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Office of Nursing Services (ONS)

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2017 Secretary's Award Winners

Each year the Secretary's Award for Excellence in Nursing and Advancement of Nursing Programs is given to individuals who have been nominated by their colleagues for outstanding service to our veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have demonstrated excellence and the highest level of dedication to their profession. Chosen from individual medical centers, the nominees go through a rigorous review before the final selection is made.

Registered Nurse: Douglas Wubben, RN, BSN, CMSRN; William S. Middleton Memorial Hospital and Clinics, Madison, WI

Doug Wubben with Director Rohrer

Left to right: Madison Director John J. Rohrer and Doug Wubben

Doug Wubben, is a staff nurse on 4A, an active, fast-paced 20 bed medical-surgical unit. His bedside manner, nursing knowledge, strong interpersonal skills and many years of medical-surgical nurse experience are key factors that demonstrate expert nursing practice. Mr. Wubben embodies the VA ICARE values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence to the highest degree. His motivation and dedication toward improving patient care delivery have continued to propel him into numerous leadership roles on the unit and throughout the facility.

At the bedside, Mr. Wubben is deeply caring, supportive of patient autonomy, and serves as a strong patient advocate. He never hesitates to sit down with a Veteran and discuss their thoughts and concerns. He routinely seeks out additional opportunities for growth and career development. In 2016 he was selected to the Evidence Based Scholars program. This is a program aimed at supporting evidence based practice changes in the facility. Mr. Wubben was selected as a facilitator for an RN retreat focused on supportive communication, RN recognition, and encouraging positivity on the nursing unit. As the facilitator, he encouraged participation and led discussions and activities.

As a charge nurse, Mr. Wubben makes decisions about staffing requirements, supply needs, and resources t. He considers a facility wide approach to providing care for patients. He works with the bed coordinator and other units to ensure that Veterans receive the best possible care. He serves to improve the performance of our most valuable resource, our staff members as well. In 2016, the new nurse orientation program was overhauled. Mr. Wubben provided valuable insight and ideas to ensure the success of this program.

Registered Nurse Expanded Role: Colleen Walsh-Irwin, DNP, RN, ANP; Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center, Northport, NY

Colleen Walsh-Irwin with Director Rohrer

Left to right: Northport Director Guermonprez and Colleen Walsh-Irwin

Dr. Walsh-Irwin is a cardiovascular nursing expert/Nurse Practitioner at Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center and she also works for the VHA Office of Nursing Services as a Cardiovascular Clinical Nurse Advisor developing nursing cardiovascular policies and procedures for the Veterans Health Administration. As a nurse practitioner she is constantly sought out by her colleagues including nurses, other nurse practitioners and physicians for her expertise as a cardiology clinician.

Dr. Walsh-Irwin is a tireless advocate for the nursing profession and nurse practitioners. She started at Northport as a Nurse Practitioner student, and showed such a strong worth ethic that the cardiologists sought and obtained approval to hire her in 1995 as the first NP in the cardiology department. Dr. Walsh-Irwin was hired to perform stress tests, however she knew that there was a greater role for nurse practitioners and constantly sought out opportunities to grow her practice. She ran a device clinic with one of the cardiologists and she was instrumental working to expand services to include implanting pacemakers and defibrillators in the department, something that spared patients from traveling to other facilities in our VISN to have these procedures done.

Dr. Walsh-Irwin attained recognition from the North American Society for Pacing and Electrophysiology (NASPE) as a Testamur, a certification that is obtained by experts in the field of electrophysiology and attests to her competence in this specialty. Dr. Walsh-Irwin is a member of the Patient Care Services’ Cardiology Field Advisory Committee. She was Co-Director for the Surgical/Specialty Care Collaborative a three year collaborative that helped to increase access, care coordination, and practice redesign in a patient centered care approach for numerous medical centers throughout the country. Dr. Walsh-Irwin served on the Women Veterans Cardiovascular Health Workgroup which addressed issues facing our women veterans.

Licensed Practical Nurse: Tiffany Bell, LPN; Cincinnati VAMC, Cincinnati, OH

Tiffany Bell with Nurse Executive Katheryn Cook

Left to right: Cincinnati Nurse Executive Katheryn Cook and Tiffany Bell

Ms. Bell has been instrumental and a leader in the home care setting in caring for patients with a variety of wound issues. She has worked diligently to get the home telehealth wound program established, which involves setting up home care telehealth visits in coordination with the Wound Care Nurse Practitioner. Ms. Bell has also been instrumental in leading the efforts of the Star Silhouette program in which pictures of wounds are able to be taken in the home setting, downloaded into the computer and then reviewed by this provider. She was the first Home Based Primary Care program nurse to use the system in the home setting nationwide. This allows for more rapid review and updating patient care modalities to treat wound healing. With all of the computer issues, downloading software, Ms. Bell has effortlessly and diligently worked with IRM to streamline the issues and correct computer issues.

This also has had a tremendous impact on patient care and outcomes by delivering patient care in a team approach for our Veterans. She truly has demonstrated the I Care values of our medical center. Ms. Bell’s supervisor describes Ms. Bell as a “rare employee who challenges herself to go the extra distance for every Veteran she encounters.” She has a passion for wound care and during the recent (2016) Joint Commission Survey at our facility, Ms. Bell was noted as a nurse with a caring approach with the Veterans.

Nursing Assistant: Francisco Avilez-Archila, NA; Tampa VAMC Hospice and Palliative Care Unit, Tampa, FL

Francisco Avilez-Arechila with Nurse Executive Laureen Doloresco and Director Joe Battle

Left to right: Tampa Nurse Executive Laureen Doloresco, Francisco Avilez-Arechila, and Director Joe Battle

Mr. Avilez is dedicated to providing quality care to the veterans of Haley’s Cove Community Living Center. Being a veteran himself, he identifies with the mission of our unit and that of the Veterans Administration. He ensures that his colleagues are providing safe and cost effective care when taking care of our elderly veterans. Mr. Avilez is very actively involved in our safe patient handling equipment and procedures. He has provided an in-service to our staff detailing the use of various patient care lifts necessary to provide care to some of our residents.

He has been instrumental in obtaining various slings and lifts from the Safe Patient Handling Coordinator to help in turning our obese veterans. Mr. Avilez also provided hands on training to all the staff ensuring they were competent in equipment use in order to prevent harm to our veterans or the staff. Mr. Avilez manages sensitive and end of life issues with compassion, tact and diplomacy while working closely with the nursing staff. He serves as a patient advocate in mentoring his fellow colleagues to identify veterans’ pain by recognizing facial signs and other non-verbal cues. When these signs are recognized, he works closely with the RN to ensure the veteran’s condition is promptly assessed and treated.

Mr. Avilez participates in educational activities to improve his clinical knowledge and nursing skills. Mr. Avilez has mentored and precepted several newly hired Nursing Assistants on the Hospice and Palliative Care Unit. He completed an Associate’s Degree in Nursing and continued his work as a Nursing Assistant for the Tampa VA, while he went back to school for his BSN, graduating in December 2016. Being a veteran with a desire to continue his career at the Tampa VA, he is currently is in the Graduate Nurse Training Program in Tampa VAMC. In order to better meet the needs of our veterans, Mr. Avilez took it upon himself to complete courses in Dementia, End-of Life Care, and Restorative Care. Subsequently, he became certified in End of Life care.

Nurse Executive: Valerie Boytin, MSN, RN; Wilkes-Barre VAMC, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Valerie Boytin with Director Lloyd

Left to right: Wilkes-Barre Director Russell Lloyd and Valerie Boytin

Ms. Boytin was instrumental in driving the reorganization of nursing services this past year using the LEAN model of system redesign. She helped facilitate the reorganization of the Behavioral Mental Health and Geriatric Services to a service line headed by Chief Nurses. She was also responsible for guiding nursing management to substantially improve patient satisfaction on the medial-surgical unit and to expand telehealth and Home Based primary Care in the Community Outpatient Clinics.

Ms. Boytin was responsible for oversight and direction of the Safe-Patient Handling Program (SPH) and the Sterile Processing Service of which both had improved outcomes for the delivery of safe patient care. The number of employee injuries was reduced from 12 in 2011 to 2 in 2016 through the SPH program and the SPS Department was recognized as a leader in performance. Ms. Boytin was responsible for creating a Nurse Recruiter position at the Medical Center. This has improved the on-boarding process for nursing and helped to increase retention in the department. For retention, Ms. Boytin was instrumental in supporting efforts and action plans to improve staff satisfaction. The RN turnover rate was reduced as evidenced in the SAIL report.

Ms. Boytin facilitated a redesigned clinical rotation in Mental Health that maximized current programs to meet the clinical needs of two local universities. She also oversaw the growth of the National Nurses Education Incentive (NNEI) program from 2 participants in 2013, to the current 22 participants. Ms. Boytin encouraged the change in the Geriatrics Service consistent scheduling. This successful transition was considered a Best Practice and the ACNS of Geriatrics presented the information on three national calls.

Director: Timothy W. Liezert, FACHE; VA Medical Center/Health Care System Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Timothy Liezert

Orlando Director Timothy W. Liezert

Since being appointed as the Medical Center Director for the new Orlando VA Health Care System in August 2006, Mr. Liezert has distinguished himself as a creative, involved leader. He has promoted the highest standards in care delivery in carrying out this complex assignment of creating a new independent VA Health Care System in Orlando as we separated from the James A. Haley VA Health Care System, based in Tampa, and assumed two clinics from the North Florida/South Georgia VA Health Care System, based in Gainesville. Mr. Liezert has promoted the incorporation of the most up-to-date, state-of-the art care delivery techniques and practices, working closely with nursing staff to secure the best equipment and supplies to assure optimal standards in patient comfort and safety. As a voracious reader of current literature and a skilled internet researcher, he works closely with nursing and other clinical staff to investigate current options/successful strategies for patient care delivery practices for incorporation into our daily care.

He truly recognizes and values the distinct contributions that all levels of nursing staff make in assessing existing care delivery, in planning for change, and in implementing updated and/or new policies/procedures to not only advance the practice of nursing, but to also promote the safest, most therapeutic environment for optimal continuity in the overall delivery of care throughout this large, complex system. He can always be relied upon to assure that no decision is ever made related to patient care delivery practices without the active input and involvement from the nursing leaders and staff working in the affected areas. He pays close attention to these details when new direct care providers are hired to assure that new nursing and clerical positions are also approved to support any new clinicians.

Mr. Liezert's positive attitude, even in the most trying of circumstances, and his consistently exceptional progressive, value-driven leadership style have established the Orlando VA Health Care System as a recognized "Employer of Choice" for nurses throughout not only the local Orlando community, but also throughout the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). This has been clearly evidenced by our successful recruitment and hiring of highly-qualified nursing staff for our new VAMC at Lake Nona, where we often had 50-100 applicants for a single nursing position.