As healthcare reform takes hold and millions of previously uninsured Americans come into the fold amid the backdrop of a growing physician shortage, thousands of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in retail-based health clinics are demonstrating the vital role that they play in today’s healthcare system to expand access to high-quality, affordable health care. To recognize the best of the best, DSN Collaborative Care magazine — in partnership with the Convenient Care Association — each year hosts the annual Clinician Awards for Retail Excellence, or CARE Awards. The CARE Awards honor the “unsung heroes” who work each day to help further the cause of retail-based health care.
CARE Unsung Hero Award recipients Tasha Despault of RediClinic, Mary Skaats of The Little Clinic and Becky Williams of MinuteClinic, with CARE Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Sandy Ryan of CareCam Health Systems, and CARE Unsung Hero Award recipients Sheila Kocher of Healthcare Clinic at Walgreens and Shane Tsubaki and H. Courtney Ballina, both of Target Clinic
H. Courtney Ballina, Target Clinic
Family nurse practitioner H. Courtney Ballina not only serves as a trainer and mentor to her peers, but she is hailed as a caring and compassionate clinician. Her dedication and exceptional care were especially evident when a concerned patient sought her expertise.
Despite seeing her primary care physician and being told her symptoms were likely related to a medication, this particular patient remained concerned that something was amiss. She had been to the Target Clinic several times over the past few months for non-life threatening concerns, so she returned to consult with a clinician. Following a thorough history check, Ballina had a hunch what was wrong, but she couldn’t diagnose the patient. She instead directed the patient to a specialist.
A week later the patient had an appointment scheduled with the specialist, but she didn’t know how to explain everything, so Ballina happily drafted a letter in terms the patient could understand.
The specialist confirmed Ballina’s hunch and diagnosed the patient with a condition that had been compromising her immune system.
Tasha Despault, RediClinic
Physician assistant Tasha Despault is not only well-respected by her peers, but she also has become a bit of celebrity among her patients who constantly request her by name.
Despault’s unyielding commitment to providing the highest quality of care is evident on scores of surveys that have been filled out at her clinic location. For example, one patient said that she had never been taken better care of by any other healthcare provider than she had by Despault.
On another occasion, a father and son stopped by as the father had become dizzy and fatigued. He said it was probably his ears, but Despault listened to his heart and found he was tachycardic and irregular and referred him to the ER. He was hospitalized for several days, stabilized and put on meds to control his blood pressure.
“I am so pleased to have Tasha on our team. Her hard work and drive for excellence shows through every day. She always goes above and beyond,” said Danielle Barrera, COO at RediClinic.
Sheila Kocher, Healthcare Clinic at Walgreens
One visit with a “stubborn” 81-year-old woman complaining of a cough is one example of how nurse practitioner Shiela Kocher puts the needs of her patients first.
At the clinic, the patient’s daughter explained she had not been to her physician for quite some time despite her history of congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and emphysema.
Kocher nudged the patient for more details and was able to determine that she had not been taking her medications as prescribed and that one of her medications was interfering with her heart medication. Going a step further, Kocher then made the patient a list of medications, encouraged her to make an appointment with a new family doctor and made a list of questions for her to ask the new doctor.
“With each encounter, Sheila helps patients to identify potential obstacles and creates a plan to help achieve the best health outcome. I’m proud of the care she delivers at Healthcare Clinic,” said Jennifer Thornberry, clinic manager at Healthcare Clinic at Walgreens.
Mary Skaats, The Little Clinic
One mother perhaps summed it up best when she spoke of nurse practitioner Mary Skaats: “Mary saved my child’s life.”
Skaats’ expertise and persistence prompted a mother to take her 10-year-old son to the ER for intermittent abdominal pain in the right upper quadrant. According to the mother, she had taken her son to the doctor for the pain in both January and February of this year, but the cause remained unclear. Skaats stressed the importance of taking the son to the ER if the pain continued or worsened, making the mother feel as though Skaats truly cared for her son’s well-being.
Heeding the advice, the mother took her son to the ER, where they completed a few tests that came back negative. Convinced that something was indeed wrong, the mother urged them to do further testing. After doing a complete urinalysis to appease her, doctors determined that the boy was a Type 1 diabetic. The right abdominal pain had been from an inflamed pancreas, and the child had a blood sugar level of 360 mg/dl that day in the ER.
Shane Tsubaki, Target Clinic
Physician assistant Shane Tsubaki is known for the outstanding patient care he gives to all of his patients.
One example is an elderly woman who always calls ahead to make sure he is the one working before she arrives. She insists on seeing Tsubaki because he explains things in a way she can easily understand.
And then there’s the patient who turns to Tsubaki for his blood-pressure checks. According to the patient, he turns only to Tsubaki because Tsubaki takes the time to explain what the blood-pressure readings mean, why his primary care physician might or might not have raised or lowered his blood-pressure medication dosages, and stresses the importance of medication adherence.
“Shane makes sure our patients leave with a full understanding of their diagnosis and treatment plans,” said Christina Smersh, a certified medical assistant for Target Clinic. “Shane is an outstanding clinician, and we are very lucky to have him here at Target Clinic.”
Becky Williams, MinuteClinic
Three years ago, family nurse practitioner Becky Williams had a healthy-looking, 20-year-old male come in with a rash. Williams treated his rash and didn’t give it much thought. He had just gotten a new dog that had tons of fleas.
Six weeks later, his grandmother brought him back to Williams. The rash had not only worsened, but he now had a cough. Suspecting they were related, Williams convinced his grandmother to take him to urgent care. There, an x-ray revealed four softball-sized tumors in his lungs. He was immediately admitted into the hospital and diagnosed with a form of lymphoma.
He was treated with chemo and radiation, and seemed to go into remission, and, over the years, Williams would check on him as he was married and began a family. Then the cancer came back. After a failed bone marrow transplant, he was placed in hospice and recently passed away. Williams was invited to his funeral, where the family celebrated the extra years he had, something in which Williams had an undeniable role.