Supporting Home and Community-based Health Services for Chicago’s Medically Underserved

2004 Super Star in Community Nursing Award Winner

WinnerFinalists

VNA Foundation Executive Director Robert DiLeonardi congratulates Sandra Wilks, MSN, RN.

VNA Foundation Executive Director Robert DiLeonardi congratulates Sandra Wilks, MSN, RN.

CHICAGO – June 9, 2004

Growing up in poverty in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells housing development with her parents and five siblings, Sandra Wilks often relied on the aid of community nurses to receive basic health care and routine immunizations. Throughout her teen years, she also watched as many of her peers became pregnant and battled the challenges of young motherhood. It was these early experiences in life that inspired Wilks to pursue a career as a community/public health nurse so she, in-turn, could provide health care and assistance to those living in poverty. Sandra Wilks, MSN, RN, Director of Community Health Outreach at Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital, was recognized this week for her exceptional professional contributions in public health nursing. Wilks was chosen as winner of the 2004 VNA Foundation Super Star in Community Nursing Award and recipient of a $25,000 unrestricted cash award. (The Research and Education Foundation of the Michael Reese Medical Staff Family Planning Program was also presented with a $5,000 award.)

Sandra Wilks has a great passion for service in the poverty stricken neighborhood in which she serves. In a community where nearly a third of the residents are unemployed, Wilks is a tireless advocate. She has spent her entire nursing career at Michael Reese Hospital giving back to her community. In one of her most recent roles at the hospital, Wilks manages the Family Planning Program of the Research and Education Foundation of the Michael Reese Medical Staff, where she supports the teenagers who have been central to her interest for years. In addition to leadership in the program, Wilks provides direct nursing care and health promotion services to her many patients. Among the hospital’s pregnancy and prevention programs, she teaches “Parents Too Soon” classes to aid young parents.

Medical centers across the country are facing huge deficits as a result of the health care crisis, and many are closing their community service programs. Michael Reese Hospital has been faced with these same challenges. As a community health advocate, Wilks has fought to save the Family Planning Program. Because the program is the only one of its kind in the neighborhood, providing a healthcare “safety net,” she advocated for the women and teens of the community and helped administrators find a way to keep the program going.

“This year’s award nominees were of a truly exceptional caliber,” said Robert DiLeonardi, Executive Director of the VNA Foundation of Chicago. “However, after reviewing Sandra Wilks’ impressive credentials, meeting her in person and witnessing her enthusiasm and passion for public health nursing, it was evident to our selection panel that she was most deserving of this recognition. Sandra is an inspiring example to others who are considering a career in community nursing.”

“I am so honored to receive this recognition from the VNA Foundation,” said Wilks. “I am privileged to be in the company of the other award finalists, a group of outstanding community health nurses whose work is much like my own. I am so thankful for an award like this and grateful to the VNA Foundation for recognizing nurses this way. My career is very rewarding in and of itself, so to receive $25,000 is surreal and unexpected. I hope this award encourages more young people to pursue community nursing as I did, and give back to their communities where we so desperately need the support.”

Sandra Wilks accepts the 2004 Super Star award as finalists Ann McCormick (left), Deborah Bjurstrom and Catharine Quinn show support.

Sandra Wilks accepts the 2004 Super Star award as finalists Ann McCormick (left), Deborah Bjurstrom and Catharine Quinn show support.

Sandra Wilks already has plans for her $25,000 windfall – her daughter, Gabrielle, begins her freshmen year of college in the fall and part of her prize money will be applied towards college tuition costs. In addition, Wilks plans to allocate some of her winnings for home improvements to her nearly 100 year old home in the south side of Chicago where she lives with her husband Charles and 4 children.

Sandra Wilks holds a diploma in nursing from South Chicago Community Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences from College of St. Francis, a baccalaureate in nursing from Lewis University and a Masters in Nursing from St. Xavier University. She holds board positions with the Healthcare Consortium of Illinois, Research & Education Foundation and Near South Planning Committees and remains active in her community during her free time.

“Each of our finalists this year has demonstrated outstanding creativity, advocacy and clinical care – but Sandra Wilks’ story truly stood out from all the rest,” said DiLeonardi. “We are honored to acknowledge the incredible service of each of these nurses and the important role they plan in providing much-needed nursing care to our local communities.”

The VNA Foundation of Chicago 2004 Super Star in Community Nursing Award is intended to acknowledge the service that Public Health/Community Health nurses provide, recognize the value of nursing in the community, help attract young people to the profession and contribute to efforts to decrease the nursing shortage.

Sandra Wilks is congratulated by members of the VNA Foundation Board of Directors including (from left) Katherine Miller, Janet Cabot, Julia Cowell, Marie Harris and Brigid Kenney

Sandra Wilks is congratulated by members of the VNA Foundation Board of Directors including (from left) Katherine Miller, Janet Cabot, Julia Cowell, Marie Harris and Brigid Kenney

“As growing numbers of elderly Americans require health care services, and as more underinsured families and children turn to community-based health services and clinics, we want to highlight the importance of community health nursing,” said DiLeonardi. “By promoting this award and the dedicated individuals being honored, we hope to appeal to young people and encourage them to consider public health nursing as a career choice.”

Wilks and the five finalists were chosen by an all-volunteer, independent panel of community health experts, including longtime physician, public health activist and radio commentator Quentin Young, M.D.; Kane County Health Department Executive Director Mary Lou England; and others.

2004 SUPER STAR IN COMMUNITY NURSING AWARD FINALISTS

Sandra Wilks (center) is joined by the other outstanding finalists for the 2004 Super Star in Community Nursing Award including (from left) Catharine Quinn, Pam Gossman, Ann McCormick, Monica Dillon and Deborah Bjurstrom.

Sandra Wilks (center) is joined by the other outstanding finalists for the 2004 Super Star in Community Nursing Award including (from left) Catharine Quinn, Pam Gossman, Ann McCormick, Monica Dillon and Deborah Bjurstrom.

Sandra Wilks (center) is joined by the other outstanding finalists for the 2004 Super Star in Community Nursing Award including (from left) Catharine Quinn, Pam Gossman, Ann McCormick, Monica Dillon and Deborah Bjurstrom.

The VNA Foundation also awarded five finalists with $5,000 unrestricted cash awards for their exceptional efforts in community nursing:

Deborah E. Bjurstrom, BS, RN

CSNSchool Nurse, Schurz High School, Chicago. Making an impact in young students’ lives has been Deborah Bjurstrom’s life work. Bjurstrom is known for her boundless energy that helps her effectively deal with the challenges she encounters interacting with more than 2,600 inner city students at Schurz High School. She nurtures and empowers her student patients to take an active role in managing their health care. Bjurstrom has been an advocate for homebound students and volunteered to coordinate the home-hospital program for patients with high-risk pregnancies and other complex medical issues. When faced with the public health mandate of Hepatitis B compliance, Bjurstrom coordinated a massive school campaign that resulted in more than 1,200 at risk students becoming fully immunized.

Monica Dillon, BSN, RN

Community Health Nurse, Howard Area Community Center, Chicago. In her job as a community health nurse, Monica Dillon is responsible for the health needs of the patients enrolled at the Howard Area Community Center in Chicago’s Rogers Park community. She has created innovative programs including a lead screening program, bringing together key community leaders ranging from public health officials to politicians, and, ultimately, securing a grant from the Chicago Department of Health. Her work is the basis for a National Institute of Health proposal that would replicate the partnership model in other Chicago area communities. Dillon is currently shifting her creative effort to address America’s obesity problem and its effects here in Chicago. One of her nominators summarized Dillon’s accomplishments by saying that Dillon was the most knowledgeable, principled and dedicated nurse she has ever practiced with.

Pam Gossman, ND, APN, CFNP, BC-ADM

Volunteer Diabetic Coordinator, Tri-City Health Partnership, St. Charles. Dr. Pam Grossman is one of the founding members of the Tri-City Health Partnership, a free medical clinic for low income uninsured residents of the western suburbs. The clinic is the primary source of health care for residents of the area’s local homeless shelter. Dr. Gossman also provides services to homeless people of the area. Since the clinic opened in 2001, 650 patients have been enrolled in her program. Dr. Gossman has led a team in developing a much-needed free diabetic clinic, where she also serves as the nurse practitioner. The comprehensive program is designed to treat patients as well as educate and empower them to manage their own care. In addition to her support at the Tri City clinic, Gossman is currently working at the Open Door Clinic, a not-for-profit agency that serves HIV/AIDS patients and provides testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

Ann McCormick, MSN, FNP

Nurse Practitioner, Helping Hands Health Center, Chicago. While managing a busy family life, Ann McCormick recognized a need in her community and quit her full time job to spearhead the opening of a much-needed free health clinic for the uninsured – The Helping Hands Health Center . To get the clinic “up and running” McCormick volunteered full time as the clinic’s nurse practitioner, seeing hundreds of patients, and developed a grant from the VNA Foundation to fund future staffing. Now as a staff member at the center, McCormick provides comprehensive primary care, coordination of services and manages the clinic’s quality improvement program. She has become proficient in Spanish to meet her client population’s needs and is building alliances with other resources to assure Helping Hands’ sustainability.

Catharine E. Quinn, BSN, RNC

Health Educator/Community Nurse and Co-Facilitator of Latina Girls’ Club, Lake View High School – School Based Health Center, Chicago. “Cat” Quinn is recognized as an innovator in her field and has made an immeasurable impact at Lake View High School. As co-facilitator of The Latina Girls’ Club at Lake View High School, Quinn supports a program created by Latinas and for Latinas. Quinn, who is bilingual, is committed to helping her students make educated and informed health choices and encourages them to stay in school. The five original young women that helped found the Latina Girls Club are now in college – a testament to Quinn’s mentoring. Quinn is also sensitive to emerging student needs and has been instrumental in supporting teen mothers and helping the school launch a gay and straight alliance to promote tolerance. As the community health nurse, Quinn works with students and their families to assure health care resources are identified and fully utilized. See http://www.advocatehealth.com/system/jobsedu/edu/residency/immc/family/school.html.

All of the nominations for the VNA Foundation’s Super Star in Community Nursing Award were provided by colleagues and peers of the nominees and were judged by the VNA Foundation and a distinguished panel of public/community health nursing experts.

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