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Meet the winners of our 2015 NY/NJ GEM Awards

By Tracey Boyd prides itself on recognizing the accomplishments of nurses of excellence at the GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) Awards events. 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 a regional winner in each category.
The regional winners move on to compete in the national phase of the GEM Awards program.
“Our nursing excellence GEM Awards program shines brightly once again as we salute our 2015 regional winners,” said Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, senior vice president and chief nurse executive of “Nominated and selected by their nursing 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 New York/NewJersey Metro GEM program took place May 20 at the Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe. is pleased to introduce your 2015 GEM Award regional winners.


Advancing and Leading the Profession

Kelly Reilly, MSN, RN-BC, CHSE
Director of nursing research and evidence-based practice
Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn

According to her nominator, Reilly “elevates the level of practice of our nursing staff: from bedside staff RNs to senior nurse leaders.”
In her quest to advance nursing practice, Reilly has participated in or initiated numerous endeavors that put nursing at Maimonides in the forefront. She said she has had many supporters throughout her career, but credits one person in particular as her motivator.
“As a staff nurse, my nurse manager encouraged me to take the unit educator position, which changed everything,” she said.
Under Reilly’s direction, Maimonides became the first expedition site of the MakerNurse program, a partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She designed the first healthcare Maker Faire at Maimonides and, as director of nursing simulation, created a makerspace for staff to make prototypes and test inventions for safety and efficacy.
Reilly has served on the simulation task force for the American Nurses in Professional Development and has developed and coordinated the curriculum for housewide nursing and interprofessional simulation initiatives. She led a redesign of Maimonides’ nursing research committee, establishing an annual research day and creating a community of nurse scholars who plan and support the event. In partnership with New York City College of Technology’s School of Nursing, Reilly formulated a nurse residency program to assist RN-to-BSN students’ transition into practice.
She is the organizational leader and master trainer for Maimonides’ Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety, or TeamSTEPPS, initiative.
Reilly said she is most proud of being able to share her knowledge, skills and expertise with colleagues and peers to develop ground-breaking programs that include technology and innovation, evidence-based practice and leadership and professional development. “The outcomes we have achieved together have demonstrated true excellence, created valued partnerships and have fueled my passion to continue to advance the profession,” she said.
Reilly said her advice to those seeking to move nursing forward is to “be fearlessly authentic, pave your own path and surround yourself with trusted mentors who provide feedback and opportunities to grow inside and outside of work.”


Clinical Nursing, Inpatient

Catherine Bell, BSN, RN
Staff nurse, Winthrop-University Hospital,
Mineola, N.Y.

Bell’s passion for her tiny patients made her the perfect selection for the winner in the Clinical Nursing, Inpatient category. “I feel humbled and honored at winning the award,” she said while accepting the honor. “It means that I have been acknowledged for my achievements, and my efforts were not minimized.”
Bell’s enthusiam for the health of Winthrop’s infants is evident in the work she does every day on their behalf. When a new procedure was introduced to perform fetoscopic laser surgery for infants with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, Bell stepped up to learn how to assist with the procedure and create a safe environment for patients.
Her presence in the OR, according to her nominator, creates an atmosphere of positivity affecting both nursing and physician colleagues alike.
The staff was unfamiliar with the equipment needed and skills necessary to care for these patients before, during and after the procedure. It was Bell who was asked to learn everything required for their treatment and care, develop a protocol for the entire team and bring a clear definition to the nurse’s role in particular.
In addition to creating a checklist for the rare procedure, Bell developed a physical schematic for extra equipment and its placement to ensure proper workflow of the team and efficiency for the procedure. Her diligence paid off as she presented on the nurse’s role during fetoscopic laser surgery at a physician conference, receiving accolades from physician colleagues across the region. “I am proud to be the only nurse on the fetal surgery team,” she said. “I take pride in the protocol that
I developed.”
Bell’s nominator described her as someone who puts everyone at ease, no matter the acuity of the situation. A certified childbirth educator, Bell has worked to ensure parent/infant interaction is early and optimal. In that spirit, she devised a program ensuring that cesarean-born babies are always in direct skin-to-skin contact with a parent, being placed first skin-to-skin on the father in the OB operating suite. Once the mother it is transferred to the stretcher to go to the recovery room, the baby is placed skin-to-skin on her.
“Recognizing that the first hour after birth is vital to the well-being of the newborn, fathers or significant others are able to play a physical role in assisting with this transition,” she said. “It has had a direct influence [for infants] on creating an easier transition to extra-uterine life.”


Education and Mentorship

Myrna Young, MSN, RN, CNOR
Nursing education specialist
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital,
New Brunswick, N.J.

“The Path to Professional Nursing Program has allowed me to help the paraprofessionals realize their dream to become a nurse, promote the staff nurses to achieve their clinical ladder requirements and inspire them to help other people lead better lives. And it gave me opportunities to realize my passion, my strong desire to promote and advance people in their professional and personal lives and bring out the best in people.”
Statements like these prompted two separate nominations on Young’s behalf for this award. Young spearheaded the program — a collaborative effort between the RWJUH Foundation and Rutgers University’s School of Nursing ­— for non-nurse employees at RWJUH. With a $250,000 grant to support their nursing education, she interviewed more than 90 eligible candidates and helped a committee select those who would begin in Rutgers’ BSN program by fall 2016.
She also recruited employees to serve as tutors and mentors to recipients, developing a lecture series for them.
Young serves as facilitator for RWJ’s joint academic and clinical practice RN residency program, fostering clinical practice and leadership skills in an academic medical center while earning graduate level credits from Rutgers. She serves as a liaison between Rutgers and the residents to support their enrollment and university registration, and coordinates monthly lectures to support the residents’ development.
According to her nominators, Young serves as a mentor, educator and leader of professional development activities for more than 7,000 employees, nursing students and high school students interested in healthcare careers.
Young also is chairwoman of the professional advancement committee and guides members through clinical ladder advancement. “Our nursing team has made significant contributions in promoting and advancing the nursing profession to a higher level through research initiatives, publications, speaking engagements/presentations,” Young said.
One nominator said Young’s enthusiasm as an educator and mentor has improved empirical outcomes for nurses, employees, patients, families and interprofessional colleagues.
“I would like people to remember me as someone who is excited and very supportive in helping them realize their goals, that I am their No. 1 cheerleader and someone who brought out the best in them,” she said. “Doing what I am doing now gives me a lot of career satisfaction and fulfillment.”


Home, Community and Ambulatory Care

Johanna Cappelli, RN, RVS, CDE
Manager of nurses and clinical services, Cardiovascular Medical Associates, Winthrop-University Hospital
Garden City, N.Y.

When Cardiovascular Medical Associates became part of Winthrop-University Hospital in 2010, it didn’t take long for hospital administators to recognize that Cappelli was an exceptional nurse.
She earned Winthrop’s prestigious Nursing Leadership Award four years later, becoming the first nurse out of the 1,600 who work outside of the hospital proper to receive the award. That Cappelli was chosen for the award was no surprise to her nominator, who wrote that she “demonstrates and acts upon the beliefs she espouses about compassionate and high-quality care every single day.”
GEM Awards judges agreed, naming her this year’s regional winner in the category.
“I am humbled and grateful to be recognized by my peers in a profession that I love,” she said after hearing her name called during the awards dinner.
For the past 27 years, she has helped a two-physician practice navigate and grow into a multispecialty group. During that time, she created and has continuously grown the practice’s continuous quality-improvement program; developed a sleep center that was nationally accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a medical infusion center, both of which have been transferred to the hospital system; and coordinated the physicians’ successful involvement in more than 20 trials for many of today’s leading cardiology drugs.
Cappelli oversees the activities of eight RNs and seven technicians supporting the gastroenterology suite, pacemaker clinic and coumadin clinic, along with the nuclear cardiology, echocardiography, vascular medicine diabetes education, fine needle biopsy and bone densitometry programs. Four of these programs have achieved and maintained national accreditation since their inception.
She and an accompanying committee have helped the endocrinology and primary care divisions achieve National Committee for Quality Assurance recognition. Cappelli is recognized for having a strong impact on the staff and inspiring other nurses to join her within the practice and embrace the special challenges this type of ambulatory setting offers.
“Don’t limit yourself. Continue to educate yourself, accept change, be willing to learn from others and share your knowledge endlessly,” she said. “I have been a nurse for 43 years, and I hope that I can continue to learn and promote the growth of fellow nurses.”


Patient and Staff Management

Tracy Lewis, BSN, RN
Nurse manager, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, N.Y.

“Words can’t explain how I feel about winning this award. I am both grateful and honored,” Lewis said. “Nursing is my passion, and I have given nursing my heart and soul throughout my years as a nurse. Winning this award confirms that my passion is making a difference.” When given a challenge, Lewis engages her clinical team of 74 to brainstorm solutions, implement structured strategies and measure success, but never asks them to do something she herself will not do, according to her nominator.
Lewis oversees the overall assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation of patient care services and models the way for her staff, encouraging and empowering them, her nominator wrote.
When seeking to decrease patient falls, Lewis accompanied staff on daily rounds, observed interactions and gave feedback. Staff reported feeling mentored and supported, and families and patients reported greater satisfaction with care. As a result of her leadership skills, in 2014, the unit had a 60% reduction in patient falls and increased Press Ganey scores as well as favorable reviews on the HCAHPS survey.
Lewis said she takes an evidence-based approach to her role. “I am most proud of the outcomes that we have been able to achieve on our unit,” she said. “With the support and help of my staff, we have consistently improved quality, the safety of our patients and patient satisfaction. Knowing that we are making a difference and saving patients’ lives is especially gratifying to me.”
Team members describe her as a stong, gifted, confident, independent and motivated leader who is accountable to patients, families and employees. Her staff said they feel engaged, as evidenced by the hospital’s 2014 National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators job enjoyment score of 56.58, which surpasses the mean score at Magnet hospitals.
Lewis’ unit has seen an increase in the number of BSN degrees obtained, and a 50% jump in professional certification receipt and participation in the clinical ladder program.
In addition to falls, her leadership has resulted in a decrease in hospital-acquired pressure ulcers, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and C-difficile.
Lewis cites her two grandmothers for inspiring her, one of whom taught her to “always be of good character.”
Acccording to her nominator, members of the staff have said, “We follow Tracy, not because we have to, but because we want to. We all strive to be more like her.”


Volunteerism and Service

Rivka Mintz, MSN, ANP-BC, CCRN
Cardiothoracic nurse practitioner
Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn

Mintz is the epitome of a selfless giver, part of the reason she was chosen as the Volunteerism and Service winner.
When a CT surgeon from Maimonides established a cardiothoracic surgical program in Guyana in 2006, Mintz was one of the first nurses to volunteer. For her, educating Guyanese nurses was a priority, so she helped perform a baseline assessment of nursing knowledge, then developed online educational training modules for the care of critically ill patients based on American Association of Critical-Care Nurses guidelines.
She has organized a modified simulation training session for nurses during each trip to Guyana. After her first visit, Mintz quickly realized equipment was lacking. Knowing that cardiac patients needed to get out of bed to a chair on the first day postop, she organized a candy sale and used the proceeds to fund the purchase of recliner chairs for patients.
When hospital administration heard of her efforts, they donated funds to purchase bedside tables. In addition, the IV pumps in Guyana either needed servicing or were broken. As the LVAD coordinator at Maimonides, Mintz transported a patient to another facility that just happened to be upgrading its pumps. She spoke with someone in administration and discovered the facility was willing to donate the pumps to the Guyana program. She drove nearly 50 miles each way to load her car with the pumps, then tested, packed and transported them to Guyana.
Her inspiration to serve the people in Guyana, she said, has been her boss, Lorraine Carroll, BSN, RN, director of nursing, Maimonides Heart & Vascular Center. “She inspires me and supports me on all my endeavors,” Mintz said. “She is a wonderful leader and a true role model.”
The home care staff is well aware of Mintz’s efforts to help the Guyanese and donate items. Once enough equipment and supplies are collected, Mintz will buy a barrel and ship everything to Guyana at her own expense. As a result of her leadership and dedication, Mintz has inspired other nurses to travel and volunteer their services as well.
To do that, she said, support of colleagues and loved ones is necessary.
“Surround yourself with people who will support, mentor, guide and encourage you to be all you can,” she said. “The volunteer work I do has made me appreciate who I am and what I have.”


Rising Star Award

Allison Schwartz, BSN, RN
Patient care coordinator, oncology, Saint Barnabas Medical Center,
Livingston, N.J.

Although Schwartz has been a nurse for only four years, her nominator said her resolve to change the practice environment by arming herself with skills usually not associated with bedside practitioners sets her apart.
“No one becomes a nurse for fame and recognition, but it was energizing to have been honored among such accomplished nurses,” Schwartz said. “I’m thrilled to have been chosen for such a prestigious award and grateful for the opportunity to share my journey.”
Schwartz recently was promoted to patient care coordinator on the oncology unit. Her achievements include serving as co-chairwoman of the catheter-associated urinary tract infection nurse champion initiative and leading a subcommittee charged with creating a shared governance station at the Saint Barnabas RN Competency Day. Schwartz also was accepted into the CNO’s Pride and Promise Nurse Leadership Program, a competitive succession planning initiative for bedside practitioners.
“I am drawn to nursing in transitional care and palliative/hospice services, among other areas, and know that my experiences the rest of this year will lead to my next nursing journey as a nurse practitioner,” she said.
Schwartz said she is most proud of helping lead the shared governance design team. “Our team of 10 bedside nurses researched and integrated a unit-based practice council system hospitalwide,” she said. “I am proud of the hard work and dedication it took to bring this concept to over 1,100 nurses, and grateful for the opportunity to lead such an ambitious team.”
Her nominator called Schwartz a great role model and preceptor for new nurses. “I smile with pride because as a baby boomer, I know I am leaving the profession in good hands,” she wrote.
Schwartz credits her CNO at Saint Barnabas and her mother with providing motivation to advance her career.
“My mother has been a nurse for over 30 years and has always inspired me to care for others and continue my education,” she said. “She has worked in numerous nursing roles throughout her career and is still continuing her education within nursing to achieve her DNP.”

Tracey Boyd is a regional reporter.

By | 2015-07-16T20:36:56-04:00 July 16th, 2015|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro|0 Comments

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Barry Bottino
Barry Bottino is a freelance writer and editor who has more than 25 years of experience at various newspapers and magazines.

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