Nurses have a voice at Sanford Health

When front-line workers share ideas that work, nurses and patients win

A Sanford Health nurse helps a male patient with an arm bandage.

While the definition of “modern nursing” has changed in the generations since Florence Nightingale was saving soldiers’ lives and reforming health care, that same commitment to improving the way patients are cared for continues to this day.

It is an environment sustained throughout Sanford Health, including nearly 10,000 nurses at locations of all sizes and areas of expertise.

“I am very blessed to work with the women’s specialty clinics in Sioux Falls,” said Margaret Kropuenske, MSN, RN, AMB-BC. “As the clinic director for these teams I am inspired by the passion and the commitment my teams have for the patient care they do every day. I enjoy the ability to make an impact in women’s health by looking for new and innovative opportunities to support patient health and wellness.”

Nursing with resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic will long be remembered at Sanford and throughout the world, especially for the way it presented hardship for the health care community. Throughout this ordeal, it also has revealed nurses’ resolve.

“The pandemic has been a prime example of innovation and discovery,” said April Leiran, BSN, RN, a nursing supervisor in Fargo, North Dakota, who specializes in infectious disease and travel medicine. “Our providers were at the heart of this pandemic with this falling under our specialty. Our team is the front line for new updates of the new variants, COVID vaccine updates and new treatments available for patients.”

Find nursing jobs: Nursing careers at Sanford Health

Adaptability has become a cornerstone for nurses, whose resilience in the wake of changes and new challenges is now, as it always has been, an essential quality in the profession.

“In the past few years the nursing profession has faced incredible and unimaginable challenges,” said Erica Srnsky, RN, a clinical risk analyst in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. “Amidst rapid change and uncertainty, the front-line nursing staff and nursing leadership at Sanford in Thief River Falls banded together at the heart of what nursing really is — caring for one another and caring for our community.”

Maintaining sound core philosophies must be comprehensive to be effective. It has to be everywhere within the health system, and it has to be part of every day. To deliver a team atmosphere, all the teammates have to share a mutual vision.

“Resiliency and strong character come from trusting those you work with and providing them with the tools and knowledge that they need to work autonomously,” said Bonnita Vavruska, director of nursing at Good Samaritan Society – Tyndall in South Dakota. “I have been here for seven years now and our staff has always amazed me. Most of our leaders are cross-trained and/or certified in other positions, which lends so much to our facility and residents.”

Vavruska is also an infection preventionist at the Tyndall location and partners with her administrator as quality assurance and performance improvement coordinator. Like the rest of her colleagues, she brings versatility to work with her on a daily basis.

“Even though this can be challenging, it is also what allows our staff to understand what and where they are needed and when,” she said. “It is such an honor to work with a team that supports and is there for each other even when it may not be work related.”

Throughout the COVID-19 era of health care, the pinch on services has placed a high priority on order. While conditions and responsibilities sometimes changed, values have remained steadfast.

“Nurses tend to develop strong character based on the need for us to continually adapt to extreme circumstances,” said Tiffany Phomsatry, an RN for the emergency department at Sanford Worthington Medical Center in Minnesota. “We learn to take control of situations that would otherwise become chaotic and unorganized. This drive to maintain stability and achieve a positive workflow is encouraged and supported by the doctors and other nurses we get work with.”

They share a commitment, Phomsatry said, and that includes a commitment to each other.

“The familiarity we have with one another promotes a trusting environment,” she added. “We can feel comfortable feeling confident and safe in our department.”

Nursing with a spirit of innovation

Creating that kind of work environment for caregivers is not necessarily automatic. It involves supporting initiatives aimed at promoting teamwork, accountability and high ethical standards.

“As preceptors to new nurses we build self-esteem and promote positive thinking and optimism with a ‘can-do’ attitude,” said Jessica Bruer, RN, an inpatient nurse at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. “We emphasize the importance of teamwork and an open environment to ask questions. We remind others that nursing is a demanding profession and it is vital that you care for yourself so you can give quality care to your patients in their time of need.”

Sometimes a spirit of innovation begins with a question needing answers. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, there were huge segments of the population that hadn’t been vaccinated for anything for a long time. Then all of a sudden, the demand was like nothing ever to precede it.

People like Crystal Sauer, LPN, serving in the clinic in Bemidji, Minnesota, became problem-solvers. In Sauer’s case, she was heading a vaccine advocacy effort. As a “Vax Champ” for Sanford, Sauer was part of a group that works together to keep staff educated and working on improving vaccination rates.

“I’ve been doing immunization injections for almost 19 years here,” Sauer said. “My supervisors really encouraged me to be a voice even though I’m not part of the administration. They really encouraged me to be a voice for the front-line workers. I went to meetings and I answered a lot of questions. It’s nice to know that it’s a big company but your opinion does matter.”

It is especially vital when frontline expert insight can help solve a problem or improve a process, as was the case for Sauer during the pandemic. It is why Sanford starts by listening to people on the front lines and then keeps listening. The pandemic was a vivid example of how collaboration led to innovation.

“I feel that having the support of upper management has been great during the pandemic,” Leiran said. “I really felt like they listened to our concerns. While being able to provide world-class patient care, I feel that Sanford Health has been able to stay true to its foundation of mission, vision, ethics and values.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Fargo, Nursing and Nursing Support, Senior Services, Sioux Falls, Thief River Falls, Worthington