The Best in Care When It's Needed Most
Here’s something of a thought experiment: Imagine that you’re face to face with a client, a vendor, a customer. You may know him well, or be meeting him for the first time. You are seeing that person at perhaps the most distressed and distraught point in his life, and he’s looking to you for help, for solace, for reassurance that you can remedy the most significant challenge he’s ever faced. His life, literally, is in your hands.
Now take the stress induced by that encounter and multiply it by dozens of such encounters, five days a week, nearly every week of the year. How do you handle it? That’s a question we ask ourselves each year with a new cohort of Heroes in Healthcare: How do they do it?
How do they show up for work every day where people are sick and dying, and yet find the grace and dignity to deliver care that will get some of their patients back on their feet—and sometimes, deliver the last care a patient will ever receive?
For the most part, employment in this country doesn’t expose us to life-or-death cases, or even quality-of-life issues where discussion of mortality is premature. We punch a clock, we consult with clients or turn out widgets, we go home at the end of the day. Life goes on. That is the difference between Heroes in Healthcare and every other business-recognition we produce each year, with the notable exception of Top Doctors.
Again this year, we recognize the out-sized performances of health-care professionals, staff members and others in the categories of Administration, Nursing, Professional Services, Auxiliary Services, Volunteer work and Lifetime Achievement. Their contributions to this region aren’t just matters of health-care delivery; they are foundational elements in the high quality of life enjoyed by more than 2 million
people in this region.
Please join us in recognizing them, and in thanking these heroes for their service.
BOB BONNEY, Saint Luke’s Health System
Bob Bonney’s parents may have lacked college degrees, but not a college conviction: Young Robert would get his degree, and he’d be armed with a strong work ethic and a finely calibrated moral compass for doing what’s right. So he pursued his dream of becoming a high school math teacher, supplementing college costs with an Air Force ROTC stint. That’s how a 22-year-old from New Britain, Conn., would come to find himself in central Missouri, manning the control panel in a Minuteman II ICBM silo.
“One of the things I learned in the military was the art of delegation,” says Bonney, who draws on those skills more than 45 years later as senior vice president for non-acute services at Saint Luke’s Health System. Another tool he wields from that skill set: “The expectation that people, given the opportunity, will rise to the occasion,” says Bonney.
While stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Bonney earned his MBA at MU, stayed around after his service to earn a master’s in public health, and veered way from the path to math. After starting his health-care administration career in Michigan, he heard from a recruiter about a job at Research Medical Center, worked there for a dozen years, then spent two years with UnitedHealthcare before Saint Luke’s came calling in 1999.
He has been a key player in expanding the Saint Luke’s physical footprint, from new hospitals and clinics to the scheduled opening of its new rehabilitation institute expected to open in September. No matter his role, he says, his career directive has been, “ultimately, to make sure that in the process, we always remember the patients. They are the reason we do what we do, the reason we’re here.”
SEAN KUMER, University of Kansas Health System
Pennsylvania summers inside a family-owned wool mill can be powerful career motivators, but not always limited to leadership in the milling ranks. Three generations of Kumers in that line would be enough for young Sean Kumer, who left that business for health care, but never let go of its lessons.
“Working for family is tough,” says Kumer, “and they were tough, hard-working people.” That mind set would serve him well in medical school at the University of Vermont, then in surgical and transplant-surgery training at the med schools of Michigan and Virginia. “One thing they used to say in medical school was, if you like anything the same or more than surgery, do it, because the commitment for surgery was brutal,” says Kumer, a surgeon who directs the transplant surgery fellowship for the University of Kansas Health System, which brought him here in 2011.
Surgery, he says, required “training that was intense, and long hours, but it seemed to resonate with me, having been a guy who worked in a mill, and working with my hands was something I enjoyed.”
The job he now holds is the right fit at the right time, he says, because, first of all, he believes the health system’s goals for development of its transplantation program are correctly aligned, and he’s been a part of care delivery rapidly evolving with new procedures and drugs that allow breakthrough surgical successes.
On a more personal level, Kumer says, “The thing I love about the job is, there’s, always something new. … It’s exciting and drives me to work hard for our patients, employees and the people I serve.”
DANETTE WILSON, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City
In more than 30 years with Blue KC, from the marketing ranks on up to the CEO’s chair for the past five, Danette Wilson has never worked alone. Nearly a million people have been part of her journey—the non-profit insurer’s customers. “Our business has gotten increasingly complicated, but what hasn’t changed is the importance of great customer experience,” says Wilson, whose tenure will come to an end this summer with retirement.
“We talk a lot about disruption and evolution, but when you’re sick or you have a family member who is sick, you want stability. Our members know they can count on us to be there when they need us.”
Wilson, who came to Kansas City not long after earning her degree from the University of Nebraska, said the time was right to bow out. “”The company is strong financially and is providing innovations to deliver simple, affordable, high-quality health care to our members,” she said.
Asked to identify her signature achievement from half a lifetime’s worth of work, Wilson says that “in my time at Blue KC, our business has undergone massive change, but one thing has remained constant: the company’s commitment to our members and to our talented employees. I’m proud to have been a par t of that.” And she points to the rollout of a new care model, Spira Care, as just one example of an innovative culture she helped foster. “By challenging ourselves to start fresh and consider the components of a truly differentiated experience, we were able to create an innovative offering that gives Blue KC customers affordability, simplicity and individualization.”
Wilson leaves at a time when presidential candidates, with a straight face, can call for outright elimination of private health insurance. “What gives me hope is the confidence that Blue KC is making a difference for the community we serve,” she says. And if she could wave of the magic wand to create a better environment for her team? “I wish,” she muses, “there was more certainty in the individual market.”
KELLY HUBKA, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission
Project management was the first leg on Kelly Hubka’s career path, but there were good reasons why nursing, as she says, “lingered in the back of my mind for years.” That was because she had been born with a congenital heart defect. “That kept me personally connected to health care as a child, both in and out of the hospital,” she says. “I was always in awe of the health-care profession and the care taken to surgically correct my heart defect that allowed me to live a normal life.”
The career path diverged, she says, after her youngest daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate. “My interest in nursing was reignited when I saw the care provided to my daughter and the way the nurses tended to her dad’s and my hearts,” she says. “This led me to enter nursing school and fulfill my lifelong interest of nursing, albeit as a second career.”
She’s now director of population health at AdventHealth, the former Shawnee Mission Health system, a track she took after working in hospice care. “For some patients, I saw the end-of-life outcomes caused by poorly managed chronic conditions and the effects of health disparity,” she said. “I knew there had to be a systematic way to impact the outcomes of large populations of people, not just targeting individual patients. This can’t just be a focus for government agencies or payers, it must start in communities,
health systems and health clinics.”
The biggest challenge is aggregating usable data from myriad of sources to produce actionable reporting. Complicating the task, she says, is that the average health system must draw from 18 different platforms for electronic health records. “Add in a population scale where care is provided by multiple health systems and providers, and the challenge only grows,” she says.
GREGORY HUMMEL Centerpoint Medical Center
Peanut brittle. It may be the bane of dentists everywhere, but for Gregory Hummel, it’s a validation of his life’s work every time a batch arrives from a patient who has benefited from his acumen as an orthopedic surgeon. Same with each tin of cookies, each hand-written, thank-you note, the Christmas cards, the smile from an elderly woman who has had a joint replacement, or the high-five from a young athlete getting back on the playing field after arthroscopic or ACL surgery.
“I would hope that is reason enough for anyone to want to go into medicine,” says Hummel, of the HCA Midwest Health physicians group and Centerpoint Medical Center. “It certainly is a major reason why I remain committed to providing the best available care.” He got into orthopedic surgery the same way many others in the field did, he said. “I was an ex-jock who got hurt,” he says. “I blew my knee out playing college basketball and the orthopedic surgeon who operated on me become a mentor,” inspiring him to attend medical school.
A main attraction of his specialty, Hummel says, is that “orthopedics provided immediate feedback as to whether you did a good job or not and could obviously get people back on their feet and restore improvement in function.” That immediate gratification became a hallmark of the craft right as Hummel’s career was starting, with introduction of total joint replacements. “I found the challenge of total joints, as well as arthroscopic procedures doing knee ligament reconstructions and shoulder rotator cuff repairs was fascinating,” he says.
A fierce defender of patients’ rights, Hummel sees certain influences in medicine—including outright denials or delays in treatment related to insurance coverage—as elements that “demean patient-physician interaction and obstruct patients’ having access to immediate physician involvement. I feel it’s critical to act as a patient advocate.”
PHIL SCHNEIDER, Olathe Health
An aptitude for math and science, a desire to get into health care and the examples set by a local pharmacist in his Iowa hometown all came together to pull Phil Schneider into the world of pharmacy.
He earned both his undergraduate and doctor degrees from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, then did his residency in adult internal medicine in South Carolina before being recruited to Olathe Medical Center in 1990, tasked with developing clinical pharmacy services. Nearly three decades later, he is a highly respected figure in national pharmacy circles, and he’s engaged in health-care delivery that is the tip of the spear with America’s aging population.
“Obviously, there is a correlation to advanced age and the increased need for medications,” Schneider says. “The combination of rising drug costs and increasing demand produces a challenging cost curve that is ideally managed by a team that includes the expertise of pharmacists who help to shift the quality and cost curve favorably.”
There is, Schneider says, a growing need for the services of well-trained pharmacists in both ambulatory and acute-care settings, but budget constraints are hampering the growth of pharmacy services nationwide. “These limitations create an imperative to target the pharmacist’s role to those areas which demonstrate the greatest value,” he says.
One trend working in favor of patients today, Schneider says, is the turnaround in numbers of pharmacists. “Following decades of a pharmacist shortage, the number of pharmacy-education programs has increased considerably in the past 20 years,” he says. “Nationally, there are now more than double the number of pharmacy graduates compared to when I graduated from pharmacy school.”
APRIL MACKEY Excelsior Springs Hospital
Memorable patient experiences? “I could probably write a book! Any nurse would probably say the same thing,” says April Mackey, a registered nurse at Excelsior Springs Hospital. “I have been there when humans take their first breath, and their last.”
But there was one patient she’ll always remember, from her early days in nursing in Wisconsin. A non-verbal autistic young man who was frightened by all the strange noises, smells, pain, and general routine of a hospital, she says. “For some reason, he and I just clicked. I could get him to relax, allowing us to do the care we needed to do for him. His parents couldn’t believe how he responded to me.”
And even after he was discharged, they kept in contact. “I am a person of faith, and honestly believe God sent him to me so that I would never question wh y I went into this profession,” Mackey says. A mother of five, Mackey says that “I honestly cannot ever remember a time that I did not want to be a nurse. I used to bandage up our pets when I was a child. I remember seeing nurses on TV in their caps, and bright, white uniforms, and just knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
The white caps may be a thing of the past, but Mackey still wears multiple hats at the 140-bed facility (including 25 for acute access) means working primarily as a nursing supervisor, or in ER, but she also deals with medical-surgical, post-surgical, outpatient and nursing education duties, is a basic life-support instructor for hospital staff, and recently started teaching a community-outreach heart saver class. “Our nurses have to know a little bit about everything,” Mackey says. “I couldn’t do my job as a supervisor if I couldn’t trust that I had smart, savvy, nurses taking care of those patients that I am ultimately responsible for.”
SARAH OAKLEY, North Kansas City Hospital
Nobody should make a career choice the way Sarah Oakley made hers, motivated as it was by a profound sense of loss. “It was because of my dad; he died when I was 12,” Oakley says. “Growing up, he always told me—he was an attorney, and when he came home late at night, he told me, ‘You need to become a nurse. He wanted me to have a secure occupation where I could take care of myself.”
The cruel irony is that her first real exposure to it came with his illness. “I was with him in ICU, he was confused, delirious, not making sense, and I ran out of there as a little girl, scared, right into the arms of a nurse. I’ll always remember the impact that she had on our family during our difficult time, the compassion.”
The life course was immediately set. Born and raised in Kansas City, Oakley worked in Columbia for 10 years after nursing school before a recruiter summoned her back home. Today, she’s vice president and chief nursing officer for North Kansas City Hospital, extending her own vision of nursing to more than 900 nurses on staff.
“It’s always difficult leaving the bedside, but as I got into management, I realized that I could still impact that bedside care through the work of other nurses, giving them the tools they need to do their job,” says Oakley, who is also a member of the Midwest Transplant Network’s governing board.
Her work was central to NKCH’s recent Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, making it just the third area hospital to attain that status, which she says is testimony to the hospital’s ability to produce “great patient outcomes and great patient satisfaction in a great work environment.”
LILLY HAVENER, St. Joseph Medical Center
Lilly Havener is a mother of five, ages 5-18, is studying to become a nurse practitioner, and is, officials there say, “the driving force for our successful wound care program at St. Joseph Medical Center.”
That packs a lot into the average work day. Havener came to the hospital after moving to Kansas City four years ago, following a series of jobs that could have made her family darlings of Ryder or U-Haul. But one of those stops proved career-defining, when she was assigned to treat the abdominal injury of an inmate at the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility in central Kansas.
“I was fascinated by watching the wound get smaller every day, seeing the tissue grow and how the body works,” Havener says. “I like to be able to visualize the change and see the differences you can make as a nurse.”
We tend to think of wounds as the consequences of accidents or violence, but in fact, the bulk of Havener’s work entails treating older patients for pressure wounds, such as bed sores, or those related to the effects of diabetes. The latter is a field ripe for growth in a nation where diabetes cases have reached epidemic proportions.
Even in a wound-care setting, it’s possible to forge ties with patients who need the continued treatments. She strives to build relationships where “when I walk in, they’re happy to see me,” she says. “I try to learn about them; it’s not just about treating the wound—it’s treating the patient,” Havener says. “Being able to help them with their overall life, that’s why I do what I do, and if someone is happy to see me, and grateful for their care, at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve done something right.”
TRACY DURAN, Stormont Vail Health
Tracy Duran started kindergarten at the age of 4, and in her first week of school, was showing the other students how to line up and organize themselves. “I have had strong leadership skills since I was a young girl,” says Duran. “I think that comes with being the youngest of four and needing to assure that I had a say in everything my siblings did.”
Well, there’s no shortage of venues to apply those skills today. She’s nurse manager for post-surgical services at Stormont Vail Health, but also oversees the post-surgical observation and medical/surgical units. Those are big duties, but she’s also the mother of two girls, and co-owns a fitness enterprise, Synergy Athletics, with her husband.
Her job today blends two lifelong interests. “When it came time to decide, I chose nursing because I knew that I would be able to teach as well in this profession. It was the best of both worlds!” she says. Still an emergency-room nurse at heart after six years in that role, she says, she graduated to administrative roles after earning her master’s in health-care administration, focusing on quality measurements. “But I knew that these positions were missing the key element of why I loved nursing: I wanted to be closer to patients and nurses,” she says.
That desire was fulfilled in 2015, when the health system asked her to lead the post-surgical unit, then the others. “Patients on our floor often come in very sick or have a serious diagnosis,” Duran says. “We are able to provide the surgical care they need and when they leave, they are already feeling better and on the road to recovery. This side of inpatient care is very similar to the fast pace of the Emergency Department that I always loved.”
TERI BANMAN University of Kansas Hospital
Teri Banman is director of nurse navigation at the University of Kansas Hospital, a go-to person for crafting strategies to get newly diagnosed patients fast-tracked for care at a time when their world may have been rocked by those three dreaded words: “You have cancer.”
Banman, a native of Hesston, Kan., says she knew early in life that she would work in some type of caring profession, second-guess herself on following her father into teaching, and after nursing school, her early choice was between the diabetic or cancer wards at a hospital in Temple, Texas. She chose the latter, “and when I started working with cancer patients, I immediately took to that. The relationships you can build are very unique, and so rewarding.”
The perspective on life itself has proven invaluable. “Whatever issues I have, I have no problems,” Banman says. A decade after she came to Kansas City, she was among a select group asked to create a nurse navigation program, identifying gaps and barriers in the system, with a goal of producing better care. At that point, she says, “the burden was on the patient” to navigate a complex system of diagnostics, testing, paperwork, scheduling and other details. “There’s so much information that needs to be gathered,” Banman says, “and they’re standing in a fire and can’t even think; they don’t know what to do. We built the program around being that light in the tunnel for patients with new diagnosis, or whose cancer is back or getting worse.”
The program yielded immediate success. “One outcome we found right away, it was taking patients 60 days from the time they found a mass to the time they started treatment. That’s just too long,” Banman says. The navigation program cut that by more than half, to 23 days. Over the years, patients have commented repeatedly on their experiences, she says, “and they all talk about the importance of
the burden being lifted off them, that they are in good hands, and don’t have to figure it all out on their own.”
RAQUEL GARCIA, Truman Medical Center
When she considers the deck stacked against her early in life, Raquel Garcia says that at times, even she is surprised by her own resilience. As she should be. The daughter of teen parents, she started working at age 14 to scrape together some college savings, even as she struggled in an all-English high-school environment. Her teachers in college, she said, weren’t convinced she would have the grades to graduate—they even encouraged her to take a career path other than nursing— and finding mentors was a constant challenge.
“Knowing that my assigned guidance counselors did not believe in me lit a fire inside of me. I was now determined to prove them wrong,” she says. “Yes, I had to maintain a job while maintaining a full course load each semester and dwelled in areas of the city were crime and violence were a daily struggle but I MADE IT.” And the experience, she says, has made her “an even better nurse because I relate to the struggles of most.”
She’s the community health strategies nurse for Truman Medical Centers, which serves a greater proportion of low-income patients than any other regional hospital. And that means addressing health challenges associated with poverty. “I am able to tailor educational programs specific to the learning needs and levels of different communities,” she says. “Although every hospital wants to see more patients to meet their bottom line, my goal is to keep them out of here. I want people to learn to self-manage their chronic diseases and not depend on the ER for treatment when things get bad.” She says she’s shocked at the lack of health education, especially among the young, “but I’ve realized that if we can reach children and help shape their health habits younger then we can help change their life paths before they take a wrong turn.”
BETTY CHINNERY, St. Mary’s Medical Center
She’s a grandmother to 15 and great-grandmother of one more, but Betty Chinnery still thinks about her father’s career advice all those years ago. “Dad always told me that he wanted me to work in a hospital,” Chinnery says. “Well, Dad, you would be proud of me.” As they are at St. Mary’s Medical Center, where Chinnery is an environmental services lead technician. The challenges of that role, she says, “are on going 24/7 throughout the hospital.”
Every day is a battle against potential infectants in patient rooms, from door handles to light switches and every surface that can harbor infectious organisms. Same with operating rooms, cath lab, trauma room and other intense care settings.
Her badge of honor? “St. Mary’s Medical Center has only had one hospital-stay-acquired infection in 2018,” she says. Keeping that bar set high can be a challenge in roles that account for higher staff turnover, but “retaining an employee starts with leadership—making sure that you have the tools for them to do their jobs,” Chinnery says. “Taking care of concerns that they may have in a timely matter. Keeping them informed on day to day changes that may happen. Most of all, work as a team to get your task done on any given day.”
Nearly three decades after stepping into that role, she still remembers telling her new boss “I don’t think I will remember everything” from the whirlwind training. “Well, it’s been 27 years and I did remember everything,” Chinnery says. While the job is never done, she says, “my running the hallway taking care of the hospital and patient needs is a joy in my heart each and every day.”
TERRA ROLAND, University of Kansas Hospital
The health-occupations class at Kennett High in Missouri’s bootheel region resonated with Terra Roland, as did a sense of purpose she discerned whenever she visited a hospital, clinic or nursing home. She graduated with a nurse-assistant certification, but her pathway to a health-care career didn’t immediately present itself, and then life—and motherhood—intervened.
She worked for MAST, the former EMS agency serving the Kansas City area, and secured her associate’s degree before fate took over in 2011. Then, a former EMS co-worker took a job at the University of Kansas Hospital and suggested she apply for a surgical-tech position that was open. “I always wanted to be in some type of nursing,” says Roland. “I couldn’t afford nursing school, then had my son, then once I started working here, that was the closest thing to nursing. It’s always been my dream and a passion of mine, and I wish I had pursued it harder.”
And yet Roland touches a great many lives overseeing a staff of 10 people who cover 26 operating rooms and set the stage for successful medical procedures. Those, she says, entail “different surgeries, different people, and different personalities, but they’re all here for one purpose—our patients,” she says.
The hospital’s commitment to patient satisfaction lives loud in Roland. “My inner joy is to help people, and from the simplest to the biggest things. I try to make it easier (for surgical staff) to take the pressure off of them. I love the customer service I get to do with doctors, vendors and staff.” Every day, she says, is a validation of her choice to work in a health-care setting. “Even when I was getting my CNA back in high school, it was something I wanted to do, take care of people and put a smile on their face,” Roland says. “That’s kind of my thing.”
GIGI SIERS University of Kansas Hospital
Her mother’s recurring battles with a brain lesion left a lasting impression during Gigi Siers’ youth. “I can still picture the ICU nurses: I remember their faces, colorful scrubs and, most importantly, I remember how tenderly they cared for my mother as she fought for her life.” It didn’t take long, Siers says, “to realize that I wanted to be there for others in their most terrifying, vulnerable moments just as those nurses had been there for us.”
An RN by training, Siers today is assistant director of professional development for University of Kansas hospital, juggling a range of duties that entail training programs, employee-recognition efforts and community-building through employee resource groups that promote group voluntarism.
“I find incredible value in nudging other health-care professionals along by putting opportunities in their path,” she says, “because it helps everyone stay engaged and well connected to our purpose.” Her work there is shaped by her own personal experience: “Having others push me along the path of personal and professional growth has been the keystone of daily happiness for me.”
Recognition programs, she says, “offer an incredible opportunity to drive the message of what superior patient care looks and feels like through the telling of a story of excellence.” Well-run programs set the performance bar high for others, she says, and work when there are diverse award categories that make every employee eligible for at least one award, involve a leadership presence during award presentations, and recognize all nominees.
Coordinating volunteer opportunities for thousands of employees is particularly meaningful, Siers says, because “there is nothing more beautiful than seeing employees from across our health system working shoulder to shoulder to help feed the hungry, repair homes, recognize veterans, mentor children among other worthwhile volunteer projects. There is magic in volunteering.”
PAT GEMMER, Excelsior Springs Hospital
Sometimes, the stars align between cause and commitment. That’s how it was when St. Joseph native Pat Gemmer found her calling in the gift shop at Excelsior Springs Hospital, after years of working in interior design and retail marketing. She’s been a fixture in the shop for years, but Gemmer has meant a great deal more than that to the community hospital.
She’s been president of its auxiliary since 2011, and under her leadership the auxiliary and the 75-plus volunteers she oversees have raised more than $103,000 in donations to the hospital. Each year, hospital officials say, Gemmer and her troops donate more than 4,500 service hours to the organization. Gemmer herself received the hospital’s Commitment to Caring Award in 2016.
In addition to other duties at the shop, she manages all of its outside vendors and is known for finding creative ways to raise funds for the hospital. And on weekends, she’ll lead a group of four volunteers on buying sprees, looking for that special something for the gift shop.
The call to give back started, she said, when “my mother in-law was a resident at the Assisted Living Facility at Excelsior Springs Hospital and I was there almost daily. I developed a friendship with the staff and became interested in the workings of the organization.”
On a personal level, she says, “I have become acquainted with many wonderful and caring people. Serving with them has filled my life. We are a team with the same goal, providing the best healthcare we can to our patients, staff and community.” That experience, Gemmer says, is one that more people can
savor. “My advice to anyone is to look for things that interest you,” she says. “Share your talents, time and energy with something you are passionate about. You will be greatly rewarded.”
BOB VARGAS North Kansas City Hospital
It didn’t take Bob Vargas long to decide how to fill his free time in retirement. “I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I came to North Kansas City Hospital shortly after I had an operation.” And for more than 14 years, over nearly 11,000 volunteer hours, Vargas has been a fixture at the hospital, mostly with operating-room waiting-area support.
Other than a four-year stint in the Air Force, which included an assignment to a field printing plant, Vargas has lived in the Kansas City area for most of his 77 years. His military service set the stage for a career operating offset presses at various companies in the region, then he retired in 2004. “When I learned that they had a print shop here, I made up my mind I had done enough of that,” he says. “I opted for something else.” That duty has him in the OR area, greeting relatives of patients and tending to their needs and concerns. “There’s a lot of stress,” Vargas says. “I try to greet them with as much of a smile as I can muster that day, respect their privacy. Any time I do make eye contact with them, it’s with a smile; that goes a long way.”
When you log that much time, eventually you’ll run into people you know who can use that smile. And by providing it, Vargas gained something in return. “Shortly after I came here, I had a friend who was a cancer patient,” Vargas recalls. “I watched her and saw the care she was given, and I felt what she went through.” His older sister was a patient who succumbed to an aneurysm at the hospital, “so when
I retired, I thought of my sister, and that’s why I’m here.
“I don’t look for a reward, but I tell the people, make sure that you want to do it if you’re going to volunteer,” he says. “Be in the best spirits possible when you encounter people. My mother was a person who helped, even though she had many children, so my reward comes from honoring my mother. … It makes me feel proud that we follow in my mother’s footsteps.”
PAT BOCK, Truman Medical Center-Lakewood
Pat Bock is about as authentically Missouri as they come: A farm girl who grew up learning about “the value of hard work, the beauty of nature and the importance of community,” she says. About 12 years ago, retirement opened up new opportunities for community service, says Bock, but “I’ve always belonged to organizations at church and in the community, so I knew the need, the calling and personal reward of service.”
She saw how much a neighboring couple enjoyed volunteer work at Truman, and decided to try it. Her first job? Taking photos of newborns. “This made me a too nervous,” she confesses. “Trying to get a baby from whom you’ve just taken the pacifier to be happy and look content for a photo was not such a fun job for me.”
A better fit came in the gift shop. “I love decorating! So I found what I felt most comfortable with here,” Bock says. After a year in that role, she volunteered for an open slot doing the floral arrangements, at times as many as 14 a week. She has also been involved as an officer in the auxiliary, auxiliary fundraising, adopt-a resident, working in the Feld Courtyard Garden and other tasks as needed.
She earned her college degree in clothing and textiles, but made her career as a teacher, including a 12-year run before retiring at Fort Osage High School. “I sometimes see former students working in the health-care field at TMCL and as patients,” she says. “What a delight!”
In this role, she says, “I’m doing what I love. Perfect!! I need to be busy, so this job has been a real blessing for me. I love learning and that is a constant with this job. I highly recommend to everyone: Find a volunteer job. You will find such reward in helping others and you get so much more in return.”
STEVEN LEEDER, Children’s Mercy Kansas City
For Steven Leeder, there was no cure for working in a retail pharmacy quite like . . . working in a retail pharmacy. Drawn more toward the understanding of how medicine works in the human body—especially in the body of a human child—rather than the actual dispensation of curative compounds, Leeder has spent more than 30 years in clinical pharmacology. More than two decades of that have taken place at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, where he is, among many other roles, deputy director of the Children’s Research Institute, the $200 million tower now rising above Hospital Hill.
“My career path to my current role,” Leeder says, “has been characterized by finding out what I did NOT want to do, rather than any clear insight or drive to do something in particular.” Making hospital rounds dispensing drug advice, he says, had a little more appeal than retail pharmacy. But when the Canadian Medical Research Council in his native land—an agency not unlike our National Institutes of Health—was looking for PharmD fellowship expertise, Leeder was on his way. He’s been a driver of Children’s Mercy’s emergence as a national force in pediatric pharmacology and research.
“The draw to Kansas City was largely due to the commitment of the institution to pediatric clinical pharmacology,” he says, for Children’s Mercy actually valued his chosen discipline. An even bigger draw to CMH and Kansas City in general was the support of the community, including the endowed chair he holds, funded by Fred and Dee Lyons, and “the hospital leadership and its employees, and the value the community places on supporting CMH.” All, Leeder says, “have created an environment that I have little desire to leave.”
RANDY PETERSON, Stormont Vail Health
His father never missed a day of work in 35 years at a Nebraska meatpacking plant, so a strong work ethic was ingrained in Randy Peterson from his childhood. And again in his teen years, painting barns and pig pens, then doing heavy highway construction. At each stop, a lesson was reinforced: “It led me to know I did not want to be in manual labor the rest of my life,” says the soon-to-be-retired president and CEO of Stormont Vail Health. Peterson at first envisioned a career in sports medicine, then had a bit of an epiphany after meeting a few of the, ah, strong personalities one encounters in the athletic world. He shifted to physical therapy, in part out of recognition that a geriatric patient is generally more receptive to rehab and treatment than a 20-year-old.
That switch would eventually give him a rare perspective on health-care delivery in Kansas, through working at hospitals of varying sizes. He started his administrative career in Junction City—offering to take on executive duties for no additional compensation, while still working in physical therapy there. His boss took him up on that.
Then came leadership roles—paying gigs— at mid-range hospitals in Salina (he helped orchestrate the merger of St. John’s and Asbury hospitals in 1995). And in Wichita, he oversaw operations for the large Via Christi Health System before landing in Topeka in 2012. There, he found what he always had been looking for.
“What was attractive about this job,” he says, “was its integrated delivery system,” which included 500 employee-providers and 200 physicians. That was distinctly different from his previous experience, defined by independent physicians who owned their own hospitals, practices or surgery centers. “Here,” Peterson says, “we’re all in the same organization, truly working together.”
GARY CARTER, North Kansas City Hospital
Gary Carter’s first day on the job in the emergency room at North Kansas City Hospital back in 1990 wasn’t just a step on the career ladder. It was more like a homecoming. A native Northlander, he had seen the business end of the hospital’s emergency room 28 years earlier, as an 8-year-old, following a brutal bicycle accident that left him with “a bunch of stitches” in an era that predated routine use of child helmets.
The lure of medical work had to pull hard after he flirted with other sciences—he earned his degree in zoology from Northwest Missouri State before med school called. But working his way though school, low-level hospital jobs finally set the hook. After a long stint in Louisville during the 1980s, he answered the call to come home by signing on with North Kansas City Hospital, where he oversaw that emergency room for more than 20 years.
He went on to earn his MBA, which gave him a different perspective on his contribution to medicine and paved the way for his elevation to chief medical officer in 2012. Up to that point in his career, Carter says, “I had always practiced medicine as an occupation, not as a business. It opened my eyes to the business aspect.” Bedside ultrasounds and diagnostic CAT scans have changed ER rooms, he says, but the technology of the trade was never the source of his passion for it. “In ER, problems are solved in a short period of time, within hours,” he says. “In the role I have now, problems are solved over weeks or months, which is an adjustment.”
He’s grateful that the adjustment has taken place here, and “to have been involved with my hometown hospital,” he says. “I grew up in the shadow of this place, and it’s been a part of the fabric of my life for more than 50 years.”