Lodi Hospital Welcomes New Executive Nurse
Backed by 40 years of healthcare experience, Lodi Hospital’s new nurse leader is empowering caregivers and revamping care delivery.
In the office of Cleveland Clinic Akron General Lodi Hospital’s new vice president of nursing and operations, a plaque reads: Success is making a difference in the lives of others. Happiness is watching them grow because of it.
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The plaque belongs to Karen Gates, DNP, RN, NE-BC, and she has taken it with her to every leadership job she has had in her nearly 40 years in healthcare
“Every day I come to work, the one thing I want to do is make a difference in the lives of others,” Gates says. “Some days the impact is big, other days it’s small, but just making a difference is what’s most important to me as a leader.”
In her first six months on the job, Gates has stayed true to her aspiration. Many of her actions as Lodi Hospital’s new executive nurse have been centered on empowering frontline caregivers.
In the emergency department (ED), duties like scheduling and ordering have been reassigned from administrative employees to clinical staff.
“This change resulted in a highly positive response from our ED caregivers,” says Gates.
Nurses are being encouraged to earn specialty certifications, and several nurse managers are already on their way to becoming certified. Gates is also establishing various nurse-driven councils, including a leadership council for nurses in management and leadership positions. In addition, a quality council is in the works, as is a nursing practice council, a hybrid group that will focus on practice, innovation and informatics.
Additionally, Lodi Hospital is seeking recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Pathway to Excellence Program®. Gates and her leadership team plan to kick off Lodi’s Pathway journey during National Nurses Week in May.
“Pathway to Excellence is all about shared decision-making, shared governance and empowering frontline caregivers,” she explains.
Ensuring that nurses are working at their highest scope of practice is another priority. Thus, Gates and her team are reassessing Lodi’s current model of nursing care delivery.
“Supporting and encouraging caregivers to take their skills and abilities to the next level is important to drive positive engagement, positive patient experiences and positive outcomes,” Gates says.
Lodi’s inpatient volume has grown in recent months, and the increase has affected how care is delivered. When inpatient numbers were lower, a staffing model consisting only of registered nurses (RNs) worked well for the 20-bed hospital. Now that patient census is higher, Gates has introduced other nursing caregivers to the team. She hired the unit’s first-ever patient care nursing assistant and brought on two additional licensed practical nurses.
“We need our RNs to be focused on assessments and the other things that are most important to their roles,” Gates says. “Adding support staff and changing the model of care helps drive efficiency and effectiveness.”
Gates believes there are always opportunities for improvement, which aligns well with the operations side of her role. “I love the fact that my title is vice president, so I wear a chief nursing officer hat and a chief operating officer hat — that’s the best part,” she says. “I’ve always been so concentrated on nursing, but now I’m learning the operations piece. It’s brought a new perspective to my leadership style.”
She has already stepped in to help spearhead several major hospital construction projects, including renovating the general radiology and imaging/CT areas; upgrading the nurse call system in the operating room, ED and inpatient unit; updating inpatient rooms; and giving the rehabilitation and outpatient services reception area a facelift.
Although nursing and operations comprise her formal title, Gates, like the rest of the Lodi Hospital team, is happy to step in where work needs done. She recently found herself shoveling snow and salting the hospital sidewalks when the facilities leader was on vacation.
“The mentality here is that you put your title aside and each person does what they can to keep the hospital operating at full speed — no one hesitates,” she says. “There’s a synergy that we are all on the same team and we can do anything. Everyone works together — clinical and nonclinical — to provide the total patient experience.”
When Gates thinks about the future, she gets excited.
“I think it’s Lodi’s time,” she says. “This small, unique hospital is a hidden gem. It’s the only critical-access hospital in the health system, and our nurses provide outstanding care. We are lucky to have the degree of talent we have here.”