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MOBILE, Ala -- For 14 years, Karen Deakins has been nurse manager for the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital.
When she was asked to fill in temporarily as nurse manager for all of pediatrics, she hesitated. “I live and breathe an ICU mentality,” she says. For her, working on the regular pediatric floor wasn't something she had done in more than a decade. And her history with pediatric intensive care goes back way before the start of her nursing career.
More on that in a minute.
When Deakins actually began working with the regular pediatric staff and patients she was surprised at how much she liked it. More than that, she was surprised to see how eagerly the ICU nurses learned from their colleagues and vice versa. “Everyone was eager to learn and grow and make changes,” she says. “It has been very rewarding.” Among the differences, she says, is that PICU nurses care for only two patients at a time, while floor nurses work with four or five so that they have to work harder to get to know their patients and their families.
“All of our patients come with families,” Deakins says. So providing family-centered care is a critical element for her team. Almost immediately the two groups of nurses -- those in pediatrics and those in the PICU -- began talking about issues just like that. Now that Deakins has been named nurse manager for the PICU, pediatrics, and the USS Hope, she intends to keep the ideas flowing. “I like to hear what changes the nurses need and their ideas, and just to encourage them with their ideas for improvements.”
In fact, she finds the exchange of ideas “inspirational.” Deakins was a logical choice for the new responsibilities, says Scotty Roberson, an assistant administrator and chief nursing officer at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. “Karen has been with USA Health for 20 years and nurse manager of PICU for 14 of those years. She has done and continues to do an outstanding job of managing the PICU,” says Roberson. “She really has a talent for pulling the team members together for a common goal or goals,” Roberson says. “She works very hard at creating a team environment where staff members are engaged and are all about their patients.”
Karen and her team have created this type of environment despite it being an intellectually and emotionally challenging place to work, Roberson said. The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, which treats the region's most critically ill children, is an emotionally charged environment, as you would expect, where pediatric patients are experiencing serious and life-threatening medical and surgical problems.
“Through Karen’s leadership, the staff members continue day after day to seek the best outcomes for their patients. She maintains a great balance with her team in having high standards and expectations while keeping the environment as calm, peaceful and fun as possible for children and their families. That is no easy task in a pediatric intensive care setting.”
Providing the best possible care for sick and injured children is more than a calling for Deakins. It’s a passion grown from first-hand experience. As a first-grader, she was run over by a school bus and spent nearly two months in the ICU at USA Medical Center because there was no pediatric ICU at the time. Deakins’ hospitalization wasn’t a happy experience for her or her family, but she remembers how individual nurses and other staff members went out of their way to make her life bearable and to help her parents.
She firmly believes every patient should have that kind of focused and compassionate care. It brought her to nursing and also her sister, Krissy Blake, who is nurse manager in the CW emergency department.
Making the hospital experience as pleasant as possible is a major concern, Deakins says. Today, Children’s & Women’s offers pet therapy, celebrates holidays and special events, brings in princesses and superheroes, and — under the supervision of four Mobile County Public School teachers — keeps school-age patients up to date on classwork.
“For us, it’s not just taking care of patients but also letting them be children or teenagers — letting their lives be as normal as we can make them,” she says. “The last thing they want is to be considered sick.” So providing an extra level of care is only what the patients and families deserve, she says: “To have parents entrust you with their child is a big honor.”
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