2020 APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – RN
Heather McCormick, BSN, RN-BC, PHN
If you are under the care or mentorship of Heather McCormick, evidence indicates that your life will change for the better. In her role as Inpatient Psychiatric Unit Program Coordinator for the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Heather has played a key part in hearing and responding to patient needs within the Psychiatric Inpatient Care Unit (PICU), resulting in overall increase in veteran satisfaction with their care. This is just one of the accomplishments for which she is the 2020 recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – RN-PMH.
At a Glance
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Passion: Patient Autonomy
Words of Wisdom for Nurses: “Balance a safety culture with one that supports what is most therapeutic for our patients, that helps people going through their worst days feel more human, and that provides maximum autonomy and opportunity for choices within the constraints of their level of care.”
Favorite Self Care Tip: “Get a pandemic buddy or two at work. Check in with each other regularly.”
Heather’s colleague John Paul Rosales, RN, describes her as a “key leader in creating structure for a cultural shift in the unit and Medical Center staff, in which the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, cultural and age-specific needs, personal dignity and autonomy of veterans is supported.” Through a process which included listening to patient needs, brainstorming solutions, and procuring funding, Heather helped established The Patio Improvement Project, which added seating, heaters, lights and a veteran designed and painted mural to the outdoor space for veterans in the locked unit. “(The patio) was an exemplar other hospitals and organizations came to view,” remembers Rosales.
Other improvements to the veterans’ experience in the hospital led by Heather include ability to access their personal electronic devices, which had previously been restricted. Heather’s colleague Mary Ann Nihart, MA, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, PMHNP-BC, explains that Heather’s focus on the patient is not limited to the PICU. “Ms. McCormick also serves as an advocate for our veterans in acute medical units with other nursing staff seeking her advice in developing intervention plans to serve their unique needs while hospitalized, resulting in significantly increased Veteran satisfaction in their care.”
“One of Ms. McCormick’s greatest strengths is her collegiality, specifically her enthusiasm to work with others to inspire and create sustained tangible physical and cultural change for better recovery-oriented, patient-centered care in the PICU and beyond.”
Patient autonomy has always been important to Heather: “Especially in inpatient mental health, we have a very strong ‘safety’ culture and often have knee-jerk reactions to prohibit or remove any items that have a non-zero chance of presenting a safety risk,” she says. “I think we really need to rebalance that and advocate strongly for a culture that supports what is most therapeutic for our patients, that helps people going through their worst days feel more human, and that provides maximum autonomy and opportunity for choices within the constraints of their level of care.”
Heather has been active in sharing her knowledge and imparting her experience to fellow nurses. “She has become one of the most successful presenters at APNA conferences and has helped several others develop their project and submissions, resulting in the most outstanding group of clinicians in the San Francisco VA Health Care System,” says Nihart. “Several of her mentees have significantly advanced their careers, returning to school for advanced degrees, largely due to her involvement and mentoring as a role model.”
Rosales observes, “One of Ms. McCormick’s greatest strengths is her collegiality, specifically her enthusiasm to work with others to inspire and create sustained tangible physical and cultural change for better recovery-oriented, patient-centered care in the PICU and beyond.” Her patients and mentees would agree that she represents the giving spirit of her psychiatric-mental health nursing community.