Making Their Mark: How These CNOs are Improving the Future of Valley Healthcare

The importance of a Chief Nursing Officer in the hospital setting is indisputable. As one of the most distinctive roles in hospital leadership, this position is crucial to the ongoing success of a hospital. A CNO is largely responsible for the oversight of patient experiences and typically oversees large teams of nurses and staff.

In the Rio Grande Valley, three female CNOs, occupying positions at Harlingen Medical Center, Knapp Medical Center, and Mission Regional Medical Center are changing lives.

For Amy Flores, a career in medicine wasn’t just an option. It was her destiny.

“I knew I wanted to be a nurse at the age of three,” said Flores. “I set goals for myself when I was in high school of what I wanted to achieve in life. And one of those goals was to be a Chief Nursing Officer of a hospital.”

After graduating as a licensed vocational nurse in 1987, Flores went to work at Valley Baptist in the intensive care unit (ICU). She continued in the ICU for about ten years before earning an associate degree in 1995, then later a bachelor’s degree in 2007 from the University of Texas at Brownsville. She then earned a master’s degree in 2010 from The University of Texas at Brownsville.

“I knew I wanted to be a leader in healthcare so that I could impact nursing as well as all the other clinical departments,” said Flores. “Florence Nightingale is obviously someone that I’ve looked up to throughout my career in nursing. That’s my aspiration; to be sure we give that good, quality, compassionate care to patients because that’s what they deserve.”

While Flores has worked in several areas of healthcare, including eight years as a nursing instructor at Valley Baptist Medical Center School of Vocational Nursing, she enthused that her role in administration at Harlingen Medical Center has been the most rewarding. Prior to beginning her role as CNO, Flores was a staff nurse at HMC on the Medical Surgical Unit and eventually the Director of that unit. At the same time, she facilitated the opening of an Orthopedic Unit and a Pediatric Unit and assumed being the Director of these units. Soon after the Orthopedic unit opened, Flores applied to the Joint Commission for the unit to obtain a Disease Specific Certification in the Knee and Hip replacement surgery. This successful survey continues to remain current. She began her work as CNO in 2016, and now oversees a staff of 200 nurses. In addition to her role as CNO, Flores is also Vice President of Clinical Services at HMC and is responsible for departments such as the wound healing center, radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, respiratory, dietary and contracted services. “In this role, I have a better and greater impact and influence on more people.”

Harlingen Medical Center has been named “Best of the Best’ Hospital three times out of the last five years in a local newspaper Readers Choice survey. In addition, HMC has been awarded a Grade A in the Leapfrog Patient Safety Survey and most recently, a 5 Star Rating from CMS, which puts HMC among one of only 293 hospitals in the United States who have received this recognition. This is the second year HMC has received this award. Also, HMC has received numerous Health Grade awards in Orthopedics, Patient Safety Excellence, Gynecologic, and General Surgery. And in 2018, HMC was recognized as one of only four Prime hospitals on the 100 SafeCare hospitals in the US. Harlingen Medical Center recently welcomed two new leaders, Matt Wolthoff, Chief Executive Officer and Michael Bergstrom, Chief Financial Officer. “We’re creating a very cohesive, strong leadership team that I’m excited to be a part of, and I can’t wait to see where we’ll be headed next.”

Flores credits determination, hard work, and clear goals for her rise in leadership. For others hoping to break into the healthcare field, she shared a few words of advice. “It is possible to achieve your goals. I’m certainly someone who has set goals and achieved them. I worked hard. It wasn’t easy. You can do it if you persevere.”

Kennetha Foster’s path to healthcare began at an early age. Raised on a dairy farm in Kentucky, Foster took an interest in taking care of animals. She honed this passion for caregiving, eventually leading her to work as a nursing assistant, helping with geriatric patients. The culmination of these experiences led Foster to pursue a career in nursing. “I’ve always worked in healthcare, and it just seemed like a natural thing to do, to go into nursing,” she said.

Foster’s formal education in healthcare began when she attended Ivy Tech College in Sellersburg, Indiana, where she earned an associate degree in nursing in 2000. In 2008, she received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from McKendree University in Louisville, Illinois. Then, in 2016, she earned a master’s degree in Nursing from the University of Phoenix. “My parents were a huge support to me while I was in school.”

Today, as Chief Nursing Officer at Mission Regional Medical Center, Foster is responsible for all clinical operations pertaining to nursing, radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, dietary, case management, wound care and cardiopulmonary. “I’ve been in this position for four years now, and I think my favorite part about this job is that I’m able to affect change at many different levels.”

During her tenure, MRMC has been awarded a grade of A in LeapFrog safety and has earned the Patient Safety Excellence Award, the Labor and Delivery Excellence Award, and the Obstetrics and Gynecology Excellence Award, as well as the Orthopedic Surgery Excellence Award — all from Healthgrades. In 2018, MRMC also received the Texas Medical Foundation’s Bronze Award.

“When people describe Mission Regional Medical Center, you always hear them say it’s like family,” says Foster. “We work together as a team. We help each other out when there’s a need. It’s a very welcoming, family environment.”

In addition to her work with Mission Regional Medical Center, Foster, a married mother of three daughters, is well engaged in her community, serving on the board of several organizations. “We always want to help people to grow and to strive to be better and be happy with what you’re doing. I grew up on a dairy farm. I never would have dreamed I’d be the CNO of a 297-bed hospital,” she said. “So, you can’t give up. You have to keep working for it even when it’s hard, and I share that same philosophy with my employees.”

With nearly 30 years of experience in healthcare, Anna Hinojosa, who grew up in Harlingen, knew she was interested in medicine from the start.

As a young girl, Hinojosa was inspired by her grandfather’s passion for healthcare. She used to watch with admiration as he, a medic in the army, helped treat patients in his underserved Starr County community. It was her grandfather who instilled in her the motto “passion for compassion”.

“You have to have some passion for compassion,” said Hinojosa. “You need to be self-motivated and want to learn, because healthcare changes every day.”

Moved by her grandfather’s efforts, Hinojosa began volunteering in hospitals during her teen years, spending time at Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital in San Benito and Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen.

Her formal education in healthcare began with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. She would later go on to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Hinojosa’s career at Knapp Medical Center began in 2006 when she accepted the role of Emergency Department Director. Then, in 2014, she began her work as Chief Nursing Officer, where she is now responsible for the oversight of 650 nursing and clinical staff. Under her leadership, Knapp Medical Center received the Labor and Delivery Excellence Award and Obstetrics and Gynecology Excellence Award and Gynecologic Surgery Award from Healthgrades, a benchmark for hospital performance. Knapp has been one of only twelve hospitals in the entire state of Texas to receive all three of these “Women’s Care Specialty Excellence Awards” from Healthgrades. In addition, Knapp Medical Center was recognized as one of Healthgrades’ “America’s 100 Best Hospitals for General Surgery for 3 Years in a Row” – as well as being named a “5-Star Recipient for Hip Fracture Treatment for 7 Years in a Row”.

When it comes to improving healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley, Hinojosa says continuing education is crucial. “The nurse plays a lot of roles, not just as a nurse. She’s a scientist, too,” said Hinojosa. “She has to interpret lab work, x-rays, communicate with different physicians and specialty physicians, as well as collaborate with other healthcare disciplines.”

Hinojosa is excited for the future of nursing. From bladder scanners to vein finders, there exists a growing number of technological advances to help nurses provide better care, which promotes Hinojosa’s long-standing goal of patient-centered excellence. “It’s an intense vocation that encompasses your mind, body, and soul, to grant unselfishly to others,” she said. “I love what I do. I love interacting with our staff, physicians and our patients. It’s really a rewarding career.”

HealthStream, an educational platform provided by Prime Healthcare, offers more than 2,500 online courses to employees hoping to strengthen their skills and learn new methods for patient care. “We just had our annual skills fair to help keep our nurses up to date,” Hinojosa said. “We encourage them to go back to school, become better nurses, become more marketable nurses.”

Prime HealthcareSetting the standards

With the explosive growth seen in South Texas, healthcare options and opportunities are now more readily available. Steadily increasing rates of employment in the industry and innovative technologies in patient care, are being made in countless areas throughout healthcare in the Rio Grande Valley. But, despite global studies of the benefits of female leadership, women remain disproportionately represented in these roles. In the United States alone, these statistics show that only sixteen percent of healthcare leadership positions in administration or at department levels are occupied by women.

Prime Healthcare is an award-winning health system operating 45 hospitals in 14 states. Their mission is to deliver compassionate, quality care to patients and better healthcare to communities. Our own Rio Grande Valley Prime Healthcare facilities have repeatedly demonstrated why having qualified women in leadership roles adds value to their health care organizations. While these facilities are all unique in their own way, the one common denominator they exhibited was the sense of family and unity.

The women portrayed in this article are not only educated, driven, and experts at multi-tasking, but they have the added benefit of years of experience in patient care at a variety of levels; not just administrative. These experiences have added up in each of their lives to where they are now highly competent individuals with their own innate abilities for empathy, emotional intelligence and intuition. These CNOs are true leaders in healthcare.

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