Last month, Sue Hjerpe, a Cranston resident and Warwick-based visiting nurse, was named Rhode Island Nurse of the Year by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. She was one of 10 finalists for the National Nurse of the Year title.
Hjerpe was nominated by her employer of 33 years, Visiting Nurse Association of RI (VNA).
Jane Creamer, CEO and chief human resources officer, said when she thought of any employee to nominate, Hjerpe was the first one to come to mind.
“Sue has always been a great nurse,” said Creamer in a phone interview last week. “She knows how to communicate with the patients. She’s warm, and she knows what she’s doing.”
Creamer credits Hjerpe with not only having great outcomes with her patients, but also a great working relationship with her fellow nurses. Creamer said other nurses are happy to follow Hjerpe and work with her patients on days Hjerpe cannot make it.
Creamer said one of the first things Hjerpe does is train her patients to have all of their medication out on the table for her visits; that way Hjerpe will know right away if any medications might be reacting to another.
To nominate an individual for Nurse of the Year, the nurse’s work with patients must be detailed to show why that individual deserves the title. Creamer asked other employees for suggestions and Hjerpe’s work with Judy Nunez was an obvious choice.
Nunez is a Latino mother of three who is legally blind with a long history of diabetic foot ulcers and cardiac issues. Creamer says Hjerpe went above and beyond assisting her patient whose blindness affected her ability to treat her foot wounds and would skip meals and make other unhealthy eating choices.
Creamer says Hjerpe took an extra step with Nunez, training her in wound care training, arranging doctor visits, bringing in a Spanish interpreter to connect with Nunez and create a healthy eating plan, and encouraging Nunez to commit to the plan.
“It was the first time in a long time we were able to keep her [Nunez] out of the hospital,” said Creamer.
Hjerpe is the first nurse from VNA to be named RI Nurse of the Year. She did not win the title of National Nurse of the Year, but Creamer believes the state was just too small to give her the support she needed.
“Even though everyone we knew wrote in for her, she didn’t win,” said Creamer.
Hjerpe is also a member of the Federation of Visiting Nurses, Local 5090, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals (RIFTHP) and AFT. She was honored for her achievement at NAHC’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 31.
RIFTHP President Frank Flynn said Hjerpe is one of several hundred dedicated health care members of the more than 10,000-member union.
“Sue is one of the many unsung heroes who go to work every day and quietly do heroic work that saves lives,” Flynn said.
“I know she is very highly regarded by her peers,” added Michael J. Mullane, field representative at RIFTHP. “They think very highly of her intelligence and skills as a nurse, but also her overall work ethic.”
Creamer added that Hjerpe is “unassuming” and just doing her job.
“She doesn’t want all the attention, but she deserves it,” said Creamer.
VNA is the state’s oldest visiting nurse association, providing clinical services to Rhode Islanders in their homes for over 113 years. The agency provides skilled nursing, rehabilitation, chronic care management, cardiac/IV and hospice care.