Voices that lead, Nurses’ Week 2022

By Kirstin Grace-SimonsMay 26, 2022

Celebrating Nurses’ Week at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is no small affair.

Between the opening ceremony on May 6 through closing out the activities on May 12, nurses engaged in grand rounds, a skills fair, professional development talks and informational booths of programs and initiatives at Madigan. All of these had a nursing focus.

Setting the stage

Brig. Gen. Kate Simonson, the deputy assistant director for Research and Development with the Defense Health Agency, served as the guest speaker for the opening ceremony. She has been a long-time member of Team Madigan as both a Soldier and a civilian.

“I start any time that I’m going to be speaking, not just to nurses, but to anybody that it’s a great day to be a nurse because every day is a great day to be a nurse! Hooah?” Simonson said to begin her words to the crowd assembled to celebrate the beginning of Nurses’ Week 2022.

Simonson is a big proponent of DHA and nursing; she clearly appreciates her work at DHA in part due to its ability to bring these interests together in her remarks as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

“Every place where influence is had, there should be a nurse sitting at the table to give that perspective in our global healthcare,” she stated right up front.

There is every reason to acknowledge the power and presence of nurses in the DHA because there are 30,000 of them in the military treatment facilities. As the agency stands up, it is the world’s largest healthcare organization. Simonson noted that while large organizations make changes slowly, with nurses engaged at such a high degree, their ability to affect patient care is impressive.

She reviewed the seven key principles guiding the Defense Health Agency towards being a high reliability organization.

Of particular note are preoccupation with failure which is to continuously looking at how something can fail before it can do so.

“As a critical care nurse, that was my mantra – I’d walk in and get report in the morning and I’d say, ‘What’s going to kill my patient today?’ I literally would think that,” said Simonson, following up with, “OK, we gotta prevent that.”

Of sensitivity to operations, she commented that it is a primary focus in the agency’s effort to transition all MTFs under a single entity.

Offering specific consideration to the people, processes and systems and how they impact outcomes helps identify and address potential problems as the variety of MTFs and services coalesce into one organization.

“Certainly, we’ve found some of those fracture areas and we’re working hard to shore up those challenges,” said Simonson.

Noting that this week should be one of renewal dovetails with another principle – commitment to resilience. Simonson expressed her interest in what has become a buzzword be considered on the personal level.

“Taking care of yourself keeps you able to take care of other people. Commitment to resilience definitely means self-care,” Simonson said.

Additionally, she stated that DHA has funding for research and it is open to all areas to include nurses.

“Now I’m happy to announce that research can be funded. We’re willing and able and encouraging you to bring your problems to us so that we can help you to solve them,” she said.

Madigan’s own

Born in Brooklyn and raised in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Brig. Gen. Kate Simonson, the deputy assistant director for Research and Development with the Defense Health Agency, has fallen for the Pacific Northwest. And it has fallen for her.

After nine years on active duty in the Army, she transitioned into the Reserves.

"I came to Madigan, and I loved it," said Simonson during a visit to the largest military treatment facility in the NW to attend both Nurses' Week and Madigan Research Day.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has been her professional home over the couple of decades since then. That time has taken her away on multiple mobilizations within the country and deployments outside of it. But, while here, she worked as a stability nurse.

A couple of years back, Madigan hosted a promotion ceremony where she pinned on a star.

Staff at Madigan have great respect for that star because of the work they know went into getting it, and they know it is well-deserved. Still, it is common to hear Simonson referred to as Nurse Kate. That's a title of respect as well.

She will tell you that the camaraderie she's found with nurses, especially in critical care where she has often applied her nursing skills, she hasn't found elsewhere. When she's spent time in civilian facilities, she's found the military's esprit de corps can't be matched.

Currently, Simonson is lending her expertise in patient care and research, which she has worked in most recently at Madigan at the Andersen Simulation Center, to the DHA in Falls Church, Va.

Early on in her career, opportunities led Simonson into training. Asked to stand up the Reserve component critical care course on the West Coast started her on this path.

It was in this role that she learned how training works in the Army and how to develop a curriculum. She also formed a clear appreciation for educating other nurses.

“I always say you need to learn something three times before it really cements. So, being in the realm of education, you really learn something when you have to consider how you're going to teach someone else to understand it because people learn in different ways. I feel like the gift of that is that I've been afforded the time and the repetition to really get good at certain things,” explained Simonson. “I enjoy – at every level – coaching someone through something that they're learning, you know, giving them encouragement, making minor adjustments, having them repeat things so that they feel really competent in it. And the switch that someone has in the way they present themselves when they feel confident in their training is something to behold.”

With the 2017, Congress made its intent clear with the NDAA. “That is to unify under one command, all research and engineering to streamline, integrate and collaborate,” said Simonson. “It feels like a natural transition that we will all be under one roof.”

Simonson’s mobilization to the DHA is set to last the standard two years; she is about halfway through that period. But, if they ask her to extend that another year, she would be happy to do so. It is apparent she is enjoying the work she is doing, and the period of growth that the agency is in currently.

“It’s an exciting time to be in DHA; every day is different,” she said of this period of developing the joint operations.

She proudly points out projects concerning post-partum hemorrhage control, direct access to physical therapy and care bundles that are small, straightforward sets of recommendations to implement evidence-based practices. These efforts to improve care across the DHA based are in addition to things like standing up centers for intensive care such as the ocular trauma center that will take a patient from injury seamlessly through all necessary therapies all in one place. This center at Madigan will be the DHA’s third.

“I feel like bringing the services together in a joint way under DHA will really empower clinical research,” said Simonson. “We're on our second cycle of awarding research funds. I'm happy this year that we got plenty of proposals from nurses, which is very exciting, because they're at the bedside and they understand what some of the challenges are.”

Enthusiastic about the future of DHA and research within it, specifically, Simonson’s own future includes a return to the Pacific Northwest and possibly some work in global or community health.

“And I'm going to spend a lot of time with my husband,” declared Simonson.

Awards and scholarships

The closing ceremony showcased the bestowing of a number of awards including two named in honor of two of Madigan’s beloved nurses who departed too soon – Col. Janice Lehman and Capt. Jennifer Moreno.

Col. Janice Mano Lehman was a Seattle native who served in the Army for over 25 years. She did the clinical training portion of a summer ROTC nurse cadet training program at Madigan. She later worked in a number of positions at Madigan, the last of which was the chief of clinical nursing before a nearly decade-long battle with cancer cut her life short in 2012.

The scholarship was established to honor Lehman’s passion for healing, education and patient-centered care. It is awarded annually to aid in the pursuit of nursing education.

The Evangeline G. Bovard Award was established in 1956 as a tribute to her by her husband, Col. Robert Skelton. She was a nurse whose first duty station was Letterman Army Medical Center. Upon the inactivation of Letterman, the award was transferred to Madigan. Bovard was an Army nurse. The award is given to a nurse in the western region of the U.S.

Best Registered Nurse (R.N.):  Genita Davis

Best Licensed Practical Nurse (L.P.N.):  Dawn Allen

Best Certified Nursing Assistant (C.N.A.):  Octavia Turner

Best Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (A.P.R.N.):  Fujio McPherson

Preceptor of the Year:  1st Lt. Jacob Hurd

Nursing Star of Excellence:  Candice Frayle

Excellence in Evidence Based Practice:  Maj. Mark Cenon and Maj. Christela Turner

Daisy Award:  1st Lt. Julia Blum

Tish Steigerwald Award for Pediatric Excellence:  Julie Wilkerson

Col. Lehman Nursing Scholarship Award:  Thadra Caveness, Christina Yoon, Christina McKenney

Evangeline G. Bovard Award:  1st Lt. Dalia Menjivar, Maj. Anne Daniele

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