Since the early days of our company’s founding, Nurse.com has believed in publicly recognizing and celebrating nursing excellence and has made doing so part of our company mission. Now, after nearly three decades, the GEM Awards program is the largest and most prestigious of its kind in the nation. The program underscores our belief that excellence exists in all areas of nursing, and we consider it a privilege to give meaning to excellence by publicly acknowledging nurses every chance we get. Here, we proudly introduce our 2016 regional finalists, selected by our RN judges from the many nominations we received this year.
Excellence in Clinical Nursing
Regel Del Mundo, CCRN
Cardiac Catheterization Lab
Columbia University Medical Center,
New York City
Del Mundo cares for patients undergoing high-risk procedures, such as coronary stenting, mitral valve clipping and carotid stenting in the hospital’s seven-room cath lab. He has been instrumental in improving the department’s practice by incorporating evidence-based practice, according to his nominator.
Del Mundo volunteered to participate in the nation’s first transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure in 2005, which required that he learn a scrub nurse role. He has continued as a member of the TAVR team and helped initiate the TAVR recovery program, which allowed patients to bypass intensive care and reduce their hospital stays. More than 69% of these patients have been able to bypass the ICU, which decreased patient’s length of stay by two days.
Del Mundo also contributed to the TAVR program by precepting nurses to the lab, and through his efforts, the team has added five scrub nurses. He has streamlined the process of orienting nurses to the procedure, and his innovative ideas have identified and overcome obstacles.
Known for his calm demeanor, Del Mundo helps the days run smoothly even during the most stressful situations. Earlier this year, he quickly provided assistance when an electrophysiology patient had a severe complication during a laser lead extraction. He effectively assisted the cardiothoracic surgeon to perform a sternotomy and open chest interventions and place the patient on life support. His supervisor credits Del Mundo for his unruffled manner during this intervention which influenced other team members to follow his lead, resulting in a positive patient outcome.
Susanne Donovan, BSN, RN, CEFM, CBC
Assistant Nurse Manager, Mother/Baby
Winthrop University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.
Taking on leadership roles in patient care initiatives at her facility, Donovan is a dedicated role model to staff on the mother/baby unit which serves more than 4,800 mothers each year. During the process toward baby-friendly designation by the World Health Organization, she helped develop workflow to incorporate the 10 steps to successful breast-feeding and mentored fellow staff through the change. She also became one of the facility’s first certified breast-feeding counselors, and her example has resulted in more than 90% of the unit becoming certified.
As co-chairwoman for the fall prevention committee under the umbrella of the Children’s Hospital Solution for Patient Safety, Donovan was instrumental in researching ways to reduce risk after a trend was noticed with mothers dropping their newborns. Finding that no tool existed to assess the risk, she conducted a literature review, consulted experts and analyzed four years of data, resulting in findings that led to specific interventions, such as rounding every 30 minutes and promoting daily adult nap time. Donovan educated staff on the assessment tool and is conducting a pilot study to assess the accuracy of the tool in classifying patients at risk and monitoring safety.
Because of her noteworthy and effective communication skills, patients receive careful listening and empathy from Donovan, said her nominator. She is an active member of the perinatal bereavement team and participates with the planning committee for the annual Walk to Remember. This event, which attracts more than 200 family members, hosts a memorial walk for families who have suffered a perinatal loss.
Jennifer Dorman, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CCRN
Clinical Nurse Specialist
Rapid Response Team
Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Since assisting in the development and implementation of the rapid response team to rescue patients during early signs of clinical deterioration, Dorman, now the nurse leader, continues working with the team. A noted expert clinician, educator, consultant and researcher, she and the team have reduced inpatient mortality from 27.2 to 21.6 deaths per 1,000 discharges. The overall survival rate for RRT patients increased by 27.9% from 2006 to 2015.
Her nominator believes Dorman’s greatest contribution to the facility is in her work with the medical early warning systems. She educated surgical staff on the early warning system and use of the phone system that alerts staff to patient changes. Through alerts received via monitoring of patient vitals signs, nurses have been able to respond more rapidly to early signs of clinical deterioration and early signs of sepsis, reducing mortality by 4.4% over a year’s time.
Actively involved in the hospital’s housewide sepsis initiative, Dorman developed the sepsis order sets and sepsis MD note, educating hospitalists and nursing staff on the sepsis bundle and also working with RRT nurses in rounding of all med/surg patients who are septic or in septic shock. As a result, staff has reduced sepsis mortality by 36.6% and decreased patients’ length of stay.
Boosting colleagues’ skills and confidence level, Dorman collaborates with the education department to hold regular mock codes, including a full review and debrief. Her nominator said that Dorman’s transformational leadership embodies multiple factors including clinical competency, enthusiasm and a passionate energy.
Michael LeTang, BSN, RN, CCRN
Clinical Nurse IV
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City
Engaging his fervency for using health information technology to improve patient outcomes, patient satisfaction and clinician workflow, LeTang has worked on a 35-bed post anesthesia care unit, which recovers between 45 and 60 complex surgical patients every day. He also serves as clinical nurse IV/clinical practice coordinator for the hospital informatics department, ensuring there are appropriate and regulatory unit specific requirements within the facility’s clinical and hospital information systems.
As a key member of the PACU communication committee, LeTang helped write a clinical protocol to test the feasibility of using computer tablet devices when communicating with head and neck surgical patients who usually can not speak postsurgically. Once the project was approved, he planned, trained staff, implemented and now maintains the unit’s iPad supply and associated software, assuring nonverbal patients have a voice.
Colleagues are impressed with the way LeTang takes on many projects to improve clinical documentation optimization. For example, he led a project to improve and standardize clinical documentation for the perianesthesia department, and his nominator said his ongoing work has improved nursing workflow tremendously by standardizing documentation.
LeTang promotes the discovery of innovative means through which technology can improve patient care and outcomes, and his nominator said he has a special gift and amazing capacity to incorporate both information systems and nursing into his clinical nursing vocation.
Anne Patrick, RNC
Team Leader, Same Day Surgery
HackensackUMC at Pascack Valley, Westwood, N.J.
Exceptional patient satisfaction responses and a sterling reputation are the legacy Patrick has built in the same day surgery unit of her facility’s 128-bed community hospital. As team leader, she is responsible for creating and leading this department, which has increased its patient load from 408 in 2013 to 2,772 by the end of 2015. The same-day surgery unit is an important one since it is often the main entry point for patients coming into the facility for a wide range of services.
Her goal when hired was to establish the structure and culture of the department. She has successfully built a system of primary nursing in which the patient is the center of all activity. The same day surgery unit, said her CNO, is an innovative department where RNs establish trust with patients and family, resulting in overwhelmingly positive feedback. Attending physicians also comment on the high level of patient satisfaction.
Patrick has been effective in empowering her staff to think on their feet and work independently within a process of primary nursing that has led to a stable and satisfied workforce. As the originator of the department, she has been able to instill in staff the processes, procedure and culture that make this department unique and keep its quality high.
The CNO stated that through positive word-of-mouth in the community, patients request that procedures be performed at this facility, ensuring the success of the community-based hospital. Patrick has developed a unique healing culture within her department and works every day to maintain its reputation.
Mary Santorelli, MSN, RN, NP
Advanced Practice Nurse
Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center
Striving to provide excellent mental healthcare to patients, Santorelli consistently endeavors to improve services at her facility. In 2015, she completed close to 180 initial patient consultations and 825 follow-up patient consultation visits. Through these contacts, she has improved patient outcomes by ensuring that psychiatric needs are being addressed and incorporated into each patient’s individualized plan of care.
Santorelli’s fingerprint can be found throughout the programs offered at the medical center, said her nominator. She is involved in a pilot program at the hospital to provide on-site psychiatric care for patients who are admitted to the designated medical unit. She was instrumental in standardizing the alcohol detox/clinical institute withdrawal assessment protocol, which provides seamless care to high-risk patients.
Accurate assessment is particularly critical for elderly patients who are already more vulnerable and at risk for the development of delirium due to their multiple risk factors. The nursing delirium/CAM task force, under her guidance, accomplished the education required for implementation of a validated delirium screening tool.
Through her ongoing work with the designated unit, her presence is credited with improved patient care, reduced code white emergencies and lowered length of stay on a unit that has some of the most complicated patients.
A consummate teacher, she teaches staff and students with equal skill and zeal and is considered a tremendous preceptor. Colleagues and administrators observe that she strongly supports patient-centered care, recognizing the importance and value to meet both the psychiatric and medical needs of the patient population.
Excellence in Community Care
Daniella Casimir, DNP, FNP-BC
Family Nurse Practitioner
NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York City
Having established the sole primary care outpatient clinic for women and adolescent girls with congenital and acquired physical disabilities in New York City, Casimir has fostered a nurturing and trusting relationship with the more than 700 participants who have been seen at the clinic. Through this health and wellness center built exclusively to empower women with physical disabilities, she enables patients to pursue a healthy lifestyle through accessible quality care.
Casimir has initiated and established unique clinical protocols and evidence-based guidelines to minimize complications of urinary tract infections in women with physical disabilities, and her efforts have improved patient outcomes, minimized risk for complications and hospitalizations, and maintained quality of life. Casimir’s knowledge has resulted in raised awareness on health issues that impede the quality of life for this subset group of women.
She also improves care by providing inservices on public health concerns to other healthcare members at the center to better serve the participants and community at large. For example, Casimir initiated an interdisciplinary health workshop series to empower and educate this subset of the population on disease prevention and health promotion.
As an advocate for her patients, she is reaching out to Congress members in support of the Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act which would authorize nurse practitioners to certify patient eligibility for Medicare home health services.
Her nominator said Casimir is an effective change agent who provides holistic patient centered care to a specialty population with complex medical needs.
Margaret Drozd, MSN, RN, APRN-BC
Director, Community Mobile Health Services
Saint Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick, N.J.
Long before the Affordable Care Act and healthcare reform called attention to the importance of population health and community nursing, Drozd had a vision and a mission to address these concerns through the Community Mobile Health Services. As director, she is in charge of 23 staff and 18 RNs who provide health services to more than 16,000 clients at 350 community sites annually in central New Jersey.
Credited with developing a professional team and garnering grant funding and partnerships with other hospitals to meet the demand, she built a coalition of 65 community health partners aligned to conduct a community health needs assessment and implement a community health plan.
This plan includes a health literacy initiative that has attracted National Libraries of Medicine attention in becoming a national role model where libraries serve as health information hubs in the community.
Drozd has been instrumental in growing services by expanding her department. Since 2001, health services have mushroomed from caring for 600 individuals and 20 community sites to its current size. Some of this growth was accomplished through a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant she helped write and then administer. Even more notable is the cooperation she secured from multiple parties to be able to function in unison to focus on the community’s health needs. The outcome of the now-concluded grant is a community health consortium reaching a highly diverse region with 1.3 million residents.
Drozd’s perseverance and vision have resulted in a valuable partnership that is meeting central New Jersey’s community health needs, her nominator said.
Beryl Ehrlich, BSN, RN
Performance Improvement Coordinator
South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, N.Y.
As an educator and improvement coordinator, Ehrlich creates an environment which encourages and nurtures knowledge acquisition and skill development to provide evidence-based practice in the delivery of patient care.
For example, she has educated the home care staff on best practices for heart failure patients, which has led to a decrease in overall readmissions. The fourth quarter of 2015 saw the acute care rehospitalization rate at 20%, which is below both the state and the national averages.
Among the best practices she initiated was the development of the hand-off tool which will allow hospital RNs to give a warm hand off of patients with heart failure to home care staff.
She has educated staff on evidence-based best practice interventions aimed at reducing the risk of chronic diseases and complications resulting from cardiovascular disease such as MIs and cerebral vascular accidents; as a result, staff has incorporated prevention strategies into patients’ plans of care.
Ehrlich’s nominator said that ongoing education of staff on best practices has had a beneficial effect on quality, outcomes and recognition of the agency, including a commendable patient satisfaction rate of 91%.
Always willing to come alongside others, Ehrlich mentors, coaches and precepts colleagues and orients new staff to home care, also working with students rotating through the agency.
In each of her areas of responsibility, Ehrlich demonstrates leadership and serves as a role model to inspire other nurses to improve the quality of their performance, her nominator said.
Beryl Sowah, RN, APN-C
JFK Medical Center, Plainfield, N.J.
Sowah has created positive change for patients who have had little access to and knowledge of the healthcare system. As the first employee in an inaugural program aiming to decrease ED visits by patients who view the ED as their primary care provider, Sowah started from the ground up, forming relationships in and between the community and healthcare providers.
While working to recruit 100 patients for the program, she had to gain respect and convince physicians and ED staff to accept the importance of this program.
Early data after the first year have shown that Sowah’s efforts have been successful. Approximately 90% of these patients have been enrolled in some type of insurance, and ED use has been reduced. Using a treatment group and control group for data collection, ED visits decreased 67% in the treatment group, compared with a 4% decrease in the control group.
Sowah’s success is partly attributed to her ability to create positive change for patients by convincing them to believe in themselves. Individuals feel empowered to take charge of their lives by eating better, exercising more and taking care of their health issues.
Sowah also mentors nursing students, sparking a fire in them to comprehend the significance of community involvement, her nominator said. By helping enroll patients in the insurance market, teaching them the importance of screenings and compliance and the importance of one main provider, she has changed lives and empowered a group of people who previously relied heavily on the ED as their primary care provider.
Julia Van Nieuwland, BSN, RN, CEN, CTTS
Nurse Navigator, Pulmonary Center of Excellence
Newton (N.J.) Medical Center
Desiring greater ongoing contact with patients initially motivated Van Nieuwland to become the first RN to fill the full-time role of navigator, working primarily in the community in collaboration with pulmonologists and nurses.
As a certified tobacco treatment specialist, Van Nieuwland provides support and education in the community with outpatient group tobacco cessation classes that boast a completion rate of 80%-90%. She maintains contact by telephone with patients interested in continuing her support of their efforts, checking in with them during pulmonary rehabilitation sessions. She also monitors patients’ overall health progress and provides individual counsel to all.
As a facilitator for the American Lung Association’s Better Breathers’ Club, she leads meetings with the goal of providing personal support, education and socialization to people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other chronic lung disease as well as their significant others.
Because she has successfully developed an environment of trust with patients with COPD, there has been a demonstrable decrease in patient readmission rates for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Between 2015 and 2016, the patient readmission rate for COPD was approximately 6.5% lower than the Center for Medicare and Medicaid’s national mean.
She also is a persuasive advocate for patients’ attendance at the respiratory rehabilitation exercise program, which has seen an increase in volume due to her involvement and dedication.
Her nominator said Van Nieuwland has discovered the perfect outlet for her professional desire to have ongoing care for patients, helping them make positive lifestyle improvements while alleviating symptoms and minimizing disease progression.
Mandy Zhang, RN
Home Care Planner, Business Initiative
MJHS, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Zhang’s commitment to going above and beyond what is expected was demonstrated during a recent New York City blizzard when, despite blocked roads and limited travel options, she drove through the city to a patient’s home to provide needed home care on her day off.
As a home care planner, Zhang accepts referrals and requests for assessments from hospitals, and in her role as a facilitator of safe transition and discharge with home care services, she brings strong professional nursing skills and a keen cultural understanding, her nominator said.
Fluent in English, Chinese and Mandarin, Zhang also is highly knowledgeable about the culture and customs of New York City’s three Chinatowns in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. Her knowledge of her patients has enabled her to advocate on their behalf while developing trust, resulting in their remaining in home for care.
Her supervisor points out that Zhang educates the community on restoration of good health, helping patients through acute periods of health needs, then leading them to safe independence and management of their disease at home. She has begun a cultural initiative during which she meets Chinese-speaking patients at four of the system’s hospitals and matches non-English-speaking patients with a community worker fluent in their native language.
Additionally, Zhang is a successful recruiter and magnet for RNs seeking employment and attracting them to the healthcare system. As an RN preceptor, she mentors new nurses who commend her personality, energy and willingness that result in positive change in the community, her nominator said.
Excellence in Education and Mentorship
Gina Dovi, MSN, RN, CPHON,
Research Nurse Coordinator,
Children’s Hospital Research Center
Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center
Dovi is responsible for the oversight of pediatric clinical trials and collaborating with at least 10 physicians’ practices and their teams as well as multi-disciplinary departments. Her role includes preparing research documents for the IRB, collecting data, getting consents from patients and their families, and managing their research study visits.
As a mentor and educator, Dovi develops opportunities to teach staff to benefit patients and their families. She educates general pediatric nurses on biotherapy, which enables them to provide safe care to those who are receiving biotherapy to treat their disease.
Having attended a workshop on Pediatric Early Warning Systems, Dovi was determined to share the information and first developed a Performance Improvement project for which she collected data for more than a year. To complete the project, she wrote a PEWS policy and procedure for the staff, which helped ease nausea in patients who are receiving chemotherapy.
Passionate about learning, Dovi encouraged co-workers to apply for the Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse exam, offered her own books and led study groups. She has improved the unit’s orientation program and voluntarily serves as a pediatric chemotherapy/biotherapy instructor. She is committed to helping others feel comfortable in caring for children with cancer through education, developing a booklet for nursing students during their clinical rotation.
Positive change continues to happen as Dovi instills patient safety as a priority, revising policies, educating staff and validating practices to foster her organization’s quality of care.
Teresa Laberdee, MSN, RN
Northport (N.Y.) VAMC
An ardent and dedicated patient advocate, Laberdee’s clinical practice emulates both nursing and the Veterans Affairs code of ethics as she performs her role of nurse educator for acute care, critical care, OR, PACU, the specialty care areas and five community-based outpatient clinics.
Laberdee verifies the clinical competency of more than 200 nurses in the med/surg arena and is the orientation coordinator for all new nurses for the specialty, acting as their coach and mentor.
Among her professional contributions is membership on the policy and procedure committee, where she has rewritten center memorandums and nursing policies for the CPR training program, medical emergency response and veteran education. She continually evaluates clinical practice and offers suggestions based on current research and her past critical care practice.
When Laberdee identified that RNs were inconsistent in the order of their blood draw collection tube use, she educated more than 300 nursing staff, which resulted in improved practices, positive engagement and better outcomes, as demonstrated by the decreased incidence of blood collection errors.
Using research, Laberdee identified a progressive shift of emphasis from teacher-centered to student-centered education, resulting in a redefinition of approaches to medical education. She participates with the VA national members to support the VHA directive of empowering veterans to understand and manage their healthcare and make more informed healthcare choices. Laberdee also acts as a leader with regard to ethical behavior concerning health education issues, assisting staff to analyze and respond to ethical issues in health education.
Beth McGovern, MSN, RNC-OB, CHSE
Clinical Practice Specialist
Obstetrics, Women’s and Children’s Services
The Valley Hospital
McGovern is considered to be the face of simulation education throughout her organization, and her passion and commitment to patient safety through education and mentoring are palpable, her nominator said.
She is primarily responsible for mentoring staff in complex care management in the labor and delivery and mother/baby units, which result in 3,800 deliveries per year and include 38 beds with high-risk antepartum care. She attended a comprehensive instructor workshop in simulation when the hospital received a grant in 2012 for a simulation mannequin for clinical education in obstetrics. Once trained, McGovern became the organizationwide champion for the development of a simulation program in the hospital. The simulation program continued to grow and in 2015, 109 simulation sessions were held with 833 participants, and six additional RNs have attended the training course, returning to initiate simulation education in their own departments.
As a healthcare simulation educator, she has worked with physician quality champions to develop evidence-based protocols that result in improved patient outcomes.
Other evidence-based protocols she has developed include the patient safety protocol based on a maternal early warning sign algorithm and an intravenous acetaminophen protocol, which is part of a multimodal post-cesarean analgesic protocol study. Those results were a prime mover in the revision of pain-management protocols for postop patients.
Her nominator states that McGovern has been the force that has taken simulation education from the women’s and children’s service line to a hospitalwide commitment to improve patient care, teamwork and communication.
Gail Probst, MSN, RN, APN, OCN, AOCN, NE-BC
Director of Cancer Services
Huntington (N.Y.) Hospital
Probst’s knowledge and expertise in cancer care resonate throughout her organization, her nominator said. Responsible for the oversight of all the cancer services in a 400-bed facility, she directly manages the nurse navigator for cancer services and the nurse manager of the oncology unit.
The first oncology unit took shape under her organization and she developed all oncology policies and procedures. Probst organizes, volunteers and participates in all community outreach while overseeing the oncology core curriculum for new nurses, actively helping nurses during their orientation. To widen cancer prevention opportunities, she organized a women’s health screening and advocated for resources for those who did not have the financial means to follow up on breast abnormalities.
Probst’s work has received state recognition, including two grants from the state DOH to provide a psych-educational support program for women at high risk for developing breast cancer and support for partners and children of women with breast cancer. Her psychosocial distress screen is used for all patients admitted to the facility so that their emotional needs are assessed upon admission.
Staff satisfaction is high partly due to the shared governance model she helped develop for selecting new nurse managers. Now eight years old, her program is highly engaging for staff; the prospective nurse managers and selection committee report growing professionally through participation.
Her nominator said Probst’s dedication to her organization’s cancer program has brought about their recent National Accreditation Program for Breast Cancers status, which has made the facility a center of excellence for breast health.
Margaret Rafferty, DNP, MPH, MA
Chairwoman, Department of Nursing
New York City College of Technology,
CUNY, Brooklyn, N.Y.
As chairwoman of the department of nursing, Rafferty oversees the education of approximately 600 students and a faculty of 70. One of her key roles has been the development, coordination and accreditation of the college’s RN-BSN program.
As part of the design process of the RN-BSN program, Rafferty spearheaded the effort to include meaningful and socially significant courses. Under her leadership, an urban health course was developed, and the innovative clinical placements associated with this course include soup kitchens, food markets and prisons.
In connection with this effort, Rafferty has conducted extensive research exploring nurse managers’ assessment of the clinical competencies of associate degree graduates and BSN graduates, with results that have been critical to the advancement of the profession and serve as a guide for baccalaureate programs.
To provide funding for expanding enrollment of Brooklyn’s minority nurses in the RN-BSN program, Rafferty acted as a co-investigator of a successful Health
Resources and Services Administration grant for the college’s nursing department, increasing diversity in the college’s program. She is known as a leader who is gifted in working with students from under-represented populations.
As a nursing leader, Rafferty volunteers with the Accreditation Committee for Education in Nursing as a site visitor, traveling to locations across the U.S., spending several days on site and then preparing a report of findings.
Rafferty’s nominator stated that Rafferty exemplifies the motto, “Think global. Act local,” and is an exemplary nurse leader who has created a learning environment that supports excellence in teaching, research and service.
J. Cedar Wang, MSN, RN, APN, GNP-BC, CHSE
Director of Simulation Education
Holy Name Medical Center, Teaneck, N.J.
Wang’s leadership and innovative program ideas are credited with the statewide and national attention the Institute for Simulation Learning has received, and the 5,000+ individuals who have been able to improve their clinical, behavioral and interpersonal skills within an immersive simulation environment.
She oversees the ISL at the 361-bed acute care medical center; it’s the only hospital-based simulation center in the primary and secondary service areas. She developed the ISL prior to its opening in 2013, and now oversees a core staff of five, plus 18 per diem educators and four actors. She is responsible for the overall development, establishment, administration and sustainability of the program.
Much more than a skills lab, the ISL was conceived to emphasize the benefits of honing caregiver-patient communication skills. To date, the ISL has trained more than 5,000 healthcare professionals, first responders, corporate clients and nursing students from the metropolitan area within 32 customized courses and 11 different American Heart Association courses.
The program’s award-winning immersive dementia sensitivity program has engaged more than 450 of the facility’s medical and support staff; qualitative data collected from pre-test and post-test surveys revealed a statistically significant change in attitudes concerning those experiencing dementia.
The program’s true worth was demonstrated dramatically when ob/gyn staff participated in a course on obstetrical emergencies, then three days later faced an actual emergency in the facility. Following a positive patient outcome, staff commented that their ability to perform expertly and comfortably as a team was due to the simulation training.
Excellence in Executive Leadership
Natalia Cineas, DNP, RN, NEA-BC
Senior Director, Nursing
Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, New York City
Cineas’ greatest achievement is her ability to empower staff to achieve quality patient care outcomes and to contribute to the general knowledge of nursing through evidence-based practice. She oversees the advancement of nursing practice, quality improvement and patient safety for a total of nine units, equaling 1,000 employees and a budget of $125 million.
One of her most notable initiatives has been purposeful hourly rounding for the nursing staff. In 2015, having developed an interactive simulation exercise to provide the necessary knowledge and skills to nursing staff on effectively rounding of patients, she brought about measurable change. At the onset of this initiative, the Press Ganey custom question, “Does the nursing staff check on you hourly?” had a 33% rating. Within three months of the initiation of this project, the rating rose to an all-time high of 54%.
Cineas continually implements initiatives that highly motivate staff. In 2016, her project, Bath Basin Elimination: The Use of Bathing Cloths to Reduce Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infection in Critically Ill Patients, reduced the CAUTI rate more than 50% on the pilot units and received a New York Organization of Nurse Executives and Leaders Claire Murray Best Practices Award.
Another example is the rounding champions program, a first of its kind in the Mount Sinai Health System, which engages nurses and nursing assistants to work collaboratively to reach their goals for quality and patient experience metrics.
In every way, Cineas has invigorated and inspired the nursing department to embrace change and activate performance improvement, her nominator said.
Lisa Iachetti, BSN, MBA, RN
Clinical Network Development
Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center
Iachetti’s diverse role as the administrator of clinical network development is centered on the operational needs of the department of patient care and network development. She assists the facility’s leadership in developing, implementing and monitoring strategic initiatives to identify issues and cultivate opportunities, and is responsible for market growth for network development activities, affiliate markets and emerging markets.
Her role encompasses emergency transport and community operations. She took the lead in developing the facility’s first air medical transport in 2012, which to date has completed more than 1,000 missions and increased the facility’s footprint by providing critical care to a broader community.
She served as program manager for the transfer center, a one-call-does-it-all process to transfer patients from another facility or a physician’s office to the flagship facility, with protocols in place specific to service lines.
Iachetti is directly involved in supporting the facility’s vision through all of its integration strategies. As a nurse and executive, she has helped shape major initiatives and ensure smooth transitions as the facility grows, most recently involving a significant merger. As the health system’s new facility takes shape,
Iachetti serves as project manager for the integration management office and is collaborating with 16 work groups.
A member of the steering committee overseeing transitions with two of the facility’s affiliate hospitals, she served as project leader for strategic urgent care alignment. Her efforts are helping to pave the way for expanded access to the highest quality healthcare, her nominator said.
Sara Looby, PhD, ANP-BC, FAAN
Nurse Scientist and Principal Investigator
Yvonne Munn Center for Nursing Research
Massachusetts General Hospital/
Massachusetts General Physician
Looby distinguishes herself through her groundbreaking, patient-centered research, her nominator said. Through her dogged pursuit of rigorous and innovative research, she identifies new problems and solutions to improve healthcare for women living with HIV.
As one of five nurse scientists in a hospital-based research setting with $800 million in external research funding, Looby mentors all levels of nurses interested in conducting clinical research from concept development and grant writing to publication.
She was among the first investigators to determine that reduced bone density was associated with high bone turnover among women with HIV. Her research has expanded to include studies that document an increased risk for cardiovascular disease occurring earlier in women living with HIV than women without HIV.
Her current interdisciplinary study examines sex-specific mechanisms of cardiovascular disease risk and risk reduction in HIV in women enrolled in the randomized trial to prevent vascular events in HIV. Known as REPRIEVE, it’s an international randomized control study that investigates whether treatment with a statin medication will reduce risk of heart disease in patients living with HIV.
Believing that everyone deserves accessible health education, Looby has dedicated much time providing health education as a volunteer at numerous HIV service organizations. She co-established HIV college, a monthly health education program in a nearby city, educating participants in plain language on HIV and its comorbidities.
She has served on the board of directors for a local nonprofit organization for women infected with or affected by HIV, and continues to uphold nursing’s call for patient-centered care by taking complicated research findings directly to those involved in the community.
Jennifer O’Neill, DNP, APN, NEA-BC
Vice President and CNO
Patient Care Services
Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Livingston, N.J.
O’Neill maximizes efficiency and capacity by leveraging lean methodology to drive continuous process improvements. She is the chief nursing officer for a 577-bed nonprofit teaching hospital where she oversees approximately 1,500 employees in patient care services, totaling a $130 million budget.
As an innovative DNP administrator and licensed nurse practitioner, she has a proven track record for dramatically improving quality and level of care for patients on a unit, hospitalwide and regional basis, according to her nominator.
Some examples of measureable differences and notable accomplishments include a 13.5% reduction in falls rate from 2.66 in 2013 to 2.3 in 2015; implementation of post-discharge telephone call initiative with 79% compliance within 48 hours for the inpatient setting; and implementation of quarterly nursing education focusing on hospital-acquired conditions, which had the outcome of reducing CAUTI SIR to 0.22 and CLABSI SIR to 0.46.
O’Neill has created or has been instrumental in moving forward programs and initiatives such as the development of the center for nursing excellence; execution of the pride and promise staff nurse leadership development program focusing on transformational leadership and emotional intelligence; and implementation of director of nursing succession planning with top five directors focusing on transformational leadership, emotional intelligence, active listening, strategic planning, mentoring and coaching.
A powerful mentor herself, she has supported the development of a professional RN residency program for her facility, and is seen as an exemplary and innovative nurse leader who takes time to teach and mentor both the novice and expert healthcare professional.
Joyce Palmieri, MS, RN, CHPN
Vice President of Clinical Services
for MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care
New York City
Clinical and business management are the domain of Palmieri, who is responsible for operational and financial management in one of New York’s largest hospice and palliative care programs, serving an average of 1,350 hospice and palliative care patients daily and more than 500 employees.
Palmieri is viewed as a key team member, guiding the restructuring of the program associated with a doubling of patient census during the past five years, while ensuring that quality and compliance initiatives are sustained. She has been primarily responsible for creating hospice policies and procedures, developing a clinical practice council for operational review and monitoring of clinical care, and overseeing specific practice improvements.
While growing the palliative and hospice lines of service, Palmieri provided the clinical oversight of 14 new inpatient units, two residences and 64 nursing home contracts over a five-year period.
Quality and education within the organization are two areas in which Palmieri is credited with making the most direct and positive change. In the past year, she supported an organizationwide effort to promote cultural diversity at end-of-life and the development of evidence-based guidelines for increasing staff awareness.
Colleagues call Palmieri a “people developer” and commend her support of the professional development of others and encouraging opportunities for career growth. She reinforced continued education at MJHS and promoted the need for nurses to pursue hospice and palliative care certification.
Leading nurses to think holistically while maintaining a proven track record of business management, Palmieri is influencing the entire trajectory of illness, chronic pain, palliative care, hospice and end-of-life care, her nominator said.
Donna Schick, MA, RN, NEA-BC,
Director, Regional Clinical Programs,
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center,
New York City
Schick oversees six regional suburban campuses, all of which provide comprehensive outpatient services for adult cancer patients. Under her leadership are five nursing managers and four radiology managers who oversee 500 staff members. In 2015, the six locations saw more than 136,000 patient office visits, in addition to infusion and radiation visits and exams.
Design and implementation of numerous outpatient projects and programs fall under Schick’s responsibilities, which includes developing new facilities. In 2015, a facility she helped redesign received the Gold Award from Modern Healthcare; the facility assures optimal patient space while providing team work rooms where staff interact and collaborate. This facility also exceeded volume projections in its first year by more than 90% as patients actively sought care there.
Schick is involved in the design and planning of two outpatient oncology centers slated to open in fall 2016 and summer 2017. She is working to make each a patient-focused centers.
Schick also works with staff nurses to develop and implement nurse-run community education programs, such as one focusing on adjustments to a new normal, which help patients and caregivers effectively cope with issues related to cancer treatment and survivorship.
She consistently supports the professional growth of nursing staff, acting as a mentor, coach and guide in the design and implementation of a revised nursing career ladder resulting in an 85% increase in nurses attaining higher education and 50% gaining specialty certification. The ladder also has proven to be an effective recruitment and retention tool, her nominator said.
Excellence in Management
Elizabeth Clarke, MSN, RN, FNP, SCRN
South Nassau Communities Hospital,
As nurse manager for a designated 36-bed telemetry/stroke unit, Clarke oversees approximately 60 staff. The facility is the leading stroke center for the area and received The Joint Commission Primary Stroke Center redesignation.
Clarke has initiated and led many programs, such as development and implementation of the Stay With Me program, which aims to decrease the fall rate on the unit. The pilot she carried out yielded strong data showing a significant decrease in the falls rate; the program was implemented hospitalwide.
To promote mobility of stroke patients, Clarke devised the number of feet signage hanging throughout the unit, displaying the number of feet walked as stroke patients increase their ambulation. To increase awareness of stroke symptoms among staff, Clarke created stroke recognition and activation cards for every employee throughout the organization to place on the back of their ID card.
One of Clarke’s most recognized achievements is her emphasis on increasing the education and expertise of her staff and the attainment of Stroke Certified Registered Nurse status. She has provided educational opportunities for nurses and reviews materials with RNs to increase their success rate. To date, nine RNs have reached certification and others are in the process.
With her staff, Clarke seeks specific ways to improve outcomes for stroke patients. She re-established a stroke support group for patients and their families and has been active in developing outlets to educate the public on stroke prevention, providing activities during World Stroke Day and at hospital health fairs. Her nominator said patients and staff are beneficiaries of Clarke’s transformational leadership.
Marianne DiStefano, MSN, RNC, IBCLC
Senior Director, Patient Care Services,
Staten Island (N.Y.) University Hospital-Northwell Hospital
DiStefano is regarded by colleagues and staff as a nurse’s nurse, and an effective, trusted leader. She manages patient care for labor and delivery, the mother-baby unit, the NICU and pediatrics, and oversees the family education program, supervising a team of 18 staff development educators.
Credited with taking the lead to move forward with electronic health record implementation, DiStefano propelled staff members into the future of electronic documentation with patience, encouragement and understanding. Those same traits came into play as she shepherded them toward baby-friendly status by the World Health Organization. DiStefano endorsed two nurses’ interest and desire to increase breast-feeding rates in the delivery room and encouraged and mentored as they researched the topic. DiStefano’s coaching and support resulted in staff working toward and achieving baby-friendly designation.
DiStefano is a strong proponent of perinatal bereavement practices established in labor and delivery, initiating bereavement education for the staff and a monthly perinatal support group for parents.
She also successfully led the interdisciplinary obstetrical hemorrhage protocol, called code pink, having an instrumental role in bringing together the necessary players from many disciplines. As a result of her efforts, the protocol is now part of ongoing simulation training for physicians and nurses.
Selected as a mentor for the first Sigma Theta Tau/Johnson & Johnson Maternal Child Leadership Academy with a focus on healthy mom/healthy baby, she has encouraged other staff members to apply for the leadership academy, always promoting her staff members to grow and excel in their roles.
Tara Donnelly, BSN, RN
Overlook Medical Center, Summit, N.J.
Donnelly is responsible for the direction, planning, management and daily operations of 42 staff members at four infusion centers, with a total of 52 chairs.
Her contributions include serving as sub-investigator for the Knowledge and Perceptions of Palliative Care in Adult Oncology Outpatients, an IRB-approved study. As a result, an understanding of baseline knowledge and perceptions has led to clinical practice changes such as improved patient education materials, an on-site palliative care physician, and increased discussions between the multidisciplinary team leading to increased referrals.
She also has successfully reduced the wait time for patients from appointment to chair, with the added benefit of relieving a patient’s anxiety when it is at its highest. To date, following the completion of a study of the situation, wait time has been reduced by 21%. Additionally, there has been a projected $370,000 gross revenue increase related to the expanded hours of operation.
Day-to-day efficiency by the staff has increased noticeably as Donnelly directed the infusion center’s transition from a paper-based unit to one using electronic medical records, enabling quality-related clinical data to be captured for analysis as well.
Staff has become more satisfied with their work as Donnelly transitioned them from all four infusion centers to a we-are-one mentality, achieving cross-training and making it easier to fill unexpected staff absences.
Donnelly’s leadership and clinical skill are accentuated by her excellence in promoting teamwork among all of the sites, adeptly promoting both positive working relationships and effective interpersonal relationships, her nominator said.
Laura Iacono, MSN, CCRN, CNRN, CNML
North Shore University Hospital,
The 16-bed ICU Iacono manages is a highly acute unit with approximately 1,200 admissions annually, 38% of which are critical transfers from outside hospitals. She is responsible for more than 60 nursing FTEs, and in addition to daily rounding with staff, she performs daily rounds with individual patients and their families.
Her passion for staff development, professionalism and empowerment has resulted in her unit’s achievement of more than 50% improvement in staff certification with more than 60% of the staff certified. In addition, staff achievement of clinical ladder status has improved from 0% to more than 63%.
Iacono is on the clinical advisory board of a local university school of nursing, demonstrating the value she holds for learning, self-improvement and dedication to the nursing profession and in her role as leader. She empowers staff to improve quality through evidence-based practice.
Under her leadership, the unit achieved a 72% reduction in CAUTIs from 2013-2015, and zero CLABSI for over two years, resulting in a 100% reduction. Staff’s efforts against CAUTIs was disseminated as best practice hospitalwide and then systemwide. The unit also accomplished a 68% improvement in hospital acquired pressure ulcers and a 92% improvement in C-difficile infections.
Other initiatives she implemented include an 18-hour enteral feeding protocol; this guideline and algorithm was devised with an interdisciplinary team to decrease the incidence of aspiration while optimizing patient nutrition. Admired as someone who is dedicated and passionate, Iacono always strives to facilitate communication among the interdisciplinary team.
Sonia Nelson, MSN/M, RN
Clinical Nurse Manager
Mount Sinai Hospital,
New York City
Experience and excellence have prompted Nelson, manager of the neurosurgical ICU and the neuroscience center, to help senior administration negotiate and avoid a citywide nursing strike in 2015. Her role on the negotiating team was instrumental in influencing 2,000 staff nurses not to strike.
Nelson leads more than 130 nurses and additional support staff as an innovative transformational leader, and is admired for the way she continually learns new methods of communication and technology to keep in touch with her staff.
One of most visionary programs in which she was involved is the development of the early mobilization program, aimed at decreasing the patient’s length of stay in the ICU units. This initiative required the generation of teamwork between physical therapy, nursing and physicians which she successfully achieved.
She developed the Operation Heart Beat: Family and Friends Saving Lives program to educate families and friends of heart disease patients about the immediate response and interventions in case of a cardiac arrest, and participated in initiatives to get automated external defibrillators into the New York Board of Education Public Schools.
Her community has benefited from the Know Stroke: Know the Signs, Act in Time program, which she has promoted in partnership with the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke program. Her role embodies nurturing others and raising awareness of how caring, compassion and education can save lives.
High school and colleges students, as well as several nonclinical staff, have been mentored by her in their path toward the healthcare profession.
Denise Occhiuzzo, MS, RN, BC
Administrator, Director of Nursing, Patient Care
Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center
In her role as administrative director of nursing for clinical education and nursing practice, Occhiuzzo supports the facility’s strategic initiatives by providing education and training for clinical personnel across the facility.
Under her transformational leadership, the facility has obtained and maintained Magnet designation, and staff across the entire organization receive continuing education. Recognized as a leader who instills the values of a Magnet culture, she has made measurable differences, ensuring that nurses and healthcare providers possess the needed tools and skills to meet expectations for each designation and continue to grow along the lines of clinical excellence and practice.
She has headed numerous major projects and committees related to education and has developed curriculums for adult med/surg, pediatric, adult and pediatric oncology.
Occhiuzzo served as assistant director of the Wicks Education Enterostomal Therapy Satellite Program, held at the facility for approximately 10 years, in which nurses are educated as wound, ostomy and continence nurses.
As an advocate for specialty certification in nursing, Occhiuzzo has developed a blueprint for promoting specialty certification in nursing and is committed to the belief that certification makes a difference in quality patient outcomes and the ongoing development of the professional nurse.
Fostering a broad range of educational opportunities, she directs quality orientations, continuing education curriculums and expanded affiliations with nursing programs, her nominator said. Occhiuzzo has increased compliance with education and clinical support by 10% for nursing staff specific to improving HCAHPS scores in the overall ranking for patient experience and communication with nurses.
GEM Nomination Process
The Nurse.com GEM Awards program is a nurse-led nomination, selection and award program. Nominees come from all specialties and practice settings and can be nominated in any of five categories: Excellence in Clinical Nursing; Excellence in Community Care; Excellence in Education and Mentorship; Excellence in Executive Leadership; and Excellence in Management.
Each year, Nurse.com calls upon you, our nurse readers, to tell us about the exceptional nurses you work with — nurses you believe deserve to be part of our GEM Awards program. Nurses submit online nominations at Nurse.com/GEM detailing the extraordinary contributions their colleagues make to patients and the profession, and nurse leaders act as judges to evaluate and score all nominations received.
GEM Program Phases, Awards
After initial judging, finalists in each region are named and awards are presented to them at GEM Award events held in four cities across the country in August and September. Regional winners, one in each category, are selected from among the finalists and are also announced at these events and featured in the November/December issues of Nurse.com magazines. Regional winners go on to compete in the national phase of the GEM program. After a third round of judging from among all the regional winners, five nurses, one in each category, are named national GEM winners. They will be announced and featured in the first issues of 2017.
Find out more about the annual Nurse.com GEM (Giving Excellence Meaning) program.
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