Nurse Officer Helps Lead Team Effort Amid Arctic ‘Baby Boom’

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By Steve Lewis

Col. Maria Summers

Col. Maria Summers

FORT WAINWRIGHT, AK — Bassett Army Community Hospital’s (BACH) Arctic Baby Boom team received Army Medicine’s Wolf Pack Award for the third quarter of 2013, and Col. Maria Summers, deputy commander for nursing and support services, says that “team” is a most appropriate term for the professionals whose coordinated efforts garnered the award.

The Wolf Pack award was created by the Army Surgeon General and the chief of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Civilian Corps to recognize exceptional teamwork by an integrated group of military and civilian team members focused on excellence in support of Army Medicine.

At Bassett, the effort started after the redeployment of 4,000 soldiers “with concerns from an OB/GYN doctor and a midwife who saw high numbers of expectant moms,” recalls Summers, who oversees nursing, pharmacy, pathology and hospital education and training. “As we began to meet — six months prior to due dates — we realized other [services] were needed.”

Members of the Arctic Baby Boom team at Bassett Army Community Hospital stand with Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army surgeon general, after receiving the 2013 Wolf Pack Award for their teamwork and dedication during a six-month baby boom. U.S. Army photo by Brandy Ostanik, MEDDAC-AK PAO

Members of the Arctic Baby Boom team at Bassett Army Community Hospital stand with Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army surgeon general, after receiving the 2013 Wolf Pack Award for their teamwork and dedication during a six-month baby boom. U.S. Army photo by Brandy Ostanik, MEDDAC-AK PAO

Accordingly, later meetings included security, logistics and many other service departments. In addition, since the “civilian world” was not going to be able to handle the additional referrals, two additional nurses were recruited from the Western Regional Medical Command and three contract nurses also were added.

With a 100% increase in births over the norm, Summer recounts, “We also realized a unit that accommodates 10 moms and babies would be insufficient, so we went to the med/surg unit and made that the overflow unit — a postpartum unit. We had to educate staff there on how to take care of mothers and newborn babies, so the education department and physicians stepped in.”

Security was necessary because, with babies present, a lockdown was required; only individuals with certain colored badges were allowed in.

Because staffers did not even have time to go downstairs to eat, the dining facility prepared meals to bring up to them on a rotating basis. “In order to pay for the food the whole hospital did multiple fundraisers,” Summers adds.

What was most rewarding about the program’s success, she continues, was “the motivation of the staff — knowing they had come together and accomplished this and watching them talk to patients and family and encourage them. Our satisfaction levels went up instead of down because the energy was so high.”

Turning Tragedy Into Service

Summers’ decision to become a nurse came at the tender age of 7, as she was being raised in St. Louis public housing. “I used to watch people get shot,” she recalls. “I remember vividly I saw a male that our family knew with his intestines spilling out onto the concrete. It was then I said I wanted to be an emergency surgical nurse.”

She had joined the adjutant general reserve corps in 1982 and entered nursing school in 1984, graduating in 1989 and completing her reserve duty, as well.

“Desert Storm and Desert Shield kicked off, and I wanted to go and help the servicemembers,” Summers recalls. “I called the American Red Cross and asked if could volunteer and help and they said, ‘No,’  that I’d have to call a recruiter,  and that’s how I came on active duty.” The war had ended by the time she completed her officer basic course.

How does Summers view her missions as an officer and a nurse? “In my mind I combine them,” she says. “As an officer, the key for me is to lead. Our Western Regional Medical Commander says it beautifully: ‘As a leader we are servants.’ I lead as a nurse and as a deputy commander; I have a role serving those nurses and training them up — and the same for the patients.” She goes forward, she adds, with “Army values” foremost in her mind, and reviews her goals every six months.

As for what continues to drive her, “We would not be here if not for our patients,” Summers declares. “Just as it is an honor to serve our country during wartime, it’s just as big an honor to serve our beneficiaries — the soldiers who have been in harm’s way. When they come here they deserve whatever care we can possibly give them. My heart goes out to all of them because I know what a family goes through.”

As for the future, she continues, “My goal is to do everything within my power for my country and the patient population. I have an enduring mission for myself to do the very best I possibly can. Sometimes that requires me to help others reach their maximum potential — and that’s not always popular — but in the end they will look back and be grateful as nurses, pharmacists and pathologists. Every time I teach people to be proud of what they do and to do things to the best of their ability, that’s enduring.”

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