Recently, Christopher Lee, a clinical nurse in the medical-surgical unit at UCLA Health, was called into the office of the hospital’s chief nursing executive, Karen Grimley. Once there, Grimley presented Lee with a letter and asked him to open it. Its contents left the healthcare professional utterly amazed.
“It told me I’d be the recipient of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation ‘Off the Chart’ campaign award,” Lee said. “That, in itself, was shocking to me…I told Karen, ‘I’m speechless. I’m usually more emotional than this, and I can’t get the words out.’”
Lee is one of 30 nurses from three leading Los Angeles-area health systems who was recognized by the Beverly Hills-based Simms/ Mann Family Foundation. The organization’s inaugural campaign, “Off the Chart: Rewarding Nursing Greatness,” provides extraordinary nurses with a first-of-its-kind $10,000 unrestricted financial gift in recognition of their nursing excellence.
The gift is being offered at a time of uncertainty for nurses in the healthcare industry, with the pandemic exacerbating the challenges of the job, leaving nurses feeling overwhelmed and burned out. This has created an unprecedented nursing workforce shortage on a national and global scale. According to a recent survey conducted by AMN Healthcare Services, almost a third of the nurses in the U.S. are considering leaving their profession and only 20% report feeling valued.
Led by Beverly Hills resident Victoria Mann Simms, Ph.D., the Simms/Mann Family Foundation is attempting to shine a light on the critical role nurses play, emphasizing their expertise in clinical care, research and innovation and their part in holding together the increasingly strained healthcare system.
The campaign, in essence, is a call-to-action to reverse the alarming trend of nurses exiting the profession.
“Everyone is so grateful to nurses, but I don’t think they’re aware they are the glue of our health systems,” Mann Simms, president of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation, said in a phone interview. “We thought a lot about what we can do to accelerate the understanding of what nurses do and how important it is for us as a society, as a nation, to get more nurses. So, we put together this ‘Off the Chart’ program.”
In launching this campaign, the foundation partnered with three healthcare systems—City of Hope, UCLA Health and Keck Medicine of USC—and asked them to nominate outstanding nurses from their respective institutions. Nominees were considered based on five criteria: a bias toward action; capacity for self-direction; instincts; courage and bold thinking; and potential to achieve more.
When COVID-19 started to overwhelm hospital capacity, Lee, for his part, demonstrated his ability to act quickly and decisively. He worked with colleagues on decompressing the emergency unit, which was unequipped to handle the sudden increase in patients, by helping convert the medical center’s surge unit into a COVID relief center. Additionally, he and other bedside nurses familiarized themselves with the usage of Personal Protective Equipment so they could educate their colleagues.
“We were that go-to resource in case any of our bedside nurses needed help inside the room, outside the room, and to bring general awareness about how to protect ourselves so we can take care of others,” the 29-year-old told the Courier.
Other recipients were similarly dedicated to excelling in their roles. Salena Agadier, a pediatric ICU nurse at City Hope, is known for the close attention she gives to her young oncology patients. Her effervescence in the patient room is known throughout the medical center as “the Salena Factor.”
Janet Kim, a regional operations director of ambulatory care at Keck Medicine of USC, is admired for her patient-centered approach and her care for her colleagues. During the pandemic, while working in a testing tent, she noticed nurses were at risk for exposure to the virus and created a protective barrier from tent material that offered better protection.
Spotlighting nurses who have a diverse set of skills and responsibilities was part of the objective of the campaign. Additional goals include informing the public about the several “hats” a nurse wears in a healthcare setting.
“We’re giving them a financial gift we hope will be individually impactful for them,” Rachel Barchie, director of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation, told the Courier. “And we’re hoping that sharing the stories of these nurses will help to broaden the public understanding of the role they play.”
The announcement of the “Off the Chart” campaign foundation coincides with National Nurses Month, held every year in May, along with National Nurses Week, which is observed from May 6-12.
The Simms/Mann Family Foundation was established in 1984 as a private organization dedicated to strategically funding innovative educational programs and services that promote well-being and economic self-sufficiency. With the latest campaign, it has committed to funding the project for three consecutive years, through 2025. It amounts to a nearly $2 million commitment, according to Mann Simms, as the foundation is hoping to increase the amount of health system partners as well as recipients over the next two years.
On May 22, the foundation is holding an event formally recognizing this year’s recipients at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The program will feature a conversation with Sarah DiGregorio, a journalist and author of “Taking Care: The Story of Nursing and Its Power to Change Our World.”
Lee said he plans to use some of his gift to travel while donating a portion of it to a local food bank. Ultimately, his hope is the new campaign raises awareness about how much nurses give of themselves to their patients, colleagues and toward the betterment of healthcare outcomes.
He, like the leaders at the Simms/Mann Family Foundation, would like to see a greater societal investment in the profession.
“I want people to know a nurse can be more than just one thing,” he said. “The more people recognize that, the more they can see nurses have a place in every part of our community, and if we invest in our nurses, we’re investing in the health of the community.”