Hoya alumnae leaders pictured left to right: Claire Piccirillo, Susan Kiley Eckert, Eileen Brennan Ferrell
Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:Georgetown alumnae lead at MedStar Health

Author: Kate Colwell
Date Published: November 8, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, three Georgetown University graduates have worked together as leaders in the MedStar Health system to address challenges facing the nursing workforce. Susan Kiley Eckert (NHS’78) is senior vice president and chief nursing executive of MedStar Health, Eileen Brennan Ferrell (NHS’75, G’83) is chief nursing officer (CNO) of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and Claire Piccirillo (G’00) is CNO of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Maryland.

These alumnae meet daily to find strategic solutions to the challenges of COVID-19 care. Due to the pandemic, nurses have additional responsibilities, such as managing patients who need to transfer between hospitals. Piccirillo created a dedicated transportation role for internal transfers to help ensure nurses are freed to practice at the top of their license.

“One of my biggest roles here is to continue to remove barriers that nurses confront as they try to give great patient care, so that they’re able to really focus on the patient,” Piccirillo says.

The chief concern of any CNO is maintaining the health and safety of personnel. The pandemic created burnout, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder among care providers. Nurses also face violence from patients and families who do not believe that the COVID-19 virus is real.

“Our workforce has been under an enormous strain for a year and half now,” Eckert says. “In my forecasting, that is not going to stop for at least the next 12 to 24 months.”

The MedStar Health CNOs have built a strong wellbeing infrastructure to support nursing staff with resilience coaches, specialized psychologists, and easy access to the employee assistance program. Eckert hired a director of nurse wellness for nurses in the system’s 10 hospitals and numerous clinics to organize services such as peer support and wellness breaks.

Telemedicine has also been a vital tool to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in hospitals and clinics. “Telehealth helped us to keep our team strong and sturdy by limiting the number of potential COVID-19 patients walking in our door,” Ferrell says.

At MedStar Montgomery, Piccirillo has seen telemedicine increase rapidly and have substantial impact.

“Even physicians who were a little bit opposed to it were surprised by how well they could assess and give good care over a monitor,” Piccirillo says.

Looking ahead, Eckert is working with the CNOs to manage labor shortages and create healthier workforce pipelines from academic institutions like Georgetown as demand for new nurses increases. There are many Georgetown-trained nurses at MedStar Health who helped the community through the pandemic, she notes.

“Georgetown drilled into all of us that we were to be leaders as nurses, no matter what our practice was going to be,” Eckert says. “I think that’s why you see Georgetown nurses across the country being very successful in leadership positions.”

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