Jenny (Lum) Stachura (BSN ’08, MSN ’13) was less than a year into her current role as vice president for patient care services at CHI Health St. Elizabeth. But nothing about her demeanor conveyed inexperience as she welcomed you into her office. Instead, she shook your hand and you detected something already battletested in her smile—something that neither a KN-95 nor a warm disposition could mask.
Jenny Stachura’s been through it. Fifteen years at St. Elizabeth and CHI Health Nebraska Heart. Working her “three twelves” on the floor in progressive care. Coordinating services for patients with failing hearts. Serving as director of critical care. The last two years spent in COVID-19’s exhausting fury. Still, Stachura remained upbeat. Asked about the pandemic’s impact, she answered with a veteran’s understatement: “You do learn to stay flexible.”
But this was January 19, 2022. And some things about the omicron wave belied understatement. Nationally, COVID-19 infections crested five days earlier, at around 808,000 daily cases— those eights and zeros hanging open like a row of astonished jaws. Each day in America, another Seattle, Wash., infected.
In Nebraska on January 19, the curve tracked somewhat behind the nation’s, with cases still rising. And hospitalizations, by their nature, tracked behind cases. Together, that meant omicron’s strain on St. Elizabeth’s intensive care unit promised to stay white knuckled into February. “Never in my career have I seen an ICU stay completely full for so long,” Stachura said.
She and her colleagues had contingency plans. If things got still worse, they could transition St. E’s ICU from 16 beds to 24— something the hospital had never done before. Stachura described this contingency with lifted eyebrows, as if to say St. E’s also has the ability to turn on all its fire sprinklers. That doesn’t mean it wants to. In some ORs, the hospital’s capacity to continue elective surgeries teetered on what happened the night before. One patient’s admission for surgery hinging on another’s release. The system, she said, has been that strained.
“I think a lot about our strategic planning,” Stachura said. Planning to get the hospital and her nurses through the pandemic. Planning, also, to take them beyond it. “What comes after this? What’s the strategy from here? Over the next six months, what can we do to grow our skills and elevate the practice of nursing?”
Missing from Stachura’s vocabulary were the typical buzzwords of the institutional planner—the jargon about “value added” or “upgraded process innovations.” That might be because Stachura’s mindset as a hospital administrator stayed remarkably close to her mindset as a floor nurse, a coworker, a parent. “It’s important for us to continue looking forward,” she said. “You still have goals. Those didn’t just go away.” For countless nurses, those goals involve education—and the career doors a degree can open.
"Working on the floor, you have to look for the wins. And you have to share them."
“I didn’t have a real plan when I started my MSN,” Stachura said. “Nursing education or administration? I wasn’t sure. But I loved being a student, and Wesleyan made it easy to plan my week. Small classes made for great discussions, and I’ve had so many good mentors.”
Those classes and mentors expanded her range as a nurse. And while she may not have had a plan heading into NWU’s Master of Science in Nursing program, she came out of it better able to create one. “And when that opportunity opened up, I was ready to jump.” Stachura felt a similar positivity running between Nebraska Wesleyan’s learning environment and St. E’s working environment— especially through the pandemic’s hardships.
“Working on the floor, you have to look for the wins,” she said. “And you have to share them. When that family member sees what you do and shows you gratitude—it’s so important that you share that with your team. Because you’re in it together.”
So much unfolds in a single shift, she said. “In one room, someone’s upset. The next room: someone’s dying. In the next room, someone needs help getting to the bathroom.” Stachura’s eyes smiled over her mask. “You get good at shifting gears and putting on that face.”
Another thing the pandemic taught her: You can’t wear that face all the time. “People in the medical field can be the worst at asking for help,” she said. Then she uttered the most strategically important sentence a hospital administrator can say to anyone—inside or outside a hospital. She said, “We need to prioritize taking care of each other.”
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