Leading Staff… And Keeping the Focus on Patients

by Shelli Dankoff
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

Meet a nurse, executive and major influencer helping to improve patient care…

Some might consider Lori Wiegand a late bloomer. The vice president and chief nursing officer at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center didn’t even start her nursing career until she was 30. Prior to that, she was busy raising four children—two boys and two girls. When her youngest was in kindergarten, Lori was volunteering at a community nursing home in her hometown of Eureka. A man she knew was in failing health, and she was there the night he died, an experience which rekindled her desire to be a nurse. That was about 25 years ago, and she never looked back.

After earning her associate’s degree, Lori was hired as a staff nurse at OSF Saint Francis, working with medical and oncology patients. She also continued to work at the Apostolic Nursing Home, as well as managing a household with four active children, which would lay the groundwork for managing the staff of thousands she now oversees on a daily basis.

Her path to a significant leadership role in an organization run by women—the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis—took off in 2001, when she applied for an open 6 Sigma Black Belt position under the new process improvement model being implemented with the assistance of Caterpillar. “I became a Master Black Belt in the first class we graduated,” recalls Lori. “We were taking a manufacturing model to nursing and had the best outcomes with our clinical process improvement projects.”

In 2007, Lori became nursing clinical operations director, and she recalls there were some difficult issues to deal with. “We had about 130 nursing openings and were diverting patients [to other facilities] on a daily basis.” Under her leadership, the staff refined how patients were placed, and a central staff office was established. No longer did unit managers have to worry about scheduling and making sure payroll was correct. Instead, they could focus on working with their staff to improve quality and safety and create the best patient experience.

Lori is humble in her role with that effort. “Behind every change is someone with the grit and tenacity to get it done.” That grit and tenacity continued to get her noticed. In 2009, she was named interim chief nursing officer, replacing Susan Campbell when she was elevated to the Ministry office in that position. Lori officially removed the “interim” title in April 2010.

As someone who sees nursing education as a critical component to continued healthcare improvement, Lori earned her DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) last December. Her leadership style is simple: surround yourself with good people and listen to what they’re telling you. “I don’t have all the solutions—they do. Building leaders is a big part of what I do. I listen to my staff, do open forums, and help them become the leaders they want to become. I am privileged to be a part of our work as a pioneer ACO [Accountable Care Organization] and am proud of our work on the care transitions steering team.”

With her days filled with endless meetings and discussions of how to best improve patient care, Lori sometimes misses her time as a bedside nurse. “I would love to be able to do both. That’s why I am a volunteer with NODA [No One Dies Alone].” NODA is a program in which trained volunteers sit with a patient who is near death and may not have family nearby, staying until family arrives or the patient passes. “I got a note from a family member of a woman I sat with. She remembered that I had taken care of her mom in 1994 as a staff nurse. Her note said, ‘You were so nice and kind.’ That meant so much to me—more than anything else.”

After achieving the top nursing position at OSF Saint Francis, Lori was recently named chief nursing officer for OSF HealthCare, where she will oversee nursing care at all nine OSF hospitals. She looks forward to continuing to focus on what healthcare should be about—the patient. “We need to be focused on the individual. There are so many patients with social needs, and often it’s hard to get access to the care they need. We need to continue to change the care delivery system so patients can get the care they need.

“I have 13 grandkids. We need to make [healthcare] better for them and their kids, and I know we can.” iBi

Shelli Dankoff is senior media relations specialist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.