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Meet the 2014 California GEM Awards winners

Monday July 14, 2014
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Nurse.com prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at its GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) award programs. Held in cities throughout the U.S., these celebrations honor exceptional nurses from all specialties and practice settings, and each culminates in the naming of six regional winners in six categories. The regional winners move on to compete in the GEM national nurse of the year program.

“Our nursing excellence GEM Awards program shines brightly once again as we salute our 2014 regional winners,” said Eileen Williamson, RN, MSN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive. “Nominated and selected by their colleagues, they truly epitomize nursing at its best. We are honored to present them with our prestigious GEM awards and privileged to recognize them publicly for their many contributions to nursing and healthcare.”

This year’s regional GEM program was held June 27 at the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City.

Nurse.com is pleased to introduce you to the 2014 Nurse.com GEM regional award winners.


Bernice L. Coleman, RN
(Photos by David Hartig Photography)
ADVANCING AND LEADING THE PROFESSION

Bernice L. Coleman, RN, PhD, ACNP-BC, FAHA, FAAN: Nurse scientist, nurse practitioner, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

“I am honored, humbled and excited to receive this prestigious GEM award,” Coleman said after receiving the Nurse.com regional award in the category of Advancing and Leading the Profession. “As I listened to the highlights of others who were nominated within my category, it was enough to be considered among this group, much less to be chosen as the winner.”

Coleman’s roles as clinician and scientist have provided a rare skill mix and opportunities for others to integrate basic science research questions with clinical practice and community education, according to her nominator, who praised Coleman’s work as embodying the concept of bench to bedside
and beyond.

Someone who has made outstanding national and international contributions, Bernice’s pioneering work in pharmacogenetics for heart patients and in the future of genetically tailored medication prescriptions has influenced both heart transplantation and pharmacogenetics.

With all that she has accomplished, she is grateful to those who have guided her during her notable nursing career.

She is grateful to her first professional mentor who was the clinical nurse specialist in the CTICU at Yale New Haven Hospital and full-time faculty at the Yale School of Nursing.

“Her example of clinical competence, scientific curiosity, and principled ethics provided me with the vision and inspiration so vital to my own development,” Coleman said.

She has deep admiration for her CNO at Cedars Sinai who “possesses the embodiment of excellence of nursing at its highest levels.

“She influences global nursing policy, research and clinical practice, not just through her talks and writings, but through her everyday actions,” Coleman said. “Her example has guided me, and her inspiration has been the wind beneath my wings for more than 20 years.”

And she recognizes her dissertation chairwoman at UCLA, who, although not a nurse, had an “exquisite appreciation for the translation of bench research to bedside practice with one agenda: to improve the patient experience and outcomes.”

Coleman is pleased that her clinical, service and research work in transplantation has stayed the course and focused on patient outcomes. “It has provided me with a platform to encourage nurses and the profession to reinvent our role in light of new research findings as we strive to practice to the top of our licenses.”

But she still sees there is much work to be done.

“We are in the infancy of genetics and immunology translational science. It is my goal through research to accelerate the discovery of new knowledge. I want to support the effort to integrate the latest evidence-based understanding into the daily nursing practice of patient care,” she said.


Linda W. Ritter, RN
CLINICAL NURSING, INPATIENT

Linda W. Ritter, RN, CPON: Clinical nurse IV, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Palo Alto, Calif.

Realizing she struggled for the “right words” to say to the mother of a dying child or listened to the moans of a child with inadequate pain control, Ritter was inspired to begin her professional journey in palliative care. She wanted to see what other nurses were thinking and feeling, and as a result of a 64-question survey tool she developed, Ritter learned she wasn’t alone.

She discovered that 63 out of 63 nurses felt they were inadequately prepared to care for patients at end-of-life and would like more education about palliative care.

For Ritter, winning the Nurse.com award in the category of Clinical Nursing, Inpatient validated the hours she spent with others on the palliative care committee in supportive and educational endeavors, such as creating retreat rooms, planning two-day conferences and current events programs, revising policies and coordinating multidisciplinary meetings.

She is proud the team has awarded the Starfish Award to more than 100 individuals, recognizing them for providing excellence and compassion at end-of-life. The awardees have been nurses, APNs, nurse aides, interpreters, physicians, members of pain, palliative care and hospitalist services, individuals from housekeeping, respiratory therapists, child life specialists and social workers. “Without exception, they have all been honored and humbled to accept the award in the name of the patients they cared for,” Ritter said.

Ritter said she also is humbled and exhilarated to receive the GEM award. “The award garners excitement and recognition that can help the 1 North Palliative Care Initiative Committee as we move forward with plans for the future.”

Said to possess the unique combination of being a visionary and an innovative doer, Ritter knows how to inspire, collaborate and overcome obstacles. In addition to providing superb patient care, she serves as a charge nurse for either the pediatric oncology unit or the pediatric stem cell unit. She is respected by her colleagues for her expertise, clinical skills, critical thinking and compassion.

Because of the positive and successful interventions initiated on her unit, other units have implemented or are interested in implementing practice changes. Ritter helped raise the bar for providing excellence in pediatric patient care, and as a direct result of her efforts, improved the delivery of palliative care throughout the hospital. She is the nursing representative for the hospitalwide palliative care committee.

“Nurses advocate for their patients, who, in their opinion, have unmet needs and would benefit from some aspect of palliative care, and it is those moments that make our work worthwhile and engender our pride in the organization and the profession,” Ritter said.


Sandra Pieschel, RN
EDUCATION AND MENTORSHIP

Sandra Pieschel, RN-CDE, MPA, BSW: Diabetes educator, Valley Presbyterian Hospital, Van Nuys, Calif.

In 1983, Sister Rachela Silvestri, RN, DC, asked Pieschel to serve as the diabetes educator while she went on a yearlong sabbatical. Until then, Pieschel had been a critical care nurse and one of the early pioneers in cardiac rehabilitation.

“Sister reassured me that I already used the chronic care model to manage blood pressure, weight, physical activity, stress and smoking cessation, and she was confident the handouts on glucose management were just one more parameter to apply,” Pieschel said.

Pieschel was terrified, but her husband told her, “You never say no to a nun.”

The complementary cospecialty of diabetes education with cardiovascular nursing was and continues to be an asset to her nursing practice.

She said receiving the Nurse.com nursing excellence award in the category of Education and Mentorship for doing what she loves is “much-appreciated validation of my professional contributions and an unexpected bonus.”

“My hope is that the GEM Award heightens acceptance of the art and science of diabetes education,” said Pieschel, who is called a “beacon of hope” in the world of inpatient diabetes management. “It will continue to motivate me to improve glucose management and processes that help patients in
the community.”

In her practice, Pieschel focuses on helping staff understand the multiple needs of patients with diabetes. Admired for her ability to empower staff to provide safe quality care, she has provided comprehensive education to facility nurses and ensured understanding of changes in insulin management, organizational protocols and medication administration.

Collaborating with dietary, laboratory, pharmacy and IT, she has developed care and clinical processes, learning modules, clinical documentation screens, order sets, assessment forms and discharge flow sheets, and because of her encouragement and support, patient care and outcomes have
improved significantly.

She’s guided every day by valuable lessons a CNO she admires taught her: You don’t have to be perfect to be excellent; bring your best self forward; always strive to up the mood.

She’d like to see a glucose component integrated into inpatient quality core measures. “How can a patient with pneumonia, stroke or acute coronary syndrome be expected to do well when their glucose is not managed to recommended targets?” Pieschel said.

Over the years, she met resistance and learned hard lessons, and she gives other nurses interested in the field advice based on her own experiences.

“Follow the evidence and do not take resistance personally,” she said. “Always strive to learn a better approach from negative experiences or another way to assess what are the barriers — and keep the patient at the center.”


Donna J. Beckman, RN
HOME, COMMUNITY AND AMBULATORY CARE

Donna J. Beckman, RN, BSN: Credentialed School Nurse, Coordinator of health services, special education, San Joaquin County Office of Education, Stockton, Calif.

Beckman has spent her life and career trying to be the “best nurse and supervisor possible,” but always has downplayed her accomplishments and hard work.

“This GEM Award makes me feel so proud, first of all, to be a nurse,” said Beckman, who was selected as a Nurse.com regional winner in the category of Home, Community and Ambulatory Care. And now I feel, ‘Wow, I do work hard, and it is so wonderful to
be acknowledged.’”

“I am very humbled to be in the company of the other winners. My great sadness is that my mother, diagnosed 14 years ago with Alzheimer’s disease, will never know of this wonderful gift I
have received.”

She credits her mother for making her feel as though she could accomplish anything, and, as a result, from a young age Beckman wasn’t afraid of tackling difficult things.

She also credits some of her colleagues and supervisors who helped her during her 31 years in nursing.

“I have been so fortunate to have worked with some wonderful bosses and colleagues who mentored and coached me,” she said. “By observing them and working collaboratively, I have been offered many wonderful opportunities to try new and different things.”   

She is most proud of the nursing care she has given in the quiet moments no one can see — sitting with dying patients, holding their hand and praying over their passing, working with families through difficult times and supporting them and caring for dying patients at home.

“Now I am so proud to be working with families of special needs students,” Beckman said. “I tell my staff that our students’ families have 24/7 jobs that have no breaks and never end, and if we can make the time their children are at school a little easier and go out of our way to provide the best nursing care, then maybe we have made their families’ lives a little easier.”

Besides the care and case management she provides to more than 350 special education students and their families, she collaborates with a local dentist to perform oral health screenings for developmentally disabled kindergarten students and provides CPR education to teaching and instructional assistant staff. Beckman provides annual staff training in universal precautions and prevention of communicable disease transmission and she participates in annual staff tuberculosis testing clinics for the San Joaquin County Office of Education.  

Beckman believes it is her responsibility to prepare the next generation of school nurses and tries to be a role model to younger nursing staff in “spreading kindness and caring as well as promoting excellence in nursing care.”


Teri Armour-Burton, RN
PATIENT AND STAFF MANAGEMENT

Teri Armour-Burton, RN, MSN, MBA, CNML, NE-BC: Nurse manager, Sharp Grossmont Hospital, La Mesa, Calif.

“The whole experience seems surreal to me; I am shocked, proud and honored to be recognized by other nursing professionals,” Amour-Burton said upon receiving the Nurse.com GEM Award in the category of Patient and Staff Management.

She was published in Critical Care Nurse, the journal of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, on hospital-acquired pressure ulcers. She is completing her first year in a PhD program. She is the manager of the only Beacon PCU unit in Sharp HealthCare, the only designated Gold Beacon PCU in the Western Hemisphere in 2014 and the only Beacon awarded PCU in the U.S. this past year.

Armour-Burton has been a key contributor to numerous systemwide committees and projects. Most recently, she served as a member of the Sharp system policy and procedure committee and has worked with the group to approve 32 policies and procedures and implement 12 new policies.

But what makes her feel most proud is how she has inspired her nursing staff to return to school and pursue advanced degrees. At least 25% are enrolled in nursing programs to further their education.   

Described as a proactive manager and an outstanding leader, Armour-Burton has earned the admiration of her colleagues for her dedication to achieve positive patient outcomes and streamline nursing
care processes.

Armour-Burton said winning the Nurse.com regional GEM Award validated her efforts and provides her with the motivation to keep pushing forward with her nursing career goals.

Armour-Burton credits her mother, an educator, for giving her the drive, determination and initiative.

“My mother was pretty much a single parent of six and never ever gave in to obstacles or barriers,” Armour-Burton said. “It was because of her that I was able to work three jobs while completing my graduate degrees. She instilled in me the will to be all that I can be.”

She also is grateful that she has had the opportunity to work with her director at Sharp, who encourages and recognizes excellence and supports Armour-Burton in being “her best.”

By her actions, she lives the wisdom she offers to others: “Find your niche in nursing because there are so many different options. Once you do that stay current, pursue the appropriate advanced degrees and never stop learning. Get involved to make the practice better, whether it be through nursing committees, certifications or lobbying for the profession.”

Armour-Burton plans to complete her PhD and use it to educate future nurses. Through research she said she hopes to improve the profession and community health.


Linda West-Conforti, RN
VOLUNTEERISM AND SERVICE

Linda E. West-Conforti, RN, Registered nurse, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Jay, Calif.

Seven years ago, West-Conforti created Angels In Waiting, a nonprofit organization that gives RNs who are skilled neonatal and pediatric intensive care nurses the opportunity to work at home and care for medically fragile foster care infants and children

The organization helps to facilitate moving these infants and children from hospitals, institutions, group homes and poorly supported foster homes into private residences and under the care of experienced RNs and LPNs, who serve as their nurse foster parent providers under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment programs.

West-Conforti is proud of resurrecting the dormant, federally funded program now known as the EPSDT program, created in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I also am honored to be selected by my nursing colleagues and be spotlighted by Nurse.com for this GEM Award in the category of Volunteerism and Service,” said West-Conforti, who is pleased that nurses will learn about the program.

West-Conforti has been a NICU and PICU nurse for more than 25 years. She has watched her dream unfold, and now has more than 50 nurses who have joined Angels in Waiting. Certified as a foster parent for medically fragile children and an independent nurse provider with the state, she has cared for micro-preemie babies who present special needs and challenges as well as children with multiple defects and health conditions.

Because of her dedication and commitment, many of the children are in healthy, permanent homes and well on their way to a more promising future, said her nominator.

And there’s more to what she has accomplished. Last winter, she created Bill AB1133 in California that became state law on Jan. 1. It gives “preferential consideration” to nurses under the EPSDT-supplemental nursing program, when considering the placement of a medically fragile, foster care infant, child or youth.

“I would like to duplicate this bill in every state and implement the nurse-foster provider program nationwide,” West-Conforti said.

She said Angels in Waiting has just moved into the final round for potential funding to help implement the program throughout California.

She’s inspired every day by her two adopted “little angels,” the other adopted medically fragile foster care infants and children and the nurses who care for them.

“I have seen first hand the miracles that have occurred through the hearts and hands of nurses, and I live by the motto, ‘Nurses are angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another.’”


Janice Petrella Lynch, RN, MSN, is nurse editor/nurse executive. Post a comment below or email editorWest@nurse.com.