Heroes in Healthcare 2021

February 2021



WHEN QUALITY CARE MATTERED MOST, THEY STOOD TALL AND DELIVERED

A great many people lost loved ones during the pandemic of 2020-21, and their tears are beyond count. Far more recovered after suffering the scourge of COVID-19, yet their pain is beyond measure. Caring for all during a health crisis like no other seen in our lifetimes were legions of physicians, nurses, lab specialists, therapists and endless more, backed by executive leadership managing organizations large and small through a new and deadly challenge. Thousands of workers in that space reported for duty every day,
exposing themselves and their families and weighing the risk of exposing families and loved ones. To all of them, Kansas City owes a very large debt. We salute these individuals and teams in particular for what they’ve done for all of us in this past year of loss.
For them, our gratitude is unbounded. Please join us in recogniz
ing Ingram’s 2021 Class of Heroes in Healthcare.

 

Raghu Adiga | Liberty Hospital

He’s got enough on his plate as chief medical officer for a 212-bed hospital that admits nearly 8,000 patients a year. But this past year, Raghu Adiga stepped up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, collaborating with executives of other hospitals to share new, emerging best practices. While he understood that the challenges his medical complex would face would be distinctive, he also knew that cooperation was more important than ever. “As an independent single hospital system, we did have unique challenges with COVID-19,” says Adiga. “Compared to larger systems, we had little leverage in getting things we needed quickly—starting with PPE, testing capability and ending with early vaccine supply for our staff.” But, he notes: “We are a lot more nimble in decision-making and adapting to rapidly changing pandemic environment than those larger systems. A native of India, Adiga has spent decades working in infectious diseases and epidemiology; he was perfectly suited for both medical and administrative roles over the past year. But, he says, “all our wonderful staff have had a good knowledge base, years of experience and more important, a Midwestern resolve to get things done for our patients and the community as a whole.” Adiga doesn’t have to look far to find points of pride in the hospital’s call to action this past year. Most recently, he says, they sought new vaccination channels after treating all of their health-care workers and other first-level recipients. “The mandate from the state was to get any vaccine in the freezer into people’s arms,” he said, so the collective decision was to target the most vulnerable population—clinic patients 80 and older. “In a matter of days,” he says, “everyone had worked hard to get 560 of those patients in wheelchairs, walkers and canes alike in and out of hospital in the pouring freezing rain in golf carts from their parked cars and back. The pride in everyone’s eyes seeing those thankful members of the Greatest Generation who had not left their homes since last March was priceless.”

 

Gayle Sweitzer | The University of Kansas Health System

She’s an Indiana native who moved to Kansas in 2015, but it wasn’t for the basketball: It was for the chance to work for an expanding health-care system asserting itself as the market leader in the Kansas City area. Little did Gayle Sweitzer know that the organization’s position as a civic pillar would put her at the center of a communications challenge the likes of which modern health-care has never witnessed. As vice president of marketing and strategic communications for The University of Kansas Health System, she has been pulling all sorts of levers to get the message out and help the public cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  She’s been the driver behind efforts to produce timely, credible and fact-based communication that works across internal operations and externally, as the hospital interfaces with the public. That meant development of communications tools that have provided physicians, staff and leaders with the most current information needed to provide patient care, educate the public and maintain the organization’s patient-centered focus. It included tailored emails to various staff members and leadership, arranging townhall meetings with key constituent groups, providing assurances to patients that they could be safely treated despite the growth in cases, and even production of a daily morning update broadcast featuring physicians, nurses, leaders of support staff and civic partners in the fight. A physical thereapist by original training, Sweitzer says she’s “a problem solver. And I love a good challenge. PT was tough to get into, and it’s all about identifying the problem, then identifying the most efficient, effective solution based on what the patient’s goals are”—a dynamic not entirely different than crafting an organization-wide comunications strategy to serve a health system with 13,000 employees and a multistate patient base.

 

Stephanee Evers | Olathe Health

Before she was a physician, before she was in the thick of the trauma care fight as an ER physician, Stephanee Evers was an emergency medical technician. And for someone who wanted to become a doctor since she was young—for the science, the challenge and the altruistic nature of medical care—her duties as an EMT absolutely confirmed that she was making the right choice. “I always loved the fast-paced nature of emergency medicine,” says Evers, ER director at Olathe Health. “I liked the procedures, acuity, variety, and the ability to start from scratch and arrive at a diagnosis. I loved thinking on my feet and being in an environment where we worked as a team and had the opportunity to save a life at a moment’s notice.” The six-year pathway to M.D. offered at UMKC brought her here from her native Nebraska; what Kansas City had to offer drew her back after she’d gone to Indianapolis for her residency and met the man she’d marry. Signing on with Olathe Health was her perfect fit. Of particular appeal is the ability to embrace technological and clinical advances in medicine while keeping the feel of a hometown community hospital, she says. All of that would provide her foundation for tackling the biggest public-health crisis of the age. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult on so many levels,” Evers says. “In the beginning, it was hours spent surge planning, pouring over treatment protocols, and developing ethics guidelines.” And it came with a cost for all called to the fight. “While other mothers were helping their children navigate the world of online learning and capitalizing on unexpected quality time with their families, those of us in health care were working long shifts watching patients die, no matter what we did. We saw these patients die without family by their sides.”

 

Korri Phillips | Stormont Vail Health

Not yet old enough for kindergarten, young Korri Phillips informed her parents that she was going to become a doctor. And she did. But the focused youngster would come to learn a lot about the demands of being a physician, experiences that took her from family care to her current role as medical director of Stormont Vail Health’s Express Care, an urgent-care walk-in clinic for patients of all ages. Her father, a longtime banker in the St. Louis area, took immeasurable pride in having raised a doctor. What he wasn’t seeing was the personal toll that family medicine was taking on her as an Air Force flight surgeon. While she loved  the range-of-life challenges of delivering babies to providing care for the elderly, the patient volumes were soaring. “I thought at first I’d be delivering a few babies a month, but it got up to 15 and 20, along with all the other responsibilities,” Phillips remembers. “I was absolutely burned out.” As her father became sick, she tried to take time off, but found that patients were upset that she wasn’t as available. “Their expectations were more than I could provide at that point,” she remembers, as after her dad’s death, she took roughly 18 months off to reassess her role in medicine. Coming out of that, she decided the best use of her skills would be in urgent care. Stormont Vail’s urgent-care environment allowed her to find her place in the world, she says, and nothing has brought that home more than the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think the biggest thing, for me, was it allowed me to use a lot of the skills I had learned from the Air Force as far as setting up clinics, setting up processes, all those things that aren’t necessarily medicine-related. It kind of allowed me to use skills I enjoyed from the AF that I hadn’t used a whole lot, and learning how adaptable my team was, our nursing staff, our provider staff. They were all in with me.”

 

Charlie Shields | Truman Medical Centers

Charlie Shields spent 17 years with Heartland Health—now Mosaic Life Care—in St. Joseph, and nearly 20 years in the Missouri General Assembly, where health-care policy was always a focus. And after a decade leading Kansas City’s primary urban-core medical center, one might expect that Shields had seen it all. But nobody had seen it all in health care before a global pandemic set in, and that challenge has taken Shields to a new level as an executive. “One thing that has been required,” he says, “is a commitment to constant creativity and problem-solving. Everything in the past year has been new. There have been no road maps. We have had to be willing to try things we would have never considered.” While dealing with a new disease with so many unknowns, he said, his team was constantly pivoting as new facts and best practices revealed themselves. “I’d be lying if I said it was easy,” Shields says, “but seeing the degree to which leadership, medical staff, nurses, and frankly, all of our workers stepped up during this time makes me know they can handle almost anything. It’s inspiring.” His is a management style grounded in letting go: hiring good people and letting them do their jobs. That’s why he considered COVID-19 something other than a challenge. “I’d call it an opportunity to do what we do best: provide high-quality care for those with the very best insurance, and those with no insurance at all,” Shields says. “We were able to take a leadership role in the community from the onset of COVID, from setting up the first testing stations, to taking testing out into the community, and now to making sure people in all parts of the community have access to vaccinations. We’ve also doubled down on our education efforts, making sure we are reaching all segments of the community with messages that answer their specific questions.”

 

Phil Buttell | Menorah Medical Center

Phil Buttell has a degree in psychology, a law degree and a master’s in health-care administration. Perhaps the most powerful instruction he ever learned, though, came over the course of a decade as his mother was waging a fight with cancer that she would ultimately lose at the age of 54. “I often tell people that the experience we had as a family with the care she received made me even more committed to creating an environment and a culture that promotes the caring environment so necessary for all of us,” Buttell says.  An Omaha native, he came to Kansas City as a student at Rockhurst University, and switched majors to philosophy after his mother’s initial diagnosis with leukemia. “ I got to spend some time in a hospital and I felt really connected to the mission and the people.  I could actually see the work being done and lives being transformed and it was rewarding for me to be a part of that environment.” He came to the leadership at Menorah in June 2019, after a decade as chief operating officer at another HCA Midwest Health facility, Centerpoint Medical Center. So he had roughly half a year of experience in the new role when news reports started throwing around the word “COVID.” The year since, he says, “has been one of the most challenging in my professional career. I think the pandemic required a couple things that are almost ever-present in health care, but highlighted during this time: empathy, resilience and compassion,” Buttell says, “For the first time in my career, I saw caregivers who were scared and frightened when they showed up to work. I had staff break down to me because they were scared they were putting themselves and their families at risk.” But that staff of roughly 1,000 quickly overcame the fear and focused on the task. “That’s one of the beautiful things about health care … people give of themselves to help complete strangers,” Buttell says.

 

Rick Couldry | The University of Kansas Health System

When local business executives formed the C19KC task force in the face of a growing pandemic last year, a top priority was to bring 50,000 testing kits to Kansas City. Co-founder Tyler Nottberg of U.S. Engineering, working with NorthPoint Development’s Nathaniel Hag-
edorn, MTAR’s Taimoor Nana and Russell Stover’s Andy Deister, sourced the materials. But how do you even begin to bring them to the fight? That question eventually led to Rick Couldry, director of pharmacy for The University of Kansas Hospital. Couldry was responsive from the first minute of the first contact, Nottberg says. “He picked up his phone. He texted. He e-mailed.  He was a warrior who time and time and time again helped solve problems, keep everybody calm and, most importantly, never over-promised. In a crisis, you need accurate information, and Rick made sure that happened.” A native of northwest Missouri, Couldry brings to his role the kinds of values we’ve come to expect from someone raised on a farm, someone who knew that before you can get to a harvest, you have to do a lot of tilling and weeding. His pathway to medicine started there, where he had a little brother, Chris, who had been born with a heart disability. “He died at 17 from congestive heart failure,” Couldry says. “He was probably the most significant impact on me growing up; from him, I learned that little things mean a lot to people, and that helping people was probably the most rewarding thing you could do in life.” Because of partial paralysis, his brother was told he’d never be able to tie his shoes, ride a bike or go fishing. “All that, he did,” Couldry says, “so I have a very low tolerance for ‘It’s hard’ or ‘We can’t.’ Most of the time, I don’t think we know that’s true.” 

 

Beth Molleker | HCA Midwest Health

She was a small-town girl who was convinced that she would one day become a small-town doctor. “Health care was the only thing I ever wanted to do,” says Beth Molleker, who grew up in the northeast Kansas burg of Highland, then Topeka. The childhood dreams of carrying a black bag around town, making house calls, took a different turn while in college. She made a trip to the student health center at K-State, where she met Carol Diamond, who had a title unfamiliar to an impressionable student: Nurse Practitioner. “I had never been around one, or seen one, and she was a really cool lady,” Molleker recalls. “I had never met a provider quite like her—she took time to listen to me, addressed all my concerns, answered my questions, and I didn’t feel like she was in a rush to get out of the room. I wanted to be just like her because of how she made me feel as a patient.” So she changed her major to nursing, knowing it was just one step to her real goal. “I never wanted to be a nurse,” Molleker says, “It wasn’t anything against nursing, but when I decided to be a nurse practitioner, I knew I had to go through nursing school.” Today, she’s with HCA Midwest Health, assigned to Research Medical Center since 2002. Health care during a time of pandemic has been truly inspirational, she says; “It’s just been incredible to watch the nurses, the ICU nurses and bedside nurses just step up. I’m amazed at their bravery, and the incredible amount of teamwork, from nurses to respiration therapists to environmental services.” A special memory she carries involved a young couple badly injured in a car accident. Both recovered, Molleker says, but nearly a year later, she found an envelope outside her office door. Inside was a note with a Christmas card made out of a photo of the couple—and the baby they had after their recovery. “That’s what it’s about,” Molleker says. “Why you stay late, work weekends and holidays, and miss family things. This family got to have another Christmas.”

 

Rachael Liesman | The University of Kansas Health System

What parent wouldn’t have wanted Rachael Liesman for a daughter? “Growing up,” she says, “things like accountability, finishing the job and persistence were always important in our family—and hard work. And I’ve always been a person who has paid a lot of attention to detail, even as a kid.” It may  come as no surprise that she chose to enter a singularly demanding profession—microbiology. The real surprise is how quickly she came to that determination. “I wanted to be a virologist since junior high school,” she says. Her natural inclinations were fueled by a reading of Richard Preston’s fictional work “The Hot Zone” and with that, she says, “I was kind of hooked. I didn’t waver through high school where my passion was and is.” And today, she exercises that passion as director of microbiology at The University of Kansas Health System, where she’s been in the thick of the fight against the coronavirus responsible for the global pandemic. “I’ve always found viruses to be very enthralling,” she says. “They are these tiny little things with a little bit of DNA, RNA and lipids, and can cause such destruction.” The stories of large outbreaks are always a little bit hyped and horrid, Liesman says, “but I’ve always been very interested in how something that simple biologically could be so impactful.” She initially expected to apply her skills in research labs—“I was interested in the virus, not medicine,” she says— but came to be intrigued by the connection between the science and its applications to human health care. That eventually led this Illinois native to Kansas City, where health system officials credit her with directing efforts to set up the diagnostic tools that allow for more than 1,400 people to be tested for COVID-19 each day. “I don’t think I had any idea the extent to which we would need testing a year ago,” she says. “If you had told me we needed to test 1,400 people a day, I would have laughed; I knew it would be a scramble.” True to the health system’s expressed belief in the need to hire good people and get out of their way, she took on those duties without explicit marching orders. “The hospital just said ‘what are we going to do about this?’ so we just did it. Our team was heavily involved in setting up drive-through swab clinics; those now seem so normal, but it was very mind-boggling at the time.” 

 

Debbie Sosland-Edelman | Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Even when you’re not a health-care provider, you can make a difference in health care. And that is precisely what Debbie Sosland-Edelman has done for the better part of four decades. “Ours is a typical ‘grateful parents’ story,” she says. “In 1985, our first child was born with a life-threatening infection. He spent the first 10 days of his life in the ICU at Children’s Mercy.” She told her son’s neonatologist that “for the rest of my life, I would do anything they asked me to do. A few years later they invited me to get involved and it’s been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.” Her goal, she says, was to support and promote the hospital’s work, “but also make sure that every child had access to the same quality health care to which we had access.” She joined the hospital’s board and focused on the clinical side, over the years moving into research and scientific discovery. Service on a board, she says, is an important way to serve, one that differs fundamentally from simply writing a check. “Everyone is different,” she says. “Some people may not have the luxury of the time to volunteer, and some people may not have the resources to write a check. Studies show that people are more likely to volunteer where they give and donate where they volunteer, so the two go hand in hand. I would encourage others who haven’t volunteered to give it a try. Find something you are passionate about and then find an opportunity to align your skill set with their needs.”  Her roster of service is impressive, indeed: Even an abbreviated list includes 30 organizations, many focused on health care, education and faith-based missions, including names like the Children’s Place, Harvesters, and University Academy. She finds time for all of that while serving as executive director of the family’s Sosland Foundation, managing more than $71 million in assets. Her guidance to anyone exploring paths to service? “The need is great, the opportunities are compelling and the payoff is immeasurable,” she says.

 

Jim Hanson | Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Jim Hanson has logged 27,000 volunteer hours at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, the region’s premier pediatric hospital. That’s the equivalent of nearly 13 years for someone working a job 40 hours a week, without vacations.  Hanson is not one of the faceless legions of volunteers in town; he had a successful career as a commodity futures broker, was a member of the former Kansas City Board of Trade, and even sat on the board of governors for the American Royal. When retirement came, he had no intention of dialing it back, and CMH was the perfect outlet. “I, myself, was adopted when I was 10 years old, and before my adoption I lived in several foster homes (one in particular) during the Depression of the 1930s. … There were always several infants in cribs residing there. So, I was caring for babies when I was 7 to 10 years old.” At CMH, he says, “I never intended to ‘make a difference’ there; I just intended to do what was needed to be done. And caring for babies was something I knew I could do.” Of late, his duties entail two days a week, mostly in the post-surgical recovery room, sanitizing and making beds and pushing them to Pre-Op for the next patient. “There is nothing more rewarding, or more satisfying than being the recipient of an infant or toddler’s smile or making them laugh,” he says. “That does not come with writing a check, although I do that, too.” His deep volunteer history touches on churches, the Johnson County sheriff’s civil-service board, and other efforts that made him the Johnson County Senior Volunteer of the Year in 2005. Volunteering at the hospital has paid additional dividends, as well; “I met my second wife, and three months later proposed to her on New Year’s Eve 2007, both at Children’s Mercy,” he says.

 

Doris Chrisenberry | Olathe Health

Two decades ago, southwest Missouri native Doris Chrisenbery and her husband moved to the Kansas City area to be closer to their four grandchildren after the sale of their auto-parts stores. After Jerry’s death in 2011, Doris says, she found a bright spot to give back following years of his treatment battling cancer: Olathe Health. She became one of the hospital’s Ambassadors, and since then has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of service, just one piece of a service history that fills her days between visits with the young ones. She recalls how Jerry was scheduled for heart surgery, but during the procedures before that, doctors caught a small spot on one lung. Over the next seven years of his treatment, she says, “I just fell in love with the health system—they were like family to us.” Volunteering came easily to her—as a couple, they had volunteered throughout their marriage with programs like Servants on Wheels Ever Ready, traveling the nation and working in kids’ camps and churches. Says Doris: “Volunteering was in my DNA, I guess you would say.” When she was evaluated for her skill sets in the volunteer office, the verdict came quickly: With her personality, Doris needed to be in place where she would meet people. Nine years later, she’s still at the front information desk, taking calls for incoming patients, providing information or direction to visitors as they come in (a task restricted with COVID-19 precautions over the past year), or connecting them with the appropriate nurse’s station. “Hardly a week goes by where we don’t know the answer to every question,” she beams. True to the volunteer spirit, she gives because the returns on that time investment are so profound. “I always feel that when I volunteer, no matter where, I get the blessing, as much or more than the people I help. It’s gratifying, and expands your thinking so much, I have learned so much and met so many great volunteers at the hospital who are dear friends.”

 

Linda Coventon | North Kansas City Hospital

A farming accident in her native Colorado meant Linda Coventon would be raised by a widowed mother. And with her mother’s example came lessons in how to become dependable, responsible and hardworking at an early age. “She also stressed the importance of having a career, savings and access to health care,” says Coventon. “Today, I live and lead by these important values.” And she’s doing more than her part to deliver on that access-to-health-care piece. As network executive for North Kansas City Hospital subsidiary Meritas Health since 2012, she has nearly tripled the number of practice locations and more than doubled the number of employees delivering care in Kansas City’s sprawling Northland. Today, it boasts more than 175 physicians and nearly 50 advanced-practice providers. And to think it all started with childhood visits to every kid’s favorite place: a dental chair. “Growing up, I loved going to the dentist,” Coventon says. “My family dentist, a hardworking, kind man, always showed compassion and professionalism when caring for us. I wanted to be a dentist like him, so, when he died at an early age from cancer, it had a big impact on me.” She never made it to dental school, opting instead for health administration, and says now “things happen for a reason” and practice management became her passion. But never has she had to manage the kinds of challenges she’s seen in the past  year. “As a leader, it’s been important to remain calm and supportive during a time when anxiety levels are running high,” she says. “It’s been amazing to see what we’ve accomplished by working hard and taking responsibility for the health of our community,” including going from zero virtual visits to conducting more than 10,000 in 60 days and launching a drive-through testing clinic in just a couple weeks’ time.” Though she doesn’t lay a hand on patients, she’s a central part of their care. “It’s my job to create an environment that makes it easy for physicians and staff to care for patients,” she says.

 

Annette Campbell | Score 1 for Health

Steeped in faith, family and the occasional fisticuffs that come as one of 11 children, Kansas City native Annette Campbell came to believe early that hard work, diligence, care for others, respect and discipline, framed by that faith, “were keys to achieving anything.” That, she says, “and never get too full of yourself!” For nearly 23 years, she’s been executive director to Score 1 for Health, a Kansas City University outreach program that brings free health screenings to under-served children of the two Kansas Cities and Joplin, Mo., school districts. Following the examples of her mother and an aunt, she went into nursing, but was facing burnout from the rigors of working in an inpatient, surgical unit. Seeking inspiration, she took a UMKC course on Nurses Changing Careers, where she realized that her true passion was “focusing on the preventive end of the health-care spectrum, and that I wanted to work with children.” Once she connected the dots between the health of families and communities, it was a logical decision to turn that career focus to programs that bring health care to children. “In order for children and families to thrive, there needs to be a greater community and systems that support them,” Campbell says.
“The community needs to be healthy too.” Having built Score 1 into a program that touches 13,000 students in 50 schools, she says she’s continually motivated to effect systemic change to reach broad wellness goals. “I believe in advocating for and empowering families, expanding access to health information and building bridges to preventive care,” she says. “I know that creating a culture of health lays a foundation of opportunity for children regardless of economic status. I believe in the collective impact of programs like mine combined with others to affect positive change within families, schools, neighborhoods and the greater community.”

 

Rennie Shuler-McKinney | AdventHealth Shawnee Mission

For nearly 35 years, Rennie Shuler-McKinney has been all about saving lives in a health-care setting. But the threat to those lives isn’t quite the same monster that her colleagues battle at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. They are called to action when something goes wrong with the body; Shuler-McKinney treats patients in a venue harder to navigate: the human mind. She’s director of clinical services in behavioral health at AdventHealth, and to her team fall an array of challenges that include suicide prevention. It’s an area of work with a deeply personal connection to this small-town girl from Columbus, Kan. While she was still in college, she got the news that a high-school friend had killed himself. “I paused at that point, and I thought a helping profession is what I should do.” She immediately thought of psychology. After finishing her degree at Pittsburg State, where she also earned a masters, she ended up with two job interviews on the same day—one at the former Menninger Clinic in Topeka, one at Shawnee Mission Hospital, now part of AdventHealth. “Something about Shawnee Mission was very appealing, it tied back to a family feeling,” she says. “I thought, ‘this is a cool organization and I’d like to be part of it.’ Little did I know that 34 years later, I’d still be here.” Behavioral-health issues have become a front-burner concern in health care as the effects of economic contraction, job loss, financial stress and social upheaval among children displaced from classrooms have taken an enormous societal toll this past year. “I have not seen individuals as fearful in my career as I have over the last 10-11 months,” Shuler-McKinney says. She’s pleased to see suicide numbers trending down in Johnson County, but knows that even one represents a collective loss. There are, though, moments that truly make it all worthwhile. As when she passed a stranger in the grocery store and was asked, “Is your name Rennie?” Turns out, it was a 33-year-old woman who had attempted suicide at age 15. “She was so incredibly grateful for the care she’d received at the hospital,” Shuler-McKinney says. “Married, two children, working on a master’s degree. She said, “I’m so glad I didn’t take my life; I was given hope coming through your program.” That’s why I’m doing what I do.”

 

Joan Pool | Saint Luke’s Hospital

The maxim in medical centers is that employees must always remember that they’re often seeing patients on the worst days of their lives. But there are lots of happy outcomes, as well. At the dark end between those extremes, the emotional toll on a nurse can be heavy, indeed. For Janet Pool, the wall came after 20 years in a medical intensive-care unit. “Sometimes,” she says, “it was too sad, too emotionally wearing. I felt exhausted.” A good friend pointed out that patients in the cardiovascular recovery unit come in for procedures and “we fix them.” “It was so opposite the ICU,” says Pool. “A real eye-opener for me to experience ‘well patients.’ I liked it.” But … something was missing. There was a familiarity about ICU, about the need to be needed, that tugged at her. Solution? A hybrid schedule, blending days on each unit. “It has been the best of both worlds for me,” Pool says of her schedule a Saint Luke’s Hospital. She also works occasionally in interventional radiology, taught classes in the education department, and finds that “the variety of roles has really helped me stay engaged and fresh.” She came to nursing later than most, having started her career in education. It wasn’t what she hoped it would be, and at a friend’s urging, looked into nursing. “My parents initially laughed because I was the child/teenager who cried when I had to get a shot,” but they fully supported the switch. And nursing has provided connections at a whole new level. Take, for example, a recent cardiovascular patient, who wept as he shared his story about a first heart attack 20 years earlier. “He didn’t know if he was going to survive, but he asked God to give him one more day,” Pool says. “Every day, he would ask for that.” After occasional stays, he would be discharged and head for the hospital chapel to offer thanks. With this visit, he asked Pool to take him there, and after connecting with the man’s wife, the three headed off to pray together. “I cannot tell you how much that touched me that day, and even now. 

 

Janet Walsh | Saint Luke’s Hospital-East

A nursing career can be packed with tear-inducing moments. It’s a testament to Janet Walsh’s character that she hasn’t been filled with anger at watching the truly ugly side of COVID-19 as an ICU nurse at Saint Luke’s East. “We saw our fair share of deaths,” Walsh says. “These were patients we cared for, for weeks at a time. We learned their stories, we knew their families, we became their cheerleaders. We held their hands when they were dying—the hands that should have been their families’ hands.” Nursing staff listened as families were forced to use a phone to say a final “I love you,” sing, pray or watch—separated by a glass door—as a loved one took that last, tortured breath.” For the families, Walsh says, “we became their support, holding them, crying with them. This has been a blessing and a curse of COVID.” Walsh brings to her duties a commitment to nursing that began even as a child. Her father, a World War II Navy corpsman, was the first man to earn an RN degree at Wayne State University in her native Michigan, and inspired her to follow him into that line. “My father taught me my work ethic and to follow my dreams and take my own path, no matter what others think,” she says, and as she matured, spirituality became a greater influence. “I strive to put my trust in God and find strength in that relationship, and have learned that I can only control how I react to situations,” she says. That has been sustaining over the course of the pandemic. “All of the staff, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, doctors, administration, chaplains, house keepers, dieticians, everyone has borne a heavier load in dealing with the pandemic,” she says. But together, they stepped up, stretched themselves and have grown closer, she says. Looking back on a career working in oncology and intensive-care settings, and after what she’s been through the past year, Walsh says, simply, “I wish my dad was here today. I would love to share my experiences with him and gain some wisdom from him.”

 

Stephanie Meyer | Children’s Mercy Kansas City

More than 20 years ago, Stephanie Meyer landed at Children’s Mercy, and found something more than a nursing job. She found a mission, thanks largely to the distinctive patient cohort at a pediatric medical center. “Kids are extremely resilient,” says the hospital’s associate chief nursing officer. “Even when they don’t feel well or have a terminal illness they NEVER give up. They keep trying and give it everything they have, day after day. It is a lesson we all can learn from. It’s why I wanted to take care of children—they give us all hope.” A native of Jefferson City, she decided to make Kansas City her home after finishing her nursing education. She has risen steadily through the ranks in nursing responsibilities, assuming her newly created position just last year. You can draw a straight line from where she is now to her childhood, and the values imparted by her parents. They were, she says, “amazing influences in my life. They taught me, early on: always work hard, respect ALL people, as everyone has value, be intentional in your actions and your words, and be accountable always.” Not insignificant was the example of her mother, also a nurse, who allowed young Stephanie to see other nurses at the bedside caring for patients and families and advance into managerial, leadership and even policy roles. Her signature memory of young patients involved a 2-year-old leukemia patient, Emily. The two bonded as Emily hadn’t with any other nurse, “I didn’t have my own children at the time, but I remember thinking if we lose her, it will have to feel as close to losing your own child as one can experience when they aren’t really yours,” Meyer says. “When she wasn’t doing well, I cried, in private. She was always happy and would tell me, ‘I’m OK—it’s going to be fine.’” And she was. Today, Emily is in college—and has chosen health care as a career. “This is a full-circle moment for me,” Meyer said. “She, and her family, gave more to me than I ever gave to them. She will forever be my ‘why.’” Meyer didn’t end up a Children’s Mercy by chance. Of that, she’s convinced. “There is a plan for everyone; however, to find it you must open your mind, heart and then listen,” she says. “It will find you if you let it.”

 

Krisha Klug | North Kansas City Hospital

“I don’t recall a time in my life when health care wasn’t my career calling,” Krisha Klug asserts. “I believe this was because being a nurse was not just a career path; it was, and is, an extension of who I am.” She’s the nursing director for the inpatient surgical unit at North Kansas City Hospital, living out a life/career goal “to be independent and find my own way.” A St. Louis native who moved here with her husband in 2004, she’s the first in her family to be a health-care professional. Her parents, she says, “were always supportive of my passion for healthcare, even though my ‘drive,’ as they called it, was exhausting at times. In our home, hard work, dependability and integrity were not optional.
Today, I feel like these values reflect my professional performance.” She trained her sights on a nursing career while still in high school, and has worked for more than 26 years at BJC Health in St. Louis and North Kansas City, where she’s regarded as a nurturing leader who inspires others to excel. “While practicing nursing at the bedside, my favorite role was working as a progressive-care float pool nurse,” Klug says. “I loved the variety of units, patients and unit cultures. Each workday, I would be assigned to a unit that needed help. Being able to solve problems was fulfilling for me, as I knew I was helping both the patients and the care team.”  Throughout her career, she says, several patients have transformed her practice and her life. One in particular who left a lasting impression was receiving cancer treatment and had tagged “challenging’ by other providers. “I made it my mission to break through his tough exterior as I cared for him,” Klug says. It took patience, conversations with his family, and anticipation of his needs with pain management, but on Day 3 came The Breakthrough. “Although my teammates never understood why I enjoyed caring for this patient,” she says, “I had the honor of caring for him before he succumbed to cancer and passed away.” A few months later, the patient’s wife came to the unit and gave her a glass angel Christmas ornament; “she said her husband always referred to me as his “angel nurse.” More than 15 Christmases later, that ornament continues to hang front and center each year on her tree.

 

Michelle Miller | KC Care Health Center

“I grew up around caring, nurturing and independent women,” says Michelle Miller, and given their career paths, a nursing career of her own was never a stretch: Her mother is a nurse; a grandmother was a certified nurse assistant. It was a visit to her grandmother’s hospital, in fact, that sealed the deal when Miller was just 12 years old. “I knew then I wanted to be a nurse,” she says, and she positioned herself for the field early, starting as a CAN at the age of 17. There followed in quick succession licensing with LPN, her associate’s degree, bachelor’s, then master’s. “It was,” Miller says, the logical thing to do.” Miller’s affinity for serving in venues where health care delivery entails challenges social and economic challenges among patients is fundamental to Miller’s hopes of making a difference with her skills. She previously worked at Truman Medical Center, which bears the biggest burdens that come from treating inner-city populations that have significant health issues and carry less insurance coverage, and now at the center, where a disproportionate share of the patients is also uninsured. And Rose Brooks presents special challenges with women who have been in abusive situations. “I believe that all people, no matter your circumstances, are entitled to basic health care and deserve to be taken care of,” Miller says. “It is rewarding to help those in need who may not otherwise receive any health care.” The rewards of that work are many, but have a special meaning for her with her experience at the shelter. “I love when patients continue to see me for their primary care after they have been at Rose Brooks, and tell me how grateful they are for the help they received while there. It’s always rewarding to see patients who have improved their overall health, and that I have had some part in this.” 

 

Amanda Cackler | The University of Kansas Health System

When the first rumblings of a new coronavirus surfaced last year, Amanda Cackler was able to apply some context to the challenge. She’s the director of quality and safety for the department of nursing at The University of Kansas Hospital, and in the fall of 2014, she became acquainted with a potential viral killer known as Ebola. “I was challenged in a way I never imagined—preparing the health system for a potential deadly pandemic,” Cackler says. They never saw a confirmed case, but six years later the experience paid off, with one big difference; this time, there would be patients with COVID-19. Hundreds of them over the course of the coming year. “The past year has been absolutely crazy!” Cackler says. “What has made it most stressful is the ambiguity of the situation—not knowing what the best practices are in advance, dealing with product shortages, responding to various reporting requirements by state and national health departments,  and having to learn and apply new information in the moment, practically every day.” In that environment, she says, it was critically important to stay connected and visible to the members of her team to understand the new challenges they were facing every day, every shift. A product of Edgerton, in southwest Johnson County, Cackler says her father was a physician who died when she was quite young. She considered following his path, but on a chance tour of KU’s School of Nursing facilities, she found her calling: critical-care nursing. As various mid-level administrative positions opened, she pursued them, eventually leading to a quality-control specialization. When she realized the very real threat of cross infections, something triggered in her. Health care, she says has “an incredible opportunity to streamline practices and improve communication and work flows to become more efficient and safe for patients and health-care workers. … I knew I wanted to be a part of finding and applying best practices in such a complicated industry.”