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The Gift of Extraordinary Nurses: The Care at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and Eckerd Living Center is Driven by Their Dedication and Compassion – Mission Health Blog


During May, we celebrate National Nurses Week (May 6-12) and the extraordinary nurses serving at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital (HCH) and Eckerd Living Center (ELC). Our nursing team is second to none, as our patients and team members will tell you.

To be a successful and impactful nurse today, you must be able to keep up with constantly evolving care protocols, clinical best practices, and both industry and institution-specific standards. Then there’s making sure you keep abreast of everything going on in your own area of specialty, whether that’s the Emergency Department, general inpatient care, or rehabilitation services. All of this is of course done with care and compassion, which is what I believe makes nursing special.

As I like to share, people who are sick or injured are scared and hurting. This is often their worst day, and helping someone through this experience can be difficult. Nurses hold the hands of patients during these periods of extreme pain, fear, or when coping with death or loss.

Creativity is called for too, in meeting a patient’s unique needs. No two patients are the same, and nurses are called upon to carefully monitor and manage subtle changes in every patient’s condition, convey them to the other care team members that come into contact with the patient, and respond to the physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional needs of a patient.

It’s also important to remember that our nurses don’t just care for patients, they really care for families as well. Our nurses ensure that family members and loved ones stay informed about how a patient is doing, and they must be able at all times to respond knowledgeably and sensitively to the many questions they receive about a patient’s wellbeing.

Each year, we recognize a special nurse with a DAISY Award. The DAISY award was created by the DAISY Foundation to recognize outstanding nursing care. DAISY is actually an acronym that stands for Diseases Attacking the Immune System, and traces back to its origin in 1999. The family of J. Patrick Barnes created the foundation after Patrick’s loss, as they were so moved by the extraordinary compassion of the nurses who walked with them. The intent quite simply is to recognize excellent, compassionate, skillful nursing care. It is a special award, and I have been moved by many of the stories shared by patients or families. The deadline for this year’s DAISY Award nominations was at the end of April, and we’ll be recognizing our winner on May 6th.

It is especially important to recognize the work nurses do because we have seen them act particularly heroically over the last two years as we faced something we never could have imagined: the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses, more than anyone else, had to shift their focus and how they delivered care to our patients continuously, as more became known about the virus and as COVID numbers rose and fell at HCH. We had to be particularly vigilant in caring for our senior ELC patients, since those 65 years of age and older are especially vulnerable to complications from COVID.

In addition to the comprehensive clinical expertise provided by our nurses that I witness each day, if you talk to most nurses, they will note that their career is a true calling, not just a path they followed with interest. Their compassion is reflected in countless ways, whether that’s taking the time to check in and hear what’s really happening in a patient’s life, addressing a patient’s pressing concern, or going the extra mile to show them kindness or make them as comfortable as possible. In short, they make what can seem like a sterile environment, warm and human.

We support nurses in various ways here at the hospital, from providing opportunities for professional growth to more fun celebrations during Nurses Week. HCA Healthcare is committed to offering nurses opportunities for continuing their education, and advancing their careers through obtaining additional professional certifications, leadership training, and tuition reimbursement.

Nurses contribute their considerable intellect and talents to every area of the hospital, from bedside nursing to administration and institutional leadership. I myself have a background in cardiac and emergency nursing, having worked in multiple areas to include open heart recovery, ICU, and the ER. Serving patients propelled me into wanting to gain experience and make a difference as a hospital leader.

Our community couldn’t be more fortunate to have the exceptional team of nurses who grace our hospital and our patients’ lives each day. I know I have the backing of every HCH and ELC team member, as well as every community member, when I explain that our work truly couldn’t happen without them. They drive patient care and all we do here, and we are profoundly grateful for their time, dedication, and caring hearts.

Tom Neal, RN, MBA, MHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Neal is a proven leader with more than 30 years of progressive healthcare experience. Prior to his role at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, he held the position of Chief Executive Officer of Community Health Systems (CHS) and served as Chief Executive Officer of both Berwick Hospital Center in Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Ronceverte, West Virginia. Tom has an MBA from the University of Louisville, MHA from the California College of Health Sciences, BSN from Regents College of New York and an ADN from Jefferson Community College.