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Hospital caregivers honored for putting patients and community first

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | December 22, 2021 1:00 AM

Logan Health – Whitefish puts a great emphasis on caring for people. Listening to patients and their families, but also reaching out beyond the hospital walls to care for the larger community.

Whitefish was the first hospital in Montana to be affiliated with Planetree International, a nonprofit organization that promotes providing person-centered care in a healing environment. For nearly two decades, the hospital has embraced the philosophy of caring for the whole patient including providing comforting food from the cafeteria and comfortable rooms, but also creating a nurturing environment that encourages staff members to work together as a family.

Registered Nurse Terri Dunn was one of the original staff members who brought the philosophy to the hospital and then served as the assistant Planetree coordinator. Now after 47 years as a nurse with 20 of those at Whitefish she says she wouldn’t work in a hospital that didn’t follow the philosophy.

“It elevates the level of patient care, but it’s so much more than just taking care of a person, it’s about caring for them as a whole,” she says. “It’s about the cafeteria having good comfort food because that’s healing and it’s about the design of the building making it feel like a retreat and having Montana art on the wall to create a healing environment.”

The hospital recently announced its 2021 winners of its annual Planetree awards based on employee nominations. The Caregiver of the Year was awarded to Dunn, the Jake Heckathorn Spirit of Community award recognizes the Whitefish Community COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic and the Provider Champion was awarded to Deven Robinson with Logan Health Behavioral Health Clinic – Whitefish.

Dunn deflects the attention, saying that everyone in the hospital, from the environmental staff to the dietary team to the IT department is vital in providing care for patients.

“Planetree follows the idea that everyone is essential and optimal in providing care,” she said. “It makes me feel uncomfortable to be singled out because I follow the idea that it takes a village to care for everyone and that’s what the whole hospital is.”

During her tenure with the hospital, Dunn has managed the Base Lodge Clinic and developed the school nurse program at Whitefish School District in a collaborative effort between the hospital and the schools.

For the past decade, Dunn has served as the Employee and Community Health Nurse. She’s worked as a community liaison coordinating CPR training and immunization clinics while also looking out for the health of hospital employees.

“There are a lot of people who are engaged in the community outside the walls of the hospital,” she said. “That’s one of the components of Planetree that not just the hospital is involved in the community, but people are too as individuals.”

Dunn’s role has become extremely visible in the last roughly two years during the COVID-19 pandemic as she has communicated with and advised employees and providers. She helped guide the hospital’s COVID-19 task force and navigate patient care through ongoing changes.

While the pandemic has had an impact on health care as a whole, Dunn says it has also created an opportunity for the hospital to evolve through its own philosophy.

“We have to look at how to meet the needs of our patients in a changing environment and from a global perspective,” she said. “It’s changed the way we approach things and we continue to grow from that to meet the needs of the people. That’s one of the important things about Planetree is that it can be adapted and it’s a constantly evolving process.”

TYPICALLY AWARDED to an individual, this year the Spirit of Community Award recognizes the Whitefish Community COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. The hospital early in 2021 saw the need to provide a vaccine clinic at the north end of the valley and a core group of hospital leaders stepped up to organize the clinic.

While hospital staff was paid for their time spent in the clinic, efforts there also went beyond their typical job duties and provided the opportunity to engage with the community in a unique way. The Community COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic provided more than 7,600 doses to more than 4,750 members of the community for more than 140 hours over seven months.

Riley Polumbus, marketing and community relations manager for the hospital, said the Planetree philosophy fits very well within the Whitefish community where working together and caring for neighbors is part of the atmosphere.

“The hospital really looks to connect with the community and people know who we are and that we care,” she said. “It’s really all-encompassing as we look to reach out into the community and the vaccine clinic was an example of that.”

Polumbus points out that the vaccine clinic stemmed from a partnership between the hospital, the Flathead City-County Health Department, and the City of Whitefish and was supported by several businesses and volunteers. Grouse Mountain Lodge supported the clinic by providing space to house it and numerous restaurants donated food for meals for those working at the clinic.

“The clinic really showed that more than ever when there are challenges we come together and step up as a community,” Polumbus said. “It’s fortunate that we’re in an environment that is so supportive.”

GOING TO A PROVIDER who consistently practices person-centered care the Provider Champion Award this year was awarded to Deven Robinson, who is a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Logan Health Behavioral Health Clinic – Whitefish.

Robinson is known for putting his patients’ needs at the forefront, always making sure he is available for emergencies. He puts in the extra work to ensure that his patient’s mental health is a priority, but also their entire well-being.

Patients often comment that Robinson is incredibly approachable and fosters a very positive provider and patient relationship and that each patient feels they are treated as if they are his only patient of the day, according to his nomination.

“Mental health is about self-care and eating healthy,” he says. “When you’re in the hospital healing from surgery we talk about how playing the pianos or massage therapy helps you to heal beyond just the medications that are part of that. Psychological health is not just a black and white issue and the Planetree model works with that. It’s about having therapy and medication and working with patients to find the supportive care they need.”

Robinson also serves on the board of directors of the Logan Health – Whitefish Foundation as well as the Nate Chute Foundation in Whitefish.

“I like being involved in my community and so much of that is looking outside my job to help people,” he said. “I like to be involved because it gives me a sense of community.”

Planetree Awards 2021 nominees include Staci Bloomberg (Human Resources), Melanie Cahill (Ultrasound), Paul Crowley (Nursing Administration), Tamara Downen (MedSurg), Muffy Graham (Administration – Columbia Falls Clinics), Lacey Hilgers (Emergency Department), Jan Hollo (Laundry Coordinator), Erica Kepner (Rehabilitation – Eureka), Chasidy Nolz (Birth Center), Jonni Pekus (Surgical Services), Jenn Vernarsky (MedSurg), Doug Wehrli (Imaging), Julie Cross, DO (Logan Health Primary Care – Eureka).

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Terri Dunn, in front holding flowers, is joined by Joe Schmier, Heather Murray, Jeny Covill, Dr. Jonathan Amick and Kathy Emerson while accepting the Logan Health — Whitefish Planetree Caregiver of the Year award. (Courtesy photo)

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Deven Robinson is a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Logan Health Behavioral Health Clinic – Whitefish. (Courtesy photo)

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