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Meet the Philadelphia Tri-State Nursing Excellence winners

The stage was set May 8 for a night of celebration and admiration for the 30 regional finalists of Nursing Spectrum’s 2012 Nursing Excellence program. The stellar event, held at the beautiful Loews Philadelphia Hotel, culminated in the regional awards presentation in which six of the 30 were named regional winners.

The evening was hosted by Donna Novak, RN, MSN, CRNP, a director in the nurse executive team for Gannett Healthcare Group, publisher of, who expressed the company’s continued commitment to honoring the many exceptional nurses who can be found in the Philadelphia Tri-State area.

“We consider it a true privilege to recognize nursing excellence in this beautiful way,” Novak said . “We wait with great anticipation for this night all year; truly it is one of the highlights of the year for us at”

During the course of the evening, guest facilities that participated in the Honor Your Own program presented their staff honorees with certificates of appreciation. Each of the 30 Nursing Excellence regional finalists were garnished with a corsage and received a plaque bearing his or her name and regional achievement. Of those 30, six extraordinary nurses were chosen to represent Philadelphia Tri-State in the national Nurse Excellence awards to be announced this fall. The six regional winners each received an elegant sail-shaped, metallic, etched glass award to commemorate the evening.


James Ballinghoff, RN

James Ballinghoff, RN, MSN, MBA, NEA-BC
Director of Critical Care and Cardiology
Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Philadelphia

For Ballinghoff, managing nine hospital units — including the national Beacon Award-winning SICU and MICU — provides a venue for improvement. The projects he facilitates are grounded in the potential he sees in his direct reports. Whether he is encouraging nurses to pursue higher education or helping implement nursing shared governance, Ballinghoff seeks to provide nurses throughout the hospital with the resources they need to provide excellent patient care.

For example, as co-chair of the Code/Rapid Response Team — one of his many titles beyond clinical director — Ballinghoff headed up a project to inventory and standardize the hospital’s defibrillators. Now, instead of wondering which of 12 different models of defibrillators they will encounter during a code call, the responding nurses can focus their attention on the patient, rather than the technology.

But asking Ballinghoff to talk about his accomplishments caused him to disappear amid his colleagues. Enter Bill Hudson, RN, BSN, OCN. Unsatisfied with Ballinghoff’s modest comments about being a finalist for a Nursing Spectrum award, Hudson stepped forward to sing the praises of the nurse whose nomination he had penned.

“Without him, we wouldn’t have gotten Magnet designation,” said Hudson, Magnet program director at Penn Presbyterian, which recently received the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s recognition for excellence in nursing practice.

As Hudson noted in his nomination, Ballinghoff finds a way to provide his nurses with the resources they need to provide excellent patient care, even under extraordinary circumstances. When an off-site fire interrupted network connectivity to all electronic information systems, he helped set up a Disaster Command Center. Ballinghoff developed a work plan to increase staffing in nurse and ancillary roles to assure no interruption in patient care occurred.

Leading by example, Ballinghoff expresses appreciation for his staff. His gentle, easygoing nature lightens the mood in an otherwise high-stress, critical care environment. Ballinghoff offered a glimpse of this side of himself as he accepted his award. As he tipped his hat to Penn Presbyterian CNO Michael Becker, RN, MSN, CCRN, who “continually challenges me to go outside my comfort zone,” Ballinghoff added with a grin, “You can get off my back now.”


Anne Marie Gallagher, RN

Anne Marie Gallagher, RN, BSN, CPON
Oncology/BMT Unit Staff Nurse
St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Philadelphia

It’s more than her extensive knowledge of oncology-pathology. It’s more than her gentle approach to patients and families coping with all stages of cancer. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and Gallagher is all over the details.

Whether she is advocating for extra housekeeping staff, more meal choices for patients who are nauseated from their treatments, or video game consoles to fend off the tedious hospital stays, Gallagher connects with every patient and family member to ensure they know she cares. Her goal is to make every child feel special and unique, and she will spend whatever time a family needs to get their questions answered and offer a sympathetic ear.

The other parts of her job are tackled with the same diligence she affords to patient care. To make lengthy and complicated protocols for bone marrow transplantation more accessible to the staff, Gallagher went through the painstaking process of condensing the information into a quick reference guide. In addition, she requested mock orders from a physician so she could prep the staff for upcoming procedures more effectively.

Gallagher diverts attention from herself in favor of celebrating her colleagues’ accomplishments. Even with the spotlight pointed directly on her, Gallagher shared the credit for her award. “Everything we do at St. Christopher’s, we do as part of a team,” she told the crowd of nearly 600 nurses, friends, family and clinical colleagues. “I accept this award on behalf of the people on the pediatric oncology unit.” Without them, Gallagher emphatically maintained, she could not provide the quality nursing care for which she was being honored.

One of many examples of her team spirit is her frequent praise and reassurance of newer nurses on the unit. Sharing knowledge is important to Gallagher. As a member of the Department of Nursing’s Education Council, she was one of the first to volunteer to teach when the hospital implemented traveling education sessions. She took her Fever/Neutropenia lesson to every med/surg unit in the hospital.

Outside of work, Gallagher is committed to pediatric oncology endeavors. She participates in multiple charity events that benefit this patient population or St. Christopher’s. In addition, she has helped with collection drives for the Women Against Abuse emergency shelter as well as visited the shelter to conduct education sessions with mothers and their children.


Sara Klingner, RN

Sara Klingner, RN, MSN, CNM
Program Manager, Nurse-Family Partnership
Visiting Nurse Association of St. Luke’s, Bethlehem, Pa.

“What does this mean?” Klingner asked when she received the email alerting her that she was a finalist for the Nursing Spectrum Nursing Excellence awards.

With 250 families to worry about, Klingner has little time to consider whether she personifies excellence. And the posh Loews Philadelphia Hotel where she found herself accepting the award May 8 is a far cry from the environment in which she works. She and her nursing staff provide social services to high-risk, low-income mothers in Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties. The work they do has led to higher breastfeeding rates, lower prenatal smoking rates and fewer low-birthweight babies among this population.

Beyond counseling and health information for these first-time mothers, Klingner links clients with a variety of community services. By establishing relationships with knitting and quilting clubs, she ensures the babies have warm hats, scarves and blankets in the winter. Her connections with area librarians and literacy advocates has provided books for mothers to share with their babies. Klingner even has reached out to friends and church members who have donated money to pay for educational materials and test entry fees to help mothers get their GEDs or to fill baskets with food for the neediest families.

Even with all these logistics to manage to keep community connections alive, Klingner still is game for new projects and often volunteers to pilot new ideas. Recently, she worked with a team of nurses from the national NFP office to implement a new database system at all NFP sites across the nation. Above all, Klingner believes in evidence-based practice and focuses on running the program with fidelity to the national model. But her involvement with the families her team serves is not restricted to phone calls and visits to churches and libraries. While she works tirelessly to obtain funds and material goods for clients, Klingner often joins her nurses to see the mothers and babies on home visits.

But on May 8, Klingner — along with several members of her staff, the St. Luke’s Community Health director, and Klingner’s partner, Sandra Mesics (who is also a nurse and director of the St. Luke’s School of Nursing Diploma Program) – took a night off to celebrate in style. Although they were only a party of seven, this was a group that knows how to make sure less is more. They danced to the Mummers band and cheered on their nursing colleagues with the enthusiasm of a group 10 times their size.


Michele Zucconi, RN

Michele Zucconi, RN, MSN, CCRN
Administrative Director for Cardiac Care
South Jersey Healthcare, Vineland, N.J.

Zucconi seems to approach patient care from every angle. Whether she is using dogs to encourage cardiac patients to exercise or facilitating a study group for nurses seeking national certification, she has her eye on helping people get better.

Even more evidence of her value can be found in the response to the news Zucconi had been named a finalist for a Nursing Spectrum award. Not only did 20 people make the hour-long commute to Philadelphia from South Jersey Healthcare to attend the midweek gala, but her nursing colleagues pitched in so she could take a limousine.

In accepting the award, Zucconi began her thank-you list with a personal message to her husband, Primo. “Working together is perhaps not the most interesting part of our marriage,” she said jokingly. Primo Zucconi works in the Materials Department at SJH, and was thrilled to see his wife win.

Michele Zucconi is no stranger to accolades. Her work at the Cardiac Care Center has attracted the attention of the Beacon Award committee, which bestowed its honor on her unit three times and asked Zucconi to serve as a reviewer of other facilities being considered. Her commitment to evidence-based practice, in particular, has proven promising for patient care.

For example, the canine-assisted ambulation project resulted in a significant increase in patients’ willingness to walk. Cardiac patients who walked with a therapy dog tended to go twice as far as patients who had a bipedal walking partner. Another initiative was the adoption of a Code STEMI process designed to provide rapid intervention for patients with MI. The unit also implemented a teleneurology service to facilitate care for patients who suffer a stroke.

Zucconi frequently takes her passion and know-how outside the walls of her unit. She sits on the Severe Sepsis Committee, whose efforts have resulted in a dramatic decrease in mortality rates among patients with sepsis. She also participates in SJH’s Spirit of Women events, speaking on heart health topics. And when hospital administrators decided to go to an all-RN care model, Zucconi volunteered to pilot the changes on the Cardiac Care Center’s telemetry unit.

Despite all her administrative commitments, Zucconi remains true to her nursing roots. At any point, she might be found in a patient’s room talking with distressed family members or assisting with an IV insertion. She remains true to the heart of nursing — patient care — and spends each day trying to find new ways to improve it.


Ann Curley, RN

Ann Curley, RN, PhD
Nurse Research Specialist
Capital Health, Trenton, N.J.

Anyone involved in clinical research can appreciate the value Curley brings to the table. Whether she is doing a literature search, helping to prepare manuscripts for publication or providing guidance on data interpretation and analysis, she knows how to inspire new ways of thinking.

The perspective she brings to nursing research is one of thoughtful contemplation. She mentors nurses to empower themselves to find evidence-based solutions to their clinical questions. And as a member of the health system’s institutional review board, Curley is the go-to person when her colleagues need help constructing research protocols or finding avenues to disseminate their outcomes. She coaches nurses throughout the health system to present their findings at national research conferences.

All evidence points to her passion for research. Curley fired off questions about a study in progress at another healthcare facility during a brief gala gab session. Already in high spirits from the celebratory atmosphere at the Nursing Excellence gala, Curley became even more enthused as she said one of her favorite parts of her job is judging the medical residents’ research day projects.

“Research is fun,” she said.

Curley serves as a model for nurses seeking alternative avenues to employ their nursing skills. With her encouragement, many nurses have begun using the hospital’s library to find evidence that supports their practice or ideas for changing how patient care is delivered. Curley helps staff nurses and nurse leaders to identify and implement research opportunities. In fact, the number of nursing research projects jumped from one study to 15 within a two-year period.

Although she spends much of her time supporting nurses and medical residents in their research development, Curley continues to publish in her own fields of study. Among her publications are several journal articles, reviews, chapters and books pertaining to populations and urban health. Her most recent publication, co-authored with Patty A. Vitale, MD, MPH, FAAP, is “Population-Based Nursing: Concepts and Competencies for Advanced Practice.”

For Curley, the Nursing Excellence celebration was a family affair. Her husband, son and daughter attended the event to cheer her on as she accepted the award. “She’s the most deserving candidate,” said her husband, John.


Melissa Martelly, RN

Melissa Martelly, RN, BSN, MA, PCCN
Registered Nurse
Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia

Martelly’s first trip overseas was an educational opportunity she happened upon while doing research on the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The powerful experience inspired Martelly to want to share her knowledge and skills with people in less privileged areas of the world. Thus began a series of missions that included time in Tanzania and Haiti.

In 2009, Martelly spent six months in Tanzania. While there, she worked in a primary health clinic, observing and providing care to mothers and their babies. Besides providing the hands-on care, Martelly engaged in cross-cultural dialogue to address the nation’s pressing healthcare needs. Her efforts landed her a position teaching med/surg nursing at the University of Arusha and serving as clinical instructor for the students.

The following year, Martelly tried to take part in the early relief missions to Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake. It took longer than she had hoped, but after a few months her offer to help was accepted. Martelly embarked on a humanitarian trip, during which she triaged more than 300 patients a week.

Inspired by the trips, and passionate about sharing her knowledge with others, Martelly developed a class for U.S. university students. The class offers a look at Haiti through a lens that highlights the country’s history, its place within the international community and the effects of the devastating earthquake. The course culminates with a trip to Haiti for onsite learning experiences.

At home in Philadelphia, Martelly is unit chair of the professional development committee at TJUH. She organizes toy drives, donations to local organizations and continued mentorship to fellow nurses. For example, she recognized that the precepting program on her unit was in need of guidance and organization. To solve the issues, she created a precepting binder that lays out process and expectations for preceptors and orientees and provides resources to guide them during the 12-week orientation program.

Martelly has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars of her own money to pursue her passion for helping others. She credits her desire to serve others as a product of the lifestyle her parents modeled. “I want to thank family and friends for instilling in me from an early age to always give back,” Martelly said.

Susan Hansen is a freelance writer.

By | 2020-04-15T12:57:01-04:00 June 18th, 2012|Categories: Philadelphia/Tri-State, Regional|0 Comments

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