When we set out to create our 2020 Excellence in Nursing awards program last fall, COVID-19 had yet to rear its ugly head. At that time, we were excited to honor nurses in our region for their contributions in creating a healthier community and providing superb patient care.
Grand Rapids is widely acclaimed for its medical community — the doctors and researchers doing groundbreaking work right here in our city — and we wanted to make sure the city also is known for the quality of its nurses.
As the country struggles with a nursing shortage, our local colleges are receiving an abundance of applications for their highly rated nursing programs. The competition is fierce, and these programs are graduating nurses who are becoming leaders and community volunteers committed to helping everyone in our community live a healthier life. As baby boomers age, nurses will be even more vital to the care experience, from hospitals to hospice and beyond.
As we began accepting nominations and applications for the awards, we realized pretty quickly that nurses tend to have a common trait: they are humble. I lost track of how many emails we received thanking us for the honor of being considered for the Excellence in Nursing awards, but declining that honor at the same time because, “my colleagues are just as worthy of this award, and I don’t want to be singled out.”
And though we have singled out nurses in 10 specialties for recognition this year, we do believe that our Excellence in Nursing awards program is really about honoring all nurses in all of the different specialties for the tremendous work they are doing in their field. Nurses are on the frontlines of patient care and their efforts impact patient outcomes substantially.
As the applications were rolling in, our world changed. COVID-19 emerged and has taken the medical field by storm. Every day, heartbreaking stories are coming out of hospital emergency rooms as doctors, nurses and other staff are forced to make excruciating decisions. Though not all nurses are in this particular battle, nurses in every specialty go to work every day to help improve their patients’ lives through their care and they all are feeling the impacts of COVID-19 on their profession.
While we already felt it important to create a program to honor our community’s nurses, this year it has become even more obvious that nurses deserve this recognition. We are sorry that we were not able to hold our planned Excellence in Nursing event this year that would have celebrated our finalists, winners and all nurses in the community, but we are glad that we could still share this year’s winners with you in the pages of Grand Rapids Magazine.
I am thankful for our judges, Dr. Cynthia McCurren, dean and professor at Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing, and Renae Potts, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Grand Rapids Community College, for taking time to review all of the applicants and help us determine this year’s finalists and winners. And now, I give you this year’s Excellence in Nursing winners.
Meet the judges
Grand Rapids Magazine enlisted the help of Dr. Cynthia McCurren and Renae Potts, RN, to help us narrow down the impressive collection of applications we received and select the winners in the 10 categories.
Nurses were evaluated based on their work within the nursing profession and with patient care, continued education, community service and leadership roles, and additional materials provided by nominators.
Dr. Cynthia McCurren is dean and professor for Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing in Grand Rapids. She oversees the college, which serves 1,500 undergraduate and graduate nursing students, an Academic Nurse Managed Center in the heart of Grand Rapids, and the Bonnie Wesorick Center for Healthcare Transformation. Before joining Grand Valley State University, McCurren was at the University of Louisville School of Nursing for over 20 years, serving as faculty, associate dean and acting dean.
She is past chair of the board of trustees for the Clark Retirement Community, serves on the board for Metro Hospital University of Michigan Health System, and on the Quality and Safety Committee for Spectrum Health Board. In February 2020, McCurren was elected as chair-elect for the American Association Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Board for two years and will then serve as board chair from 2022-2024. McCurren currently serves as co-chair of AACN’s Essentials Task Force, which is working on re-envisioning the preparation of registered nurses prepared at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Renae Potts is a registered nurse who has been practicing in the nursing field for 36 years. She began her career after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Calvin College, later earning a Master of Science in Nursing with a focus on nursing education from Grand Valley State University. Her work experience includes direct patient care at Blodgett, Mary Free Bed and Butterworth hospitals, with specialty areas in neuroscience, trauma, general med/surgery and rehabilitation. She also served as an insurance case manager for a brief period.
Potts taught nursing at Calvin College for 16 years and has been teaching nursing as an assistant professor at Grand Rapids Community College for four years. She especially loves taking her nursing students to her neuro unit at Butterworth for their clinical education.
2020 Excellence in Nursing winners
Portraits by Bryan Esler
Category: Acute Care/Family Practice/General Med
Title: Director of Business Assurance, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Julie Bulson has been in the health field for 40 years. As business assurance director, she has a unique position of managing the program at Spectrum Health responsible for business continuity and emergency preparedness. The safety of the whole community is her focus. This planning ensures that patients, family members and staff are safe and get the care they need during a disaster situation. This includes proactive work in mitigating the effects of the disaster on not only Spectrum Health, but also the community, by working with its community planning partners. An example of this is working with the health system’s social media staff encouraging external messaging around how to decrease exposure and spread of disease through the current COVID-19 situation.
Bulson researches the best practices in health care emergency preparedness and often speaks at national conferences. She’s been on the Grand Valley State University Alumni Board for three terms (one as president). She also has been on the board for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Hope Unexpected, both of which support very important work in the community. Education is an easy tool to arm nurses with, but there is little education available related to disaster response, so Bulson has been able to document the need and develop educational modules that nursing staff can complete for free. Her research has documented a statistically significant improvement in the self-perceived knowledge level of nursing staff, which in turn has the potential to decrease nursing turnover and stress during a crisis. — Robin Gould
Title: Cardiovascular Recovery ICU RN, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Jamie Roberts is known as the nurse who gets things done without complaining. For the past seven years, she has worked with patients who have just had open-heart surgery in the ICU. If something is not working well on the unit, she strives to be the change and tries to find a solution. She comes in before her shift and stays after her shift to care for patients when the unit is short-handed. Roberts is the type of nurse who goes beyond what is expected of her. She once walked with a patient for four miles because the patient required a nurse to walk with them. She’s also volunteered to walk with a patient before her shift based on a patient’s request. Roberts goes above and beyond by making cheat sheets and education binders for staff, as well as references and a map for new nurses pulled to the unit. Outside of work, she adopted her road through the Kent County Adopt-a-Road program because she believes in and advocates for a cleaner planet and community.
— Robin Gould
Category: Community Health
Title: Registered Nurse, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Leora Bain has been a registered nurse for five years. She knows that when one family member is not well, it affects the family unit, and when families are unhealthy it affects the health of the community. She also believes that it is no longer “good enough” to have the education needed to promote health and well-being; there must be a human connection. Therefore, she is known to use transparency heavily throughout her nursing practice. Bain recently had the opportunity to speak about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD) at an event for the Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency. However, her passion and service to the community goes beyond nursing.
Bain is currently investing her spare time, energy and finances in launching a nonprofit organization for young adults exiting the foster care system. Young adults who age out of the system often face homelessness and trauma. Her goal is to create an evidence-based practice/program that focuses on the individual’s needs. This nonprofit is her life’s mission and will become her greatest contribution, which she hopes will someday impact communities across the globe. She also invests her time by being an active member of the Michigan Coalition to End Homelessness and Fostering Change Network. Through these memberships, she advocates for real change in the community for its most vulnerable populations. Check out her nonprofit at glidehome.org. — Robin Gould
Category: Emergency Room
Title: Director of Clinical Practice, Quality and Integration, Emergency Care Specialists
Stephanie Mullennix has spent 19 years in emergency care. In her current role, the focus of her clinical work is on the impact of the opioid crisis in West Michigan. Through November 2019, 65 individuals within Kent County alone died of an opioid-related overdose. Although this number has improved from 2017, during which 104 individuals died, much work still is required to improve access to high-quality treatment programs. Mullennix collaborates with other health care leaders and workers to implement interventions focused on reducing the opioid crisis in the community. Her team was able to implement a program focused on dispensing Naloxone, a lifesaving medication that can reverse the life-threatening respiratory depression associated with opioid overdose. The kits are distributed to patients in the emergency department following an opioid overdose.
Additionally, she recently completed Buprenorphine Waiver Training through the American Society of Addiction Medicine. This training was helpful in understanding the best-practice recommendations for the treatment of opioid use disorder. In the last year, the interdisciplinary project group has been disseminating its findings related to emergency department Naloxone distribution, and this past February, she received notification that the work will be published in a national, scholarly peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, in November 2019, she was invited to speak at The Opioid Overdose Prevention: Emergency Care of the Post-Overdose Patient Fall Summit hosted by the University of Michigan Injury Prevention Center. Her talk was focused on the implementation of a system strategy for Naloxone distribution. — Robin Gould
Category: Intensive Care Unit
Title: Nurse Manager, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Melissa Dorsey is the manager of the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit and the Cardiovascular Recovery Unit. She currently manages a total of 170 staff members. Dorsey has been a nurse for 11 years and one of her main responsibilities is to ensure patients, families and employees are provided with the most optimal health care available. Dorsey said that people always ask her why she wants to be a leader and not use her “nursing skills” at the bedside. To her, it is a simple answer: She gets to use all of her skills, plus more.
Her job is to support the team of nurses, technicians and providers so they can provide excellent care for patients. Her goal is for each of her team members to see the whites of her eyes every day. It allows for them to ask questions, provide ideas and voice concerns. It has built a trusting, respectful relationship and staff know that she will always “walk the talk.” Dorsey is proud to say that there were zero hospital-acquired conditions in the month of January and it had been six months without a catheter-related urinary infection. She also is a facilitator for Schwartz Center Rounds, which provides a facilitated discussion with caregivers and all those that support patients and their families. It focuses more on the heart and less on the brain response to situations. She is known for her forward-thinking and intentional mentoring. — Robin Gould
Category: Medical/Surgical (tie)
Title: Nurse Manager, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Jessica Pratt manages a large and complex medical nursing unit. She has been a nurse for 11 years and believes that a happy and healthy nursing team will be able to best provide care for patients. She is passionate about creating schedules that allow for optimum work/life balance and always attempts to allow for flexibility. Additionally, she prides herself on truly knowing her team. Pratt strives to know who they are, what is important to them and what their goals are in life. It is her goal to take care of her team, so they can take care of their patients and community.
As a nursing leader, most of her role is focused on how to positively influence patient outcomes. She does this by striving for continuous improvement on her unit with the use of daily huddles and quality improvement projects. These projects focus on reducing harm and hospital-acquired conditions. Her unit recently celebrated one year without a catheter-associated urinary tract infection or central-line-associated blood stream infection. She also is a member of the Michigan Organization of Nurse Leaders (MONL). As the name implies, this professional organization provides an opportunity for nursing leaders throughout the state to connect with one another to share ideas and learn best practices. She goes above and beyond in taking care of her team members, so they can go above and beyond in taking care of patients. — Robin Gould
Category: Medical/Surgical (tie)
Title: Clinical Nurse Specialist, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Lisa McCann-Spry has been a clinical nurse specialist for 19 years. She oversees the Orthopaedic Care Unit, where she works to ensure that patients get the best individualized and evidence-based care. She oversees pre-op classes for joint replacement, spine surgery and helps develop hospital discharge videos for patients and families. She is the nursing lead for pain management and opioid work. Her job is to ensure that opioid utilization decreases, and she focuses on the safety of her patients, families and the community through the development of opioid prescribing guidelines and Naloxone-prescribing for patients at risk, in both the emergency department and inpatient spaces. Her main focus is on patients with joint replacements, spine and hip fractures, and reducing surgical site infections and readmissions.
She also uses opioid data to help drive appropriate prescriptions to decrease unnecessary opioids in the community, hoping to prevent opioid overdose and misuse. Spry is the secretary for the Grand Valley State University Kirkhof College of Nursing Alumni Group as well as an active member of the local chapter of the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON). She hosts events and volunteers in the community. She also partners with student nurses to help students complete their schooling. In addition, she recently volunteered with GVSU KCON alumni at the Bodies Revealed exhibit in Grand Rapids. The local NAON chapter provides continuing education for orthopaedic nurses, and Spry participates in the organization’s Arthritis Walk each year. — Robin Gould
Title: Nurse Navigator, Spectrum Health West Michigan
For 23 years, Genevieve Waldron has encouraged her patients to be advocates for themselves by continuously asking the tough questions as they go through their cancer journey and by encouraging them to care for themselves through art, music, exercise or whatever activities they enjoy. She completed her Master of Science in Nursing in 2004 and just recently enrolled in the Family Nurse Practitioner Program at American Sentinel University.
As a nurse navigator, she is the first voice the patient and family hear. To her, it is more than a job, it is part of who she is. Many can execute and accomplish the basics of her position, but the compassion she exhibits in her role goes beyond what any degree can teach. Her patients often stay in touch with her for support even after they leave the hospital. Waldron goes the extra mile in all capacities to ensure her patients are cared for and issues are resolved quickly. She also enjoys volunteering at the National Cancer Survivors Day events that are hosted by her employer. These events give cancer survivors, families and friends in the community the opportunity to celebrate life after cancer and to connect with one another. — Robin Gould
Category: Pediatrics (tie)
Title: Clinical Nurse Specialist, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Beth Huizinga is the clinical nurse specialist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. She has worked in neonatal and non-neonatal units for 41 years. As a CNS, Huizinga has been the driving force directing the hospital’s NICU to provide the most up to date, evidence-based care available. She is responsible for the standards of care that are provided in the NICU. She has been instrumental in the topic research, development and implementation of various programs that have made the NICU one of the top units in the country.
Some of her work includes developing the Small Baby Unit to help premature babies receive the best possible outcomes. Another project she has developed is the Cue Based Feeding program, which improves a baby’s ability to oral feed successfully. Outside of the hospital, Huizinga volunteers at the Buist Community Center food bank. Additionally, she volunteers at her church through a new respite care program as a nurse. It is called Buddy Break, and the program offers a three-hour respite care session for families with special needs children. Huizinga has spent the past 40 years trying to put herself in the shoes of the families she works with, and with that goal in mind, she has given everything she has to be successful. — Robin Gould
Category: Pediatrics (tie)
Title: Pediatric Coagulation Disorders/Program Manager, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Retiring in the next year, Elizabeth Sandon-Kleiboer has been involved in nursing for over 40 years. She has been the manager and hemophilia coordinator for 25 years. Serving in the pediatric coagulation disorders program, she works with patients and families with chronic blood conditions from birth to young adulthood. Through the many opportunities to increase her expertise, she has attended state, national and international conferences two to four times per year. She has volunteered with a Michigan-based hemophilia camp for 20 summers, providing children with bleeding disorders an opportunity to have fun within their activity restrictions, while also learning self-infusion and other self-care skills. She also has volunteered at family hemophilia retreats to provide education, support and networking to families locally and across the state.
Outside of the hospital, she has participated with Access of West Michigan Good Food initiatives to improve access to food for people in the region. She has served on many boards, including the Hemophilia Alliance for six years and the Medical Advisory Committee for the Hemophilia Foundation of Michigan for 20 years. By teaching patients and their families how to administer medications in their homes, Sandon-Kleiboer’s team has helped control the cost of care and assisted in achieving a more “normalized” lifestyle. She has met with insurance companies and hospital legal representatives to ensure compliance with a federally supported program to give patients the best price for expensive hemophilia products. — Robin Gould
Title: Director of Nursing, Beacon Hill at Eastgate
Amanda Daggett has been the director of nursing at Beacon Hill at Eastgate for the past eight years. She strives to provide the best services to seniors that promote their best life in a supportive community. Her role gives her the opportunity to learn their life story, their desires, their family and support systems, and assist them as their needs change. During her time at Beacon Hill, the facility has gone from a 2-Star CMS rating to a 5-Star rating, and her vision for quality care has mastered the art of turning a clinically-minded field into a model of success with a hospitality-driven focus.
She is a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee at Kent Intermediary School District, the Grand Rapids Community College Nursing Advisory Committee and the Spectrum Health Sub-Acute Rehab High Performing Network. She also serves on the Technical Advisory Committee for Healthcare with HPS. She participates with the LeadingAge Michigan directors of nursing network to keep up with market trends, regulations and community trends in providing skilled nursing care. She also collaborates with Seamless, where she researches and tests a variety of new technologies that are changing the future of health care. — Robin Gould
Category: Women’s Health
Title: Nurse Educator, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health
Known by her coworkers as the one who will invite you in for coffee, Debra Rewerts has been a passionate and hard-working nurse in West Michigan for 40 years. She began her nursing career at Metro Health Hospital as a medical surgical nurse. After 10 years, she realized her passion for obstetrics and completed her associate degree in nursing. Later, she finished her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and started working with the Childbirth Center’s nurses, residents and physicians as their unit educator. Prior to her current role, she served as OB outreach coordinator for Spectrum Health.
Rewerts strives to stay current in her ever-changing profession by attending conferences and overseeing the local chapter of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). She recently submitted a proposal to the Michigan Council for Maternal and Child Health that offers comprehensive and compassionate care and support to moms struggling with substance use disorder. Additionally, she is the nurse liaison for Michigan’s Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (MIAIM) prosperity region 4. This organization has embraced two paths of care that will help decrease Michigan’s maternal morbidity and mortality rates. Rewerts travels to hospitals around West Michigan educating, inspiring and caring for women, babies, nurses and doctors. — Robin Gould
Acute Care/Family Practice/General Med
Julie Bulson (winner), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Cynthia Bursma, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Jennifer Ohman, Department of Veterans Affairs
Elizabeth O’Mara, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital
Elizabeth Wiersma, Pine Rest Mental Health Services
Jamie Roberts (winner), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Jacqueline Biel, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Desiree McGraw, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Kate Middlecamp, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Shelly (Leigh) Rosema, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Leora Bain (winner), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Alexandria Bryce, Cherry Health
Kenyatta Curry, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Cathleen Graham, Hospice of Michigan
Gladys Pico Gleason, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Stephanie Mullennix (winner), Emergency Care Specialists
Wendy DeBruyn, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Tracy Hosford, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Katie Limbacher, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Kylee Zomerlei, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Melissa Dorsey (winner), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Susie Grubba, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health
Joshua Loomis, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health
Maggie Simons, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Julie Stratton, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Lisa McCann Spry (winner/tie), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Jessica Pratt (winner/tie), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Kathryn Groover, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Heather VanderZwaag, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Cate Wondergem, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Genevieve Waldron (winner), Spectrum Health West Michigan
Wendy Connor, Cancer and Hematology of Western Michigan
Emily Oosterhouse, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Tina Rodriguez, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Erin VanDyke, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Beth Huizinga (winner/tie), Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Elizabeth Sandon-Kleiboer (winner/tie), Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Sherri Hoard, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Nancy Oelerich, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital
Megan Zubrickas, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Amanda Dagget (winner), Beacon Hill at Eastgate
Debra Rewerts (winner), Metro Health-University of Michigan Health
Kathy Buchanan, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Kelly Conley, Spectrum Health West Michigan
Anna Montgomery, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health
Mary Lynne Roberts-Jachim, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital