When the World Health Organization designated 2020 the “Year of the Nurse,” no one expected this year to be one of unprecedented difficulty for nurses across the nation and the world. As Penn Presbyterian Medical Center navigates the outbreak of COVID-19 and begins to carefully scale up a safe return to other care that was delayed by the pandemic, frontline nursing staff continue to go above and beyond.

Every day you can find PPMC nurses using their skills and talents to compassionately care for vulnerable patients, adopting new best practices to ensure the safety of their colleagues, connecting patients and their family members virtually, and even organizing donation drives for struggling community members, all in the face of an ongoing public health threat.

“I am so grateful for our PPMC nurses for their exceptional clinical care, leadership, and teamwork as we quickly transformed to care for COVID-19 patients, while simultaneously operationalizing new processes to handle the challenges associated with providing care in a pandemic,” said Jim Ballinghoff, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer and associate executive director. “Every single person did what they could do to meet the challenge. The resilience, innovation, and flexibility that I’ve witnessed throughout this process has been remarkable. I couldn’t be more proud to have had the opportunity to be a leader of such extraordinary people.”

Despite all of the challenges and changes posed by the coronavirus, there was an opportunity for some normalcy last month when nurses across Penn Medicine were invited to nominate their peers for the 20th Annual UPHS Nursing Clinical Excellence Awards. Each year, the health system celebrates exceptional professional nurses who have had a significant impact on their patients, colleagues, and community. This year, five exceptional PPMC nurses received awards recognizing their high-quality, evidence-based, patient-centered care.

ppmc 2020 nursing excellence

Paula Gabriel, MSN, RN, CCRN-K, a unit-based educator on Cupp 3 East, was awarded the Victoria L. Rich Transformational Leadership Award. To her peers, Gabriel is an inspirational role model who “embraces innovation and change” and “creates a climate of learning where colleagues can grow and take risks.” With her ambitious spirit and creative problem-solving skills, she has led quality improvement initiatives that have helped to standardize oxygen administration practices and reduce Presby’s rate of catheter-associated urinary tract infections. Gabriel also played an instrumental role in developing PPMC’s sepsis escape room — a simulation-based training that received local media coverage, was adopted across Penn Medicine’s entities, and even inspired programs at hospitals throughout the nation.

ppmc 2020 nursing excellence

Like Gabriel, Gabriela de Hoyos, MSN, RN, CEN, TCRN, a nurse in the Emergency Department, has established herself as an innovative change-maker, earning her this year’s Helen McClelland Award for Research and Innovation. As chair of the Critical Care Committee, she developed a hands-on skills day for ED staff to help minimize the knowledge gap of high-acuity, low-occurrence clinical events and improve patient outcomes. After hearing her colleagues express their confusion over non-standardized roles during emergencies, de Hoyos also spearheaded a new code initiative. She collaborated with fellow nurses to test scenarios in a simulated environment. Her hard work paid off, and her initiative was successfully rolled out as a standard practice in the ED.

ppmc 2020 nursing excellence

Perioperative Care charge nurse and interim clinical educator Moiriah Crowding, BSN, RN, CCRN, received the Lillian Brunner Award for Exemplary Practice in recognition of her breadth of clinical knowledge and commitment to enhancing nursing practices and patient outcomes. Some of Crowding’s impressive accomplishments include reorganizing the PACU Practice Committee, revising her unit’s nursing orientation process, and playing a key part in building a solid pre-op/PACU foundation. Her diverse background and experience in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings allowed her to step right into her roles with little instruction or oversight, and she has proven herself a resourceful, collaborative leader who is equally invested in cultivating relationships with her colleagues and driving big-picture changes. 

ppmc 2020 nursing excellence

Like Crowding, Helena Pittman, BSN, RN, CCRN, ATCN, a charge nurse on the Trauma-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (TSICU), has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, for which she received this year’s Dianne Lanham Award for Leadership. She managed PPMC’s Community Outreach Committee, working with 30+ vendors to organize a community health and wellness fair; mentored nursing leaders as chair of the hospital’s Nursing Shared Governance Leadership Council (NSGLC); orchestrated a redesign of the shared governance model; and organized the annual shared governance retreat as chair of the health system’s NSGLC. Pittman shows this same dedication in the TSICU, serving as an empathetic mentor for new nurses, an indispensable resource for colleagues, and a calming force during clinical emergencies.

ppmc 2020 nursing excellence

Finally, the Rosalyn J. Watts Award for Community/Patient/Family Relationships went to Sheila Anderson, BSN, RN-BC. A creative and compassionate nurse on the Acute Care of the Elderly (ACE) Unit, Anderson is invested in boosting the well-being of elderly community members before, during, and after their hospitalization. She helped develop the Elders on the Move Program, which provides games, puzzles, reading materials, and toiletries to local nursing home residents. She and her fellow ACE nurses also make regular visits to lead activities like chair volleyball. Anderson’s efforts have been supported by Penn Medicine CAREs grant funding, and she has been able to cultivate great relationships with her patients, as well as local nursing home activity coordinators. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of our winners of the Nursing Clinical Excellence Awards,” Ballinghoff said. “One of the highlights of my year is getting to announce and present these awards to each recipient with their peers and colleagues gathered around in support. Their passion for the profession and compassion for our patients and families is awe-inspiring.”

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