Registered Nurse Jo Neill has held many titles in her 30-year career. She recently added one more: Kansas Hospital Association Health Care Worker of the Year.For 32 years, Jo has taken care of her patients with a gentle touch and immeasurable compassion. She began her nursing career in Topeka, then worked in a nursing home. She decided to move home to Burlington 32 years ago, continuing her career at Coffey County Hospital—the hospital where she was born. A few years ago, Jo accepted the role of infusion therapy nurse. With that job came two other duties: employee health and infection control. No problem for Jo. She’s a seasoned pro. Then came COVID-19. Suddenly the work that Jo so diligently performed behind the scenes was in the spotlight. As the Employee Health/Infection Control Nurse, she had an eye on the emerging pandemic long before it arrived in Kansas. Along with two nurse leaders, Jo took 24-hour call rotations. From the beginning, she immersed herself in knowledge of COVID and moved quickly to put protective measures in place. She transitioned her role and stepped far outside of her comfort zone. She is never one to seek the spotlight—and would have never dreamed of doing a video—but when the first COVID cases appeared in Coffey County, Jo calmly and methodically stepped in front of the video camera to speak to the community with clear guidance and assurance.“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Jo consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty, offering her expertise and working relentlessly to ensure CHS surpasses infection control standards," said Coffey Health System Chief Compliance Officer Stacy Augustyn. "We are truly blessed to have Jo Neil on our team.”
For her diligence and dedication to her patients and colleagues, Coffey Health System staff elected Jo in May as CHS Health Care Worker of the Year.Chief Medical Officer John Shell, M.D., has worked with Jo for 28 years and applauds her versatility and reliability.“Jo Neill is the epitome of what a Health Care Worker of the Year should be. She has always been our utility infielder and her versatility has allowed us to entrust many projects to her,” he said. “When COVID hit, she was one of our Infection Control leads, a role filled with stress and many additional work hours. It would probably take three or four people to fill Jo’s position if it was vacated—that is how important she is to our healthcare system.”Countless lives touched and savedCOVID aside, Jo is first and foremost a nurse. She goes beyond taking temperatures, checking vitals, and distributing medications. Jo takes the time to look carefully at her patients and listen to what they say. It’s this attention to detail that she emphasizes when training new nurses. “Jo is highly respected by her patients, peers, and physicians,” Augustyn said. “She is an inspiration and a living example of Coffey Health System’s mission and core values. She emulates humility and compassion as she serves others, and frequently takes extra steps to ensure her patients and CHS employees are comfortable and secure.” And it’s this attention to detail that saves lives. She recalls an OB patient who came in for an unrelated matter but—while the patient cheerfully talked about a trip she was taking that evening—Jo noticed something didn’t seem right. She casually checked the mother-to-be’s blood pressure and noticed that it was quite high. She continued the conversation while encouraging the patient to sit down and relax. When her blood pressure was still high a few minutes later, Jo calmly explained that they needed to go to the emergency room where the young mom was confirmed to be in pre-eclampsia. She was immediately transferred to Kansas City and monitored until the baby could be safely delivered. “Jo’s intuition has saved the day many times,” Dr. Shell said. “She focuses on her patients and often picks up on signs that are easily overlooked—even by the patient—and isn’t afraid to step in and help.”This same intuitive nature led Jo to delay starting IV therapy on one of her regular patients. She knew him well enough to tell that something wasn’t right. Before starting the infusion, they went to the ER where he was found to be septic. Jo also puts her infusion patients and their families first when it comes to scheduling. She thinks nothing of coming in early or staying late if it is more convenient for the family.Caregiving isn’t just a profession for Jo—it’s her heart and soul. As a single mom, she raised her two daughters to be strong, upstanding, and hard-working women and mothers. She set career goals for herself and progressed to nursing supervisor before taking on triple duties as Infusion Therapy/Employee Health/Infection Control Nurse. While COVID might be a capstone in her career, Jo’s legacy is far greater. No one will ever know the number of lives Jo Neill has touched or saved—and that number will continue to multiply with every nurse she helps to train.KHA Nominations & RecognitionJo was among sixteen nominees from hospitals throughout Kansas. A committee of judges selected her nomination along with three others for the award: Director of Nursing Missy Hampel, Ascension Via Christi (Wichita); Chief Nursing Officer Heather Hyler, Wilson Medical Center (Neodesha); and Chief Nursing Officer Kathryn McMillen, St. Luke’s Hospital and Living Center (Marion).
For the second year, the KHA Annual Convention was held virtually. CHS leadership staff and trustees gathered with Jo and her daughter, Laura, for the announcement on October 27. KHA representatives will personally deliver the awards at a date yet determined.