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

2008 Super Star in Community Nursing Award Winner


The VNA Foundation Recognizes Ronna “Jake” Ellwing, R.N., B.S.N, for her Commitment to Special Needs Youth in Lake County

CHICAGO – June 2008

Mentally and developmentally disabled young adults require very special care at home, at school and in adjusting to everyday life. Many of these youth between the ages of 18-22 are often in a state of indecision regarding life after high school – with parents and caregivers often struggling with ways to encourage independence while at the same time, ensuring proper care of their child. One truly exceptional nurse, Ronna “Jake” Ellwing, was recently awarded the 2008 VNA Foundation Super Star in Community Nursing Award and received a $25,000 unrestricted cash award for her excellence and dedication to special education and care of special needs students.

Jake spends countless hours supporting young adults that have mental and physical disabilities living in Lake County. As the community health nurse to the Special Education District of Lake County, Jake is dedicated to treating far more than just her patients’ medical conditions. She has established and executed numerous developmental programs for disabled students and extends herself wholeheartedly, offering continuous encouragement, guidance and support to the community.

“Jake exudes passion and genuine gratification from her work through her shining personality and immense dedication to supporting ‘her’ students – she clearly deserves this honor and we’re thrilled to call her our 2008 Super Star,” said Rob DiLeonardi, Executive Director of the VNA Foundation of Chicago. “Over the past eight years since this award’s inception, our judging panel remains amazed and humbled by the work of community health nurses serving underserved populations throughout Chicagoland. Jake is a true testament for all those considering a career in community nursing.”

A graduate of Capital University in Columbus, Ohio with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, Jake spent the first 15 years of her career working in a variety of health care fields where she held several sought after and well paid executive positions. Although she was highly regarded in her corporate role, she felt that she could be doing more to make a difference in people’s lives. As a result of this diminishing sense of personal fulfillment, Jake decided eight years ago to reroute her career and became the Registered Nurse for the Special Education District of Lake County where she strives to improve the availability and quality of health care for youth with special needs.

Thanks to improved technology and advanced medicine, people living with disabilities and challenging medical conditions are living longer. Unfortunately, many current education and health insurance programs have not adapted to this change. According to the 2006 American Community Survey (ACS), more than 15 percent of the American population is afflicted with some sort of disability, whether it be sensory, physical, mental or developmental, among others. With more and more special needs children living longer – often well into adulthood – current programs and systems need to change. A common difficulty for people with developmental disabilities is self-advocacy, so tenacious advocates like Jake are vitally important to help implement the changes that are so desperately needed.

As a nurse in the Transition Services Department in Lake County, Jake works daily with 150 special needs students, ages 18 -21, with a variety of disabilities. As many of the individuals are medically fragile and wheelchair-dependent, Jake’s primary responsibility is clinical care for routine, emergent and urgent medical situations. However, Jake’s role is so much more than just providing medical care. Because many of her students have multiple disabilities and face other challenges, Jake has developed a “total care” plan for each young adult that addresses not only medical issues, but mental health, wellness, safety and behavioral needs as well. Through her “whole-person” approach, she provides compassionate care for each student inside and out of the classroom, and coordinates the continuation of consistent care through the involvement of the student’s family and health care providers.

In addition to Jake’s “total care” plan, she created a program to help curb early or unplanned pregnancies, and a healthy eating program to address poor nutritional habits. Jake strives to make positive change whenever possible. Her goal is to arm students with the proper tools that will allow them to live on their own after their formal education comes to an end. She has written numerous grants to improve the educational and medical environment for special needs students, and as a result, she has been awarded funding for air purification systems, pedometers, fitness equipment, medication assistance, eye care services and more.

“I love what I do and it’s a true honor to be recognized for something that brings me such joy,” said Jake. “There are many of us out there working hard to make a difference as community health nurses, so I can only hope that this will help raise awareness for public health nursing for the medically underserved throughout Chicago.”

Jake currently resides in Mundelein with her husband and two teenage daughters. When not at work or advocating for her students, you can find Jake trying to keep up with her teen daughters, or knitting blankets to help comfort women who have breast cancer.

2008 Super Star Nurse Runner Up and Finalists

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