Angels of Mercy

When Gemma Seidl, MSN, MPH, RN, PHN, joined the ICU staff at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, as critical care manager in 2008, she wanted to boost morale and empower her staff. Unit staff had been using a star recognition program to give each other pats on the back, but she knew there was more that could be done. So after some research and a little brain storming with the unit-based council and the unit’s charge nurses, Seidl came up with the ICU Angel recognition program to honor those nurses whose care went above and beyond the call of duty.

NURSE ANGELS: ICU nurses at St. Joseph Hospital, Orange, are awarded angel pins for going above the call of duty with their patients.

Seidl frequently receives letters, calls and emails from patients or their family members after hospitalization praising the care they received from specific nurses. In addition, co-workers and other units email kudos to her about staff. She wanted to find a way to honor those nurses in a positive way, to let them know their good work was appreciated. Because they were “angels” to the patients, an award with an angel was a good fit.

Seidl found a birthstone angel pin online along with an angel certificate template. She decided to award the pins and certificates to nurses who had been singled out for providing special care to patients. Each recipient receives the birthstone angel for the month they receive the pin. Seidl includes a lunch along with the pin and certificate. She ties in Human Resources by putting a copy of the certificate in the recipient’s permanent file and adding it to their annual evaluation.

“My intent was to recognize people in my unit,” Seidl said. “The ICU Angel recognizes ICU team members who receive positive written feedback from patients and their families, nursing student precepts or any non-ICU employees. When an ICU management team receives letters of appreciation and thank you letters from patients or families, the ICU team member is recognized during a department meeting.

We have 140 nurses on a 40-bed unit and get the sickest of the sick,” she continued. “Just hearing ‘thank you’ makes a difference. Morale is definitely up here.”

“The ICU Angel recognition program has been warmly embraced by the critical care staff,” added Katie Skelton, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “To be recognized by one’s peers, particularly in such meaningful and sensitive work, is very powerful. It is not only what we do but how we do it that truly matters in life.”

SACRED ENCOUNTERS: Angel clips are shared from nurse to nurse for sacred encounters with patients or each other. photos courtesy St. Joseph Hospital

Angel Recognition

While the ICU Angel pin is designed to honor nurses for caring for patients, Seidl wanted to find a way nurses could honor each other for going above the call on a daily basis. She came up with an angel clip, this time one that would be passed from nurse to nurse.

“The angel pin recognizes ICU team members for positive interactions with patient family members and other ICU team members,” Seidl said. “Then we branched out with daily sacred encounters. We honor those observed having a sacred encounter with patients.”

There are 10 angel pins on the unit to be shared; five for day shift and five for night shift. When a sacred encounter is observed, a nurse is awarded an angel clip.

Seidl told the story of one young nurse dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient who was unsettled by being in the hospital. The nurse brought a stack of towels into the patient’s room and playfully had him help her fold them. The activity soothed the patient. The next day, the same nurse spent time with an elderly cancer patient who was in considerable pain. After doing what she could for him medically, she simply sat with him and held his hand. Seidl said those kinds of sacred encounters are important.

“These clips are passed from nurse to nurse, when they see a sacred encounter happening on the floor,” she said. “It’s good to have an impact, even in a small way.”

Seidl said the strategic goals at St. Joseph Hospital include sacred encounters, perfect care and healthiest communities that support the mission, vision and values Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. All staff is taught to believe all positive encounters with patients, visitors or fellow staff are potential sacred encounters.

“Our hospital recognizes employees and makes them feel like family,” Seidl said. “They go beyond being nice. I’m just returning the favor.”

Candy Goulette is regional editor at ADVANCE.

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