According to her nominator, Butler’s office is in the back of an ambulance or aboard a helicopter, which exposes her every day to environmental factors most nurses never need to consider. She works in all weather conditions while caring for the most critical patients in a positive manner. That can mean working in the heat or cold while caring for a neonate in critical condition with multiple tubes, drains and medication — in a tight space with a respiratory therapist and two paramedics.

This was the path that Butler chose after working in a pediatric ICU for about 13 years.

“Working on the [transport] team was something I always wanted to do since I started at Advocate Children’s,” Butler said.

Her nominator wrote that Butler has top-notch assessment skills and always is thinking ahead, with a Plan B on hand. On top of that is her compassion, as demonstrated when transporting a patient directly from an OR at an outlying facility.

Butler took time to explain to the family how sick their child was and how she would take all the necessary steps to keep their child stable and safe. She sat with them and went over the diagnosis and spoke gently in a soothing voice to calm their anxiety. Her nominator wrote that Butler takes the extra step to make her patients and their parents comfortable and gives them reassurance, even in the most critical situations.

Butler currently leads her department’s shared governance committee and assists her peers with their professional growth. According to a nominating peer, she brings out the best in people when she brings forth her love and compassion for others. Everyone who has the pleasure of working with her sees a professional and highly qualified nurse who not just excels in her nursing abilities but adds a high component of tender-hearted empathy.


Robin Oakley
PATIENT AND STAFF MANAGEMENT

Robin Oakley
RN, BSN, MS
Practice manager, medical intensive care
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago


After 32 years as a nurse, Oakley listened May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill., as her long list of accomplishments were read to the audience at the Nurse.com Nursing Excellence gala. Later at the event, she would be named the winner in the Patient and Staff Management category. As she listened to her accomplishments being read, a thought struck her: “You’re in the trenches every day and sometimes you don’t recognize all that you’ve been involved with.” But then, she said, “you think, ‘Gosh, that’s right.’ I was very overwhelmed, very grateful.”

According to her nominator, Oakley consistently earns the respect of staff, co-workers and senior leadership and has developed a professional reputation as the go-to person to deploy to units and teams in need of help. As a result, she has been called upon at various times to manage two ICUs, an oncology unit, multiple med/surg units and the central telemetry monitoring center.

“I think my biggest attribute that I feel like I contribute is that I make a connection with all of my staff,” Oakley said. “I don’t have any children so I feel like in a medicalized view that the hundreds beneath me are my kids. ... I make them feel like they’re not just a number. They’re a person, and people listen to what they say.”

According to her nominator, Oakley fully understands the importance of mentoring and coaching new nurses as they start their careers, and she demonstrates this on a daily basis. One of the nurses on her team said in the nomination letter that “she manages people but never forgets that we are people.”

Oakley is recognized as a leader, mentor and role model for managers and other professionals in the organization. She makes a daily commitment to exceptional performance, patient- and family-centeredness and professional excellence. She always takes the time to foster development and to help nurture growth among the nurses with whom she works.

Another strength of Oakley’s is fostering career growth, according to her nominator. She coaches her employees to become certified in their specialties and to develop professionally. She positively encourages her team and others around her to strive for excellence.

“I think my strength is I’m a great people person,” Oakley said. “By doing that in life, I think that’s where your benefits come from. You can tap into the talent around you and get them to do things. I’ve always utilized my teams to be out there in the forefront.”


Teresa Mirabella
VOLUNTEERISM AND SERVICE

Teresa Mirabella
RN, MA
Direct care nurse
Westlake Hospital, Melrose Park, Ill.


When Mirabella’s supervisor called her one day last year and started asking her questions about herself, Mirabella didn’t think much of it.

“She said she was interested in what I was doing and how the shelter runs,” Mirabella said. “If I would have known, I probably wouldn’t have said as many things.”

As it was, Mirabella ended up being a finalist in the Volunteerism and Service category. Then on May 15 in Schaumburg, Ill, she was named the winner.

“It was a tremendous surprise because I didn’t expect that in a million years,” Mirabella said.

Mirabella splits her time between Westlake Hospital, where she works three days a week, and as a director of a homeless shelter. According to her nominator, she has made it her life mission to respectfully and empathetically care for those suffering from substance abuse.

“I am a deep believer in God and his gifts,” Mirabella said. “So I consider [this award] to be his gift to me because I consider that to be glory to him. Through the years what I went through and what I had to go through in coming from Siberia to this country and adjusting from that and then to be able to run a place like this for 23 years with no help or money from the city or the government or not knowing where it would come from. I consider it a miracle to receive this award. This was a miracle for me.”

When she began volunteering at the shelter, it was led by a priest. When he left to do missionary work, she took over management of the shelter to prevent it from being closed. The shelter serves Polish, Russian, Ukranian and Yugoslavian immigrants who have chemical dependencies. It seeks to rehabilitate them from alcohol and drug use and helps them find stable employment. According to the nominator, Mirabella helps the residents to feel valued. She identifies residents who can take on leadership roles and ensure the safety of the home. She treats all the residents with respect and kindness and gives them the hope and support they need to recover.

“That’s the most important thing to give them, the feeling of security,” Mirabella said. “I constantly tell them how special they are. I love my work. It’s a great gift.”