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Announcing the 2024 APNA Annual Awards Recipients

The 2024 APNA Annual Awards Recipients: Nine psychiatric-mental health nurses lauded for exceptional contributions to improve mental health outcomes through prevention, education, and science-based treatment.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) has announced the selection of nine extraordinary nurses in the field of psychiatric-mental health (PMH) as recipients of the 2024 APNA Annual Awards.

The APNA Annual Awards recognize APNA members who demonstrate excellence in psychiatric-mental health nursing practice, education, leadership, community efforts, and more. Recipients include nurses who are positively impacting those in rural environments, individuals experiencing trauma, service members abroad, and thousands of students and healthcare professionals as nursing educators.

“The APNA Annual Awards put the remarkable achievements of psychiatric-mental health nurses center stage,” said APNA President Lora Peppard, PhD, DNP, PMHNP-BC. “These nine nurses demonstrate leadership, skill, and expertise in their roles, representing the tremendous impact of our profession on the mental health of those we serve.”

Nominated by their colleagues, the 2024 APNA Annual Awards Recipients were chosen for this honor by a committee of their peers. These nurses will be honored at the APNA 38th Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky on October 9-12, 2024.

The 2024 APNA Annual Award recipients:

Kathleen Schachman, PhD, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FIAAN, FAANP, Endowed Professor of Nursing, Saginaw Valley State University is the APNA Psychiatric Nurse of the Year. In her career, Dr. Schachman advanced the profession through her desire to improve access to health care for vulnerable populations and the educational needs of nursing students – and she has developed programs to support both. Schachman pioneered educational initiatives, including an addictions-focused PMHNP program and Project ECHO, helping students and improve community care outcomes. Schachman champions the delivery of recovery-oriented mental health and substance use disorder services to all, no matter the location, and builds programs using the latest in virtual technology to support those in rural communities. She has also received grant funding to expand the nursing workforce and establish community-based partnerships to improve mental health and SUD treatment access. Schachman is a dedicated member of APNA and has served on the APNA Addictions Council Steering Committee since 2020.

Diane Allen, DNP, PMHRN-BC, FACHE(R), Psychiatric Nurse Consultant, is this year’s recipient of the APNA Award for Distinguished Service. With a career encompassing teaching, mentoring, advocacy, and policy development, Allen consistently seeks to advance the profession of psychiatric-mental health nursing through her steadfast commitment to the field and to PMH nurses She has served in numerous APNA volunteer positions including the APNA Board of Directors, the Nominating Committee, the Council for Safe Environments Steering Committee, and the Seclusion and Restraint Task Force. Dr. Allen demonstrates exemplary transformational leadership in committee work, advocates for safe work environments, and promotes authentic engagement by clinical and managerial staff to achieve the best outcomes and experiences for those she serves. Her PMH expertise has been recognized by Philadelphia Inquirer, Healthcare Executive (Cover Feature), ANA, and OSHA. Additionally, she has authored and co-authored at least twenty scholarly journal articles and has been a regular presenter at APNA and other national and international conferences. Her contributions to the PMHN body of knowledge regarding safe working environments, staff-patient engagement, and seclusion and restraints, have significantly improved PMHN practice.

Capt. Thi Lua, BSN, PMHN-BC, United States Air Force, is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – RN. In addition to leading the implementation of the Secretary of Defense’s Suicide Awareness Campaign and being a sought-after subject matter expert in mental health across joint services, Capt. Lua is the sole MH Case Manager in Royal Air Force Lakenheath, the second largest Mental Health Clinic in the United States Air Forces in Europe. Capt. Lua is instrumental in the management of 35,000 beneficiaries and 3,000 deployers.

Helen Rodriguez-Romanacce, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-C, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Veterans Health Administration, is the recipient for the APNA Award for Excellence in Practice – APRN. Dr. Rodriguez-Romanacce is an expert in culturally competent support for caregivers of people with dementia and of Hispanic heritage. She created and implemented a community-based caregiver support program, securing a grant from the Administration on Aging of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Titled “Bridging the Gap: Providing Specialized Dementia Care & Supportive Services through Community Partnerships,” it has become a model for similar programs.

Gretchen Johnson, DNP, MSN, RN-BC, Chief Nurse Executive, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – RN. Johnson created valuable programs for the staff, such as a quarterly education program on critical aspects of mental health, and an incentive program for BSN students working at Pine Rest. Additionally, Johnson created a committee dedicated to improving the safety of her nurses by preventing patient violence.

Lt. Col. Regina Owen, DNP, PMHNP-BC, Associate Professor and PMHNP Program Director, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences Department Graduate School of Nursing is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Leadership – APRN. Lt. Col. Owen’s numerous innovations to promote PMH nursing and the wellness of military members and families includes the creation of a recruitment commercial focused on the importance of mental health across the services, which will have a huge impact on the recruiting efforts of the PMH department and USUHS.

Jennifer Graber, EdD, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Practice Initiatives, University of Delaware School of Nursing is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Education. Through innovative teaching and learning strategies that advance healthcare education, Dr. Graber inspires students toward careers as psychiatric-mental health nurses. She is widely published, has spoken locally, nationally, and internationally, and continues to present on teaching and advising in psychiatric nursing, virtual reality/simulation, workforce diversity, and the pandemic, among others.

Jamie Zelazny, PhD, MPH, RN, Assistant Professor of Nursing and Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh is the recipient of the APNA Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship. Dr. Zelazny is currently a lead investigator on 6 grants through the National Institute of Mental Health. Her work in these studies will provide tools for earlier identification of proximal suicide risk, thereby improving clinical practice for PMHNs and APRNs, and possibly reducing deaths by suicide in youth.

Diane Vines, RN, PhD, RRT, PHN, PMHN, Counselor/Therapist and Educator, California State University San Bernardino is the recipient of the APNA Award for Innovation – Individual. Dr. Vines established a program providing real world experience for BSN nursing students through interactions with individuals experiencing homelessness. Through the Foot Soak program, student nurses offer routine medical care, foot soaks, and have meaningful interactions generating hundreds of patient contacts, positive feedback from students, and notable attitude changes.

Posted May 2024


For more information, contact Lisa Deffenbaugh Nguyen │ │855-863-2762

About the APNA Annual Conference: The APNA 38th Annual Conference will be October 9-12 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to honoring this year’s awards recipients, the APNA Annual Conference delivers varied sessions and networking opportunities to more than 2,000 psychiatric-mental health RNs and APRNs who attend.

About APNA: The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is a national professional membership organization committed to the practice of psychiatric-mental health nursing and wellness promotion, prevention of mental health problems, and the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders. APNA’s membership is inclusive of all psychiatric-mental health registered nurses including associate degree, baccalaureate, advanced practice (comprised of clinical nurse specialists and psychiatric nurse practitioners), and nurse scientists and academicians (PhD). APNA serves as a resource for psychiatric-mental health nurses to engage in networking, education, and the dissemination of evidence. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing professional development by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.