VA Nurses Awarded for Excellence During National Nurses Week

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This year continues the International Year of the Nurse, marking the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale on May 12, and extending the observance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased visibility of nurses’ contributions.

“All of our nurses willingly serve on the frontlines. Without fail, they help us advance our mission of providing safe, quality and compassionate care to all our patients and they help staff stay safe,” said Jonathan R. Eckman, P.E., director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.

This year continues the International Year of the Nurse, marking the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale on May 12, and extending the observance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased visibility of nurses’ contributions. This year’s theme- “Nurses: A Voice to Lead,” – recognizes nurse-led innovations and improvements that nurses have brought to the delivery of compassionate care, particularly during the pandemic. The VA Maryland Health Care System, which employs approximately 800 registered nurses and more than 110 licensed practical nurses in all professional levels and specialties, honored nurses this year during National Nurses Week, May 6 -12, capping the week by awarding selected nurses for their excellence. Nurses Week focuses on recognizing the hard work, accomplishments and innovations of the nation’s 2.6 million registered nurses.

VA nurses have been widely recognized for their instrumental work in initiating, developing, implementing and monitoring the practices and policies that have made VA one of the world’s foremost authorities in patient safety and quality outcomes, evidenced by performance measures – an exceptional achievement by any assessment. The Nursing Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System is the largest service throughout the system, providing direct patient care and administrative, educational and research investigative support    

“All of our nurses willingly serve on the frontlines. Without fail, they help us advance our mission of providing safe, quality and compassionate care to all our patients and they help staff stay safe,” said Jonathan R. Eckman, P.E., director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. “They are valued members of our team, and because of their passion to serve others, we live in a happier and healthier world.”

Four VA Maryland Health Care System employees are recipients of this year’s VA Secretary's Awards in Nursing Excellence, which is VA’s top nursing award. The awardees include a registered nurse: Stacy Shimer; a nursing health technician/certified nursing assistant Heywood Thrash; a nurse educator, Maria Rocelli Reside; and a licensed practical nurse, Min Aung.

  • Shimer, a registered nurse in the Opiate Agonist Treatment Program, provides direct patient care and case management to veterans in a medication-assisted addiction treatment program with more than 300 enrollees. She has demonstrated excellence in her role, working effectively within a multidisciplinary team in planning and providing clinical care to veterans. She has implemented several improvement initiatives aimed at ensuring compliance with national patient safety goals, enhanced the safety of medicine administration and reduced opportunities for drug diversion. Shimer serves as a strong patient advocate, and her respect and hopefulness for veterans who may be facing several significant challenges helps them feel hopeful about their potential for success. Her contributions to the program have significantly advanced the image and perception of the nurse’s role in addiction treatment.
  • Thrash, a nursing health technician/certified nursing assistant, has worked exceptionally hard and beyond his role in numerous ways. Specifically, he reviews the primary care patient list the day before to identify veterans who might need lab work and coordinates with the appropriate team members to ensure the process, he reaches out to the appropriate providers to facilitate lab work, and he trains fellow nurses on how to draw blood, and he serves as the point person for supplies. Thrash also proved instrumental in providing needed data and support for an initiative to establish a second lab station at the Glen Burnie VA Outpatient Clinic. He has been recognized for excellence in customer service as Employee of the Month and received a “Caught in the Act” award for his exceptional work ethic and team spirit.
  • Reside, an Emergency Department (ED) staff nurse detailed as a nurse educator and incumbent Medicine nurse educator, consistently provides ethical leadership and innovative practice on her own unit and in numerous units throughout VA Maryland Health Care System. During her time in the ED, she realized that many veteran patients did not properly dispose of their patient bracelets that contained their personally identifiable information, leaving them open to identify theft. She also realized that the bracelets were not restricted to the ED. Working with others, Reside led the effort to address this issue first by using a puncher to obliterate the first five numbers of the patients’ social security number, then with a signed policy in 2020 to safeguard patient information on their medical bracelets. Reside serves as a role model and mentor in the area she oversees and continued her own education to earn a Master of Science Degree in Nursing Education. As a nurse educator, Reside immediately made an impact by creating the Leaning Assessment Tool that gathers and compiles information from the staff regarding skills and competences relevant to their practice. She then used that information to address the gaps between current knowledge of staff and learning needs and fostered an atmosphere of competence and excellence. This assessment and learning motivation practice will now be implemented across the health care system with all nurse educators. During the pandemic, she collaborated with the Employee and Occupational Health Program to fit-test employees for N-95 masks at the Loch Raven VA Medical Center, and she was able to assist the program to fit test employees and train them to properly don and doff personal protective equipment. Her leadership in identifying and addressing issues that impact veteran patients and staff has led to multiple innovations that are now being adopted as best practices.
  • Aung, a licensed practical nurse, has demonstrated diligence and passion when it comes to caring for veterans and improving weight management, pain management and pressure ulcer prevention, among others. He also demonstrated initiative in developing a shared governance for the proposed 12-hour shifts for licensed and resident care assistants during the height of the pandemic. Aung created an at-a-glance nursing report for his unit and he collaborated with nursing informatics staff to create a share drive to use as a reference for nursing hand-off reports, a tool that continues to be used. He launched a newsletter for local VA Community Living Center employees to develop teamwork and to promote employee pride. Aung has also served as a resource person for providers, staff and residents for his knowledge and skills in many aspects of nursing. He actively participates in Final Salute ceremonies, honoring deceased veterans and has been instrumental in providing compassionate care to both residents and families. Aung has proven to be an asset to his unit with his outstanding performance in maintaining the highest standards in resident care. He has received the VA Maryland Health Care System Gold Pin Award, the Customer Service Award and the Unit Excellence Award.

“I am deeply proud to be associated with the awardees and of all the nurses serving veterans throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System. Our nursing staff have worked tirelessly to keep us well and save lives around the clock, even with the challenges of COVID-19,” said Sheila Bryson-Eckroade, associate director for Patient Care Services for the health care system. “With determination and focus, our nurses remained vigilant, sharing best practices and being accountable to each other. Our nurses dedicate themselves to promoting optimal health, patient safety and quality health care to ensure that veterans receive the best possible care and that our staff members work in the best possible health care system.”

Editor’s Note: For more information about any of the Nurses Week activities throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System or to pursue a story, please contact Rosalia Scalia via e-mail at rosalia.scalia@va.gov ,via office at (410) 605-7464, or by cell at 410.736.8444.

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