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Gold Foundation honors 3 KU Medical Center professionals for showing courage and compassion in pandemic

May 25, 2021

By Anne Christiansen-Bullers

Logo for Gold Foundation: says Keeping Healthcare Human

Three members of the University of Kansas Medical Center will be recognized at a national ceremony honoring the heroes of the pandemic.

Because of their tireless efforts to keep their campuses and communities safe, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation is bestowing on 201 people the title of "Champion of Humanistic Care." Alongside honorees such as Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the foundation will recognize:

  • Stephanie Jernigan, APRN, director of student health for KU Medical Center;
  • Garold Minns, M.D., dean of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and public health officer for Sedgwick County, Kansas; and
  • Carrie Summers, emergency management coordinator for KU Medical Center.

They will be invited to the 2021 annual gala, held virtually on June 10. Richard I. Levin, president and CEO of the Gold Foundation, said of the honorees, "Through it all, they have brought their own humanity to bear in caring for patients. It is an honor to recognize their critical contribution of humanism in health care during this ongoing crisis."

Here's how the three professionals from KU Medical Center exhibited the compassion and courage that is the hallmark of the award.

Stephanie Jernigan, APRN

Jernigan called herself "a bridge" for students during the pandemic. As student health director, she worked with the University of Kansas Health System to allow students, faculty and staff access to its 24/7 COVID-19 informational and reporting hotline.

Photo of Stephanie Jernigan

Stephanie Jernigan, APRN

For students training in hospitals and clinics, Jernigan set up mandatory COVID-19 testing and then made sure the results were relayed so those students who tested negative could continue their work. She helped students who tested positive for COVID-19 by answering their questions, coordinating care with the COVID hotline, offering telehealth appointments at Student Health if needed and following up with those in their social circle that might have been infected.

Jernigan also coordinated with faculty and campus personnel to address issues that arose from quarantines and isolation, all with an eye on keeping the campus safe.

In the fall of 2020, Jernigan counted 194 positive cases and another 37 for the spring semester of 2021. None of these cases were thought to be transmitted on campus, Jernigan said, because of precautions such as mask wearing and sanitizing workspaces. But any positive case took hours and hours of follow-through. "I was up at 6 a.m. and still working at 10 p.m.," Jernigan said. "Just getting away from the computer for an hour was hard to do."

'We were all on this COVID river'

These unprecedented hours were a big change for Jernigan and her family. Up until March 2020, Jernigan's position had been less than full-time so she could achieve a better work-life balance to care for her three children. But she also recognized that the students of KU Medical Center needed her, too.

"The students got to know that I was the one to email with all their questions," Jernigan said. "They would say, ‘What should I do?' There are so many personal relationships and struggles to navigate. We were all on this COVID river, but we were each in our own little boat, and every student was trying to navigate in their own way."

Student Health became the place to safely share those anxieties, Jernigan said. So, while she managed results of students' COVID tests, helped organize vaccine clinics, developed a program to test the fit of N-95 masks for students who needed them for clinical experiences and exponentially increased the capacity of Student Health to handle all the needs of the pandemic, she also just listened and advised.

From her nomination

It is challenging to capture the countless number of contributions Stephanie Jernigan has made to the KU Medical Center campus during the pandemic, some of which are...[a list with nine bulleted items followed}. Also notable is her role as friend and mentor to so many of her colleagues during this trying times. A close colleague stated that she has learned so much from Stephanie; she is inspiring and uplifting.

Garold Minns, M.D.

Minns classified his past year as "emotionally trying." As health officer for Sedgwick County, he decided on lockdowns and mask mandates for Wichita and the surrounding area. Residents let their frustrations be known via comments online, and some even wrote scathing emails and snail-mail letters.

Photo of Dr. Garold Minns

Garold Minns, M.D.

Unlike health officers in some other Kansas counties, Minns said he never received any death threats because of his decisions. But some of his family were worried he might be targeted.

"Whatever I did was going to make a lot of people unhappy," Minns said."When the pandemic first started, there was no offer by the federal government or any governmental agency to subsidize people affected by business closures. On the other hand, we were having a lot of people admitted to the hospital, and deaths were going up. So, I made a very difficult decision."

When he advised that non-essential businesses be shuttered early in the pandemic, "people would send me letters lamenting the fact that my actions led them to being unemployed, and now, how are they going to pay their mortgage," Minns said. "What do I say to that?"

'Somebody sees you're trying to help'

As an infectious disease specialist, Minns knew the science behind his decisions. But as a longtime Sedgwick County resident himself, it pained him to see his neighbors struggle.

"As a doctor, I don't have many situations like that. I have had patients with cancer, I have bad news to give them, but that information doesn't usually impact other patients," Minns explained. "In this pandemic, by trying to help you, I was hurting other people. That's what made it so difficult."

Minns begins his 10th year as dean of the KU School of Medicine-Wichita in August. He said he appreciates the support of his colleagues in Salina and Kansas City. He also appreciates the people in Wichita who have approached him to thank him for his leadership.

"I've had a number of strangers come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for what you're doing.' That's really heartwarming and makes you glad at least somebody sees you're trying to help them out," Minns said.

From his nomination

His calm demeanor and educational approach are successful in each of his roles-providing a safe environment for learners to complete their training programs, humanistic care of patients and their families, and carefully explaining the evolving public health issues of the COVID-19 pandemic to the county commissioners and his constituency in Wichita.

Carrie Summers

For the last 14 months, Summers has worked long hours, six days a week. As emergency management coordinator, she has provided the organization and structure of KU Medical Center's pandemic response.

Photo of Carrie Summers

Carrie Summers

She brought experience responding to disasters from her time working for FEMA. But those emergencies - hurricanes, tornadoes and floods - had a beginning, middle and end as well as established guidelines to follow. The pandemic was an unprecedented global event where even emergency managers had no rulebook.

'Anything and everything regarding the pandemic'

In March 2020, Summers rallied faculty, staff and administration into what emergency managers call an emergency operations center. But there was no "center," since the campus was initially depopulated, and everyone was working from home. The group met every day, evolving to a standard 4 p.m. phone call or Zoom session that could run 30 minutes or three hours. Since then, the aptly named "4 p.m. Group" has played a big role in keeping the university moving forward.

"The 4 p.m. Group has been responsible for assessing, discussing and approving nearly all of the decisions that have been made regarding our response and recovery to the pandemic," Summers said. "This interdisciplinary, interdepartmental group decides classroom policies, visitors and vendors coming to campus, expending COVID-19 funding - just anything and everything regarding the pandemic, and I have led that group," Summers said.

From her nomination

"Carrie oversaw the selection, purchase, and dissemination of personal protective equipment, was responsible for arranging mass testing and provided education to individuals and departments. She provided a calming influence that brought relief to our community. Her communication style is clear, respectful, and compassionate, which enables her to transcend barriers to behavioral changes which mitigate the threat of disease."

'They truly have been the champions'

Robert Klein, Ph.D., vice chancellor of academic and student affairs, joined Sara Honeck, executive officer for academic and student affairs, to nominate the three. Klein said their "diabolical" plan involved seeking help from Summers to nominate Jernigan and from Jernigan to nominate Summers without sharing the master plan.

Klein said Minns' nomination was peppered with the dean's many quotes featured in the Wichita Eagle. Klein said, "Garold follows the wisdom of Socrates: ‘The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.'"

Robert D. Simari, M.D., executive vice chancellor of KU Medical Center, said he was proud to have the Gold Foundation recognize three professionals who provided such an integral role in the success of the medical center's pandemic response.

"We are indebted to the incredible hard work and sacrifice that Dr. Garold Minns, Stephanie Jernigan and Carrie Summers have given to make sure people stayed safe during this horrible pandemic," Simari said. "They truly have been the champions of KU Medical Center, and we cannot thank them enough for their efforts."

Last modified: May 25, 2021
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