Vanessa BarlowVanessa H. Barlow, MBA, BSN, RN
2019 Award for Excellence in Practice - RN

“We must have a spirit of engagement without judgment to assist individuals on their journey to a healthy state,” says Vanessa Barlow. “Recognize that each person has a story and when we understand that story, we are equipped to help them.” Vanessa is moving psychiatric-mental health nursing care into the future through her engagement with patients and her colleagues on the unit. From strategies for de-escalation and restraint reduction to mentoring and guidance, she emphasizes safety and compassion as crucial elements of mental health care. “I have had the pleasure of working with Vanessa for 10-plus years and remain impressed with her expertise and commitment to psychiatric-mental health nursing,” says Cristal Cummings, Vanessa’s reference for this award. “She works closely with nursing education to stay abreast of evidence-based research and emerging practices in the field.” In recognition of her exceptional commitment to practice, Vanessa is the 2019 recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – RN.

At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion:
Therapeutic communication; Restraint reduction

Words of Wisdom to Future Nurses:
“Networking always serves to make us better than we were as we open ourselves to new experiences, possibilities, and ideas.”

How She Connects:
“Have a spirit of engagement without judgment.”

In her current role as the Charge Nurse of Operations at Children’s of Alabama, Vanessa works closely with her colleagues to find alternatives to restraint usage. “My vision for our department is to be viewed as a center of excellence and I believe that in order to accomplish this goal, restraints must be a thing of the past,” says Vanessa. “Therapeutic communication in order to de-escalate patients prior to reaching the level of requiring restraint is goal number one.” To reach this goal, Vanessa pioneered a unit-based de-escalation team comprised of psychiatric-mental health nurses, behavioral interventionists, and psychotherapists. The de-escalation team is designed to address disruptive behaviors before the rapid response team is activated for crisis situations. Vanessa also created a three-day classroom training that was then recorded for use as a future training for all staff to accompany use of this team. With these additional steps to de-escalate situations, Vanessa is taking a proactive approach to reduce restraint usage. Though this strategy has been in place for less than a year, Vanessa is already thinking about next steps. “Once these techniques are perfected, our plan is to include security personnel for expansion across our organization,” Vanessa says. “We would be able to activate the de-escalation team to respond to other areas of the hospital when needed.”

“Vanessa seeks opportunities for improvement in all situations within our organization as related to the child and adolescent patient population,” says Shunesa Perkins, Vanessa’s nominator. “She sends out daily emails of encouragement to her team, shares any new information she receives on mental health, and takes the time to explain new legislation.” Vanessa is collegial in all aspects of her practice, seeking out different perspectives from the individuals on her team and from other professionals in the hospital. “I love working with my staff and even more with the patients we serve,” Vanessa says. “This award means the world to me coming from colleagues with whom I have worked for many years.”

Vanessa is also a diligent mentor to those around her, as Cummings details: “Vanessa is a mentor to many on the unit. She has been instrumental in guiding and advising a current charge nurse on the unit who began her career as a psychiatric technician and is now pursuing her NP license…We look to her for direction on managing high risk situations, co-worker disagreements, and clarifying unit policies and procedures.” Vanessa seeks out opportunities to connect with those around her as a way of keeping herself and her practice open to new ideas. “I enjoy meeting new people and exchanging ideas,” she says. “Networking always serves to make us better than we were as we open ourselves to new experiences, possibilities, and ideas. This is how we grow in our knowledge and practice.”

As a member of the 2019 APNA Nominating Committee and Secretary of the APNA Alabama Chapter, Vanessa is no stranger to involvement with APNA. But at this year’s Annual Conference, we will celebrate Vanessa’s accomplishments as she connects with her psychiatric-mental health nursing community.

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The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is accredited with distinction as a provider of nursing continuing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.