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Extraordinary Nurses in the Region: Meet the 2021 Celebrate Caring Finalists

Graphic: Celebrate Caring - Congratulations to this year's finalists!

There’s never been a more challenging time to be a nurse. Independence Blue Cross (Independence) recognizes their tremendous sacrifices and contributions. For a third year, Independence is proud to honor outstanding nurses in our region through the Celebrate Caring campaign. As part of the campaign, we’re highlighting our winners and finalists and how their bravery, compassion, and dedication has made a difference in the lives of so many, when they needed it the most.

Nurses have always played a pivotal role in caring for patients and their families. We depend on them during our most vulnerable times. This past year, we have relied on them even more to care for us. If there was ever a time to recognize nurses, it’s now.

This year’s Celebrate Caring campaign generated more submissions than ever before, with over 1,400 nominations for nurses who go above and beyond. Independence has chosen three winners and seven finalists to be honored this year. We’re excited to highlight our finalists, and share what makes them exceptional nurses — you’ll hear firsthand from the family, friends, coworkers, and patients that nominated them for this special recognition.

Justin Gavaghan, BSN, RN, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital

In just a few years since becoming a nurse, Justin has left a lasting impression on his patients and their families — especially this past year. According to his nomination: Justin helped arrange for a patient experiencing severe COVID complications to witness her son’s marriage. Having his mom present at his wedding was extremely important to the patient’s son. The ceremony was performed at the patient’s bedside and provided many memories. The patient passed away two days later.

Justin Gavaghan

Dawn Loney, LPN, JEVS Human Services

Dawn has been a nurse at a methadone program for over 22 years. She is extremely committed to ensuring her patients experiencing opioid addiction receive the care and support they need, even in the midst of the pandemic. Dawn’s nominator noted that: Dawn covered her shifts and she even cancelled her vacation to come in to cover other shifts so our patients could get their medication. As a result of her courage and commitment, we were able to continue to induct new patients during the pandemic.

Dawn Loney

Tammy Nealy, BSN, RN, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery

Nurses like Tammy not only care for their patients but also provide comfort and support to their families during the most difficult times. During the pandemic, Tammy went above and beyond to ensure that a patient was surrounded by family as he died even though they could not be physically present. Tammy’s nominator wrote: Tammy changed her schedule so that she could be by my father’s side on the day he passed away. She reassured him, held his hand, touched his face, and allowed our family to talk to him, pray with him, and play his favorite music. His nurse, our angel and friend Tammy, stayed by Dad’s side holding an iPad for nearly seven hours so he wasn’t alone when he passed.

Tammy Nealy

Marie A. Ranselle, MSN, BSN, Philadelphia Department of Health

As a nurse, Marie is a tireless advocate for community access to quality care and health equity. When the pandemic hit, she continued her legacy of serving the needs of underserved communities. According to her fellow nurse that nominated her: Marie has always had energy to multi-task and now in this pandemic, there is no exception. Marie has participated in COVID-19 community education, testing, and now vaccination in communities of color for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and the Black Doctors Consortium.

Marie Ranselle

Shannon Smith, RN, BSN, CSN, School District of Philadelphia

This past year was filled with many uncertainties for families, especially those with school age children. Throughout the pandemic, Shannon has coordinated COVID-19 health and safety efforts across the school district to ensure that students and staff are safe and healthy. According to her nomination: Shannon is getting the nursing staff vaccinated and trained to do the in-school COVID-19 screenings of students to ensure a safe and welcoming school environment. She has also provided emotional support to the nurses and has supported use of educational opportunities with the American Public Health Association to provide education and resources for nurses within the school district.

Shannon Smith

Kimberly Swartz, LPN, Compassus Hospice

As a hospice nurse, Kim is responsible for providing care for her patients during the last stage of their lives, and she makes sure that they are comfortable until the end. In addition to delivering superior care, Kim ensures that her patients have everything they need — even clean sheets. On the nomination form, Kim’s coworker wrote: We had a patient who was very poor. She was lacking basic necessities, including sheets for her bed. Kim bought her new sheets so that she would be comfortable during her last days of life. She went into the home and bathed and cared for the patient with such love and compassion. This patient was blessed at the end of her life with loving care and clean, warm bedding.

Kimberly Swartz

Kelly F. Warren, MSN, RN, CMSRN, Virtua Voorhees Hospital

The early days of the pandemic were very scary for everyone, as there were so many things we didn’t know. Despite the uncertainty and potential risk, Kelly made sure that a friend who was sick with COVID-19 got the treatment she needed, saving her life. Kelly’s friend and nominator wrote: I was diagnosed with COVID-19 the first week of April 2020. I was very sick and Kelly would call to check on me. When I was at my lowest, Kelly had called to check on me and she heard the distress in my voice and said, “You are very sick and I am coming to get you and take you to the ER.” I was on a ventilator for eight days. They didn’t think I was going to make it. They told my children to prepare themselves for the worst. But God and the capable hands of the staff that cared for me saw me through, especially Kelly who diligently looked in on me.”

Kelly Warren

Congratulations to all our finalists. Thank you for everything you do!

Veronica Serrano

Mother. Wife. TV junkie. Shopaholic. That’s me in a nutshell – outside of work. As a copywriter at IBX, I enjoy learning about the health and wellness topics that I write about and hope to incorporate more healthy habits into my daily life to give me the energy to keep up with my baby girl.