During the week of Oct. 11 through 17, American nursing case managers were honored by the American Case Management Association. Although the celebrations were somewhat limited by COVID-19 restrictions, Zoom meetings and digital connections were implemented to recognize outstanding professionals in this field. Local hospital supervisors nominated those who had demonstrated, in one way or another, leadership, strength, optimism, consistency and determination during the past difficult months. While many health care workers are deserving of such recognition, the following three distinguished themselves to earn the title COVID Case Manager of the Year.
Megan Benardo, RN, is a nurse case manager at Summerville Medical Center, where she has been employed for the past seven years. Benardo said she chose this career path, “to be able to spend more time with my patients and their families. I felt like bedside nursing has changed so much that you can’t spend enough time interacting personally with your patients.”
What she finds especially rewarding is outfitting her patients with all the help they need for a safe discharge from the hospital, especially when resources may be limited in a community. Since caregivers are such an integral part of patient care and overall well-being, she also works to lighten their loads with resources and education that will help them serve their patients.
Benardo is known for being ready to raise her voice whenever she needs to advocate for her patients. At the same time, years of experience as a critical care nurse have prepared her to be empathetic and compassionate during those painful times when she must have difficult conversations with patients and their families. As a true team player, she is willing to go above and beyond when necessary, with an unflagging smile for staff, patients and family members – anyone who might need a little encouragement.
Dealing with COVID-19 has presented its own set of challenges.
“Patients not being able to visit with family members has been very difficult. Witnessing patients dying daily, sometimes by themselves, and losing so many young people who had not been sick previously has been tough,” Benardo said.
On the other hand, 2020 has been rewarding, and Bernardo feels closer to her children and her co-workers through this shared experience. She has a new respect for nursing and considers it a truly heroic profession. Her team at Summerville Medical Center is more like family now, and Megan Benardo feels blessed to be a part of it.
Emily Ghassemzadeh, RN, has been a case manager at East Cooper Regional Medical Center for the past 17 years. After a short stint as a teacher, which just didn’t feel quite right, she applied for one of 30 available slots in a full-scholarship nursing program. She was chosen from a pool of 1,300.
Ghassemzadeh said, “In 1989, I found that nursing was the call of my life.”
In 2003, she transitioned from acute rehabilitation to case management, a position that incorporates her past education, significant experience and invaluable faith.
Ghassemzadeh truly enjoys helping intensive care unit and pediatric care unit patients and their families in the transition to rehab, home health services or hospice and end-of-life care, pointing out that “The work is rewarding and a perfect fit for me.” She loves getting to know her patients and their families. Some will recover and return to their former lives; others will not. Either way, she will be there to walk with them in the journey.
Tamara Pruett, BSN, RN, CCM, group director of case management Mid South for Tenet Healthcare, stated, “Emily’s passion for guiding patients and families through end-of-life care is remarkable. She is able to share the trajectory of symptoms of an illness in a direct but caring and compassionate manner, which is very appreciated by those receiving the information.”
COVID-19 has also presented challenges for Ghassemzdeh. Watching seniors experience illness and decline related to isolation has been painful, and so has working with adult children who cannot visit with their parents. To maintain balance, Ghassemzadeh enjoys the beach, walks, listens to music and playing with her young granddaughter.
When asked about her award, she answered, “I am humbled to be rewarded for something I do every day. While I feel honored, it is not me, it is my faith in God and his call on my life that should get the award.”
Christina Goode, RN, BSN, has worked at Trident Medical Center for the last 15 years. From her early years in high school, when she volunteered as a candy striper, Goode has known that nursing would be her career path.
“She stated matter-of-factly, “I just love to help people. Being able to transition patients to home and the next level of care gives me great satisfaction.”
Goode’s co-workers find her to be a true patient advocate and team player. Not only is she willing to go the extra mile, but she is also the first to volunteer when additional needs or challenges arise. This flexibility has been showcased recently when COVID-19 has often forced last-minute scheduling changes and the need to bounce between multiple nursing units. Goode’s team recognizes that their case manager is always ready and willing not only to accept new assignments but also to excel at them.
According to Karen Mozeleski, MSN, RN, director of case management, “Christina has embodied our mission statement by putting others before self, and we are all blessed to call her a friend and co-worker.”
For Goode, hidden behind the unexpected challenges of COVID-19 are the rewards of being part of a wonderful team that works together to overcome the unique and difficult situations brought on by the pandemic. Balancing her work and personal life has been challenging, but she is thankful for her strong support system consisting of her husband, parents and in-laws who are always willing to chip in and help.
Concerning her recent award, Christina Goode stated modestly, “Earning this award means a lot because all my co-workers are amazing, and to be recognized out of such a great group really humbles me.”
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