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Courage in action

Novant Health’s chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer on what it takes to transform a culture

At a time when the social justice movement is gaining widespread attention and momentum, many organizations are asking themselves an important question: How do you embed diversity and inclusion as part of your business’s mission, vision, values and brand?

When Tanya Stewart Blackmon was faced with that question, her answer was simple: She listened.

Blackmon is Novant Health’s executive vice president and chief diversity, inclusion and equity officer. She accepted the role back in 2016 and immediately embarked on a listening tour across the Novant Health footprint. She heard from more than 700 team members across all levels of the organization over the course of that tour.

“That really served as the foundation for everything we’re seeing and doing today,” Blackmon said. “I was able to create a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategic plan for the system, and that is aligned with our strategic imperatives.”

Blackmon’s approach and leadership have yielded tangible results. Case in point: On the tour, Blackmon learned that the executive team at Novant Health did not reflect the workforce across the system. While the workforce was 82% female, there was only one woman serving on the executive team. Four years later, those numbers have transformed dramatically as the president and CEO wanted to ensure that he had multiple perspectives represented. Today, 40% of the executive team are women, and 40% are people of color.

Ann Caulkins, president of Novant Health Foundation and senior vice president of Novant Health, spoke with Blackmon recently about her lengthy career in healthcare, the challenges and opportunities of the new reality, and what she’s looking forward to for the remainder of 2020. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

Ann Caulkins: How long have you served in your current role? And how did the opportunity come about?

Tanya Blackmon: Five years ago, Carl [Armato, Novant Health CEO] told me he wanted me to take a system role and operationalize diversity and inclusion, one of our core values at Novant Health. I asked him why he wanted me to do this, and he said, “Because you understand the business and the people side of healthcare, and I believe that we need both to truly operationalize this in our organization.”

I asked him that question because, at first, I wasn’t sure I wanted the role. I thought people would assume I got the role because I am an African-American female. So I really wanted to know why Carl wanted me, and it was because of my knowledge of people from my background in social work and my knowledge of the business, from my MBA and from my time as president  of two of our Novant Health hospitals, Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital and Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center.

Caulkins: You know the business side. You know the people side. How do we bridge the gap between those two areas and change a culture?

Blackmon: That was something I thought about, too: What does this mean? I told Carl I was not going to be a figurehead in this position. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to go big and implement in a way that truly added value.

From the start, I knew this could not be about a program because you put a program up on the wall one day, and when times get tough or funding decreases, you can all too easily take it off the wall. It had to be part of a strategic culture-change strategy. I created a fishbone diagram and divided it into three phases: The first was learning and engaging to build knowledge. The second was developing to influence practices and policies that would help us get where we wanted to go. The third was embedding and leveraging to ensure diversity, inclusion and equity can be sustained over time.

After outlining the approach, I set off on the listening tour. I listened across this organization because, in this work, you have to give people a voice, as well as have alignment with the strategic goals and the mission, vision and values of the organization. We had to gain agreement and alignment on the definitions of diversity and inclusion. We have that alignment now, and it has enabled the changing of mindsets and behaviors.

Caulkins: Our culture has come a long way in a short period of time. Describe some of the things you’ve done over the past four years.

Blackmon: I believe that this work starts at the top of an organization. You have to have a CEO who is open and committed to embedding diversity and inclusion into the culture, but there’s still education that has to be done.

So we started with Carl. I told him I would love for him to take part in a program from an organization called White Men As Full Diversity Partners, which conducts labs and other education related to diversity and inclusion. At first, the name was a serious deterrent. But I kept asking. I went back to him several times and said, “Carl, you really have to do this to help the organization move the dial. I’m learning, and I need you to learn as well.” Finally, he said, “If you bring the consultant here, I’ll get 15 other white male leaders, and we’ll do it together.” And we did just that. He got our executive team and senior vice presidents to go through a three-day residential White Men’s Caucus to understand their role in this space and to discuss the impact of white male privilege and what that looks like. Carl has stated that he learned a lot about gender bias, racial and ethnic bias, unconscious biases and also white male privilege.

From there, I was able to expand the work of transforming the culture of the organization. As part of the educational process, you have to look within yourself to see how all your experiences and knowledge have shaped who you are today and how you see other people. It helps you to really open up and to listen and understand the perspectives of others and how their experiences may be different from yours.

In addition, we have engaged team members at all levels of authority in the organization in a multitude of educational activities to continue our journey and growth. We have Leadership Inclusion Summits, required diversity and inclusion workshops, community programs such as the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI), etc. We have hosted podcasts and web chats that are safe spaces for team members to have facilitated dialogue on topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion. In fact, we had one today where we talked about challenging topics, like systemic racism and the death of George Floyd and how that impacts our team members. We’ve even hosted a “blind spots” CEO Action for the organization so people could understand what their blind spots are. We also took the executive team on a bus tour of Charlotte, visiting areas where our most economically disadvantaged and at-risk community members live. There was no “aubergine” in those areas, and as a result of that tour, we have since opened physician clinics in those areas. Diversity, equity and inclusion are usually on the agenda for our Leader Retreats. In one retreat, we hosted the Pillsbury House Theatre group for a show titled Breaking Ice. This was a fun, customized, professional theater experience that helped our leaders better understand the world view of others and their own biases.

Caulkins: What does “remarkable” mean to you?

Blackmon: It’s patient-centered. So we listen to the voices of our patients. It’s affordable. So we take care of people who cannot afford to pay for their care. And it means you’re going to get the highest quality of care, no matter what. Health equity is about recognizing both the visible and less visible characteristics of diversity of people, understanding their unique needs and providing the best care for each of them.

Caulkins: Tell me about the people who have been impacted by the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund. What has struck a chord with you to illustrate the importance of that fund?

Blackmon: I remember one story about a critical care nurse manager whose unit was converted to one conducting testing and treatment of COVID-19. At the same time, she is also the mother of a son who has special needs. She wanted to continue caring for patients and doing her job, but she also wanted to protect her son. Through the fund, we were able to pay for her to stay in a hotel while she served in the COVID unit. As a result, she was able to continue doing the work that she loves while keeping her family safe. That’s why this fund is so important.

The need is real, and we have front-line team members who are still in great need. Our communities, our businesses have not fully recovered from COVID-19, and the same is true for our team members who are at the bedside taking care of our friends and loved ones every single day.

Caulkins: On top of COVID-19, we are now facing another crisis related to social injustice. We’ve seen lots of organizations respond and take action. Tell us about Novant Health’s response.

Blackmon: It takes courage to take a stand as an organization. When Novant Health published our position on Black Lives Matter, that was courageous. We said we exist to save lives, all lives. We said we believe that Black lives matter. We said if society isn’t healthy, no one is healthy. And we said we have zero tolerance for racism, and I think it was very bold and very appropriate that we did that.

Caulkins: What do you feel we can look forward to in 2020?

Blackmon: As hard and sad as all this systemic racism is, it feels like there’s a movement to push us forward, to do more as people. My prayer and my hope is that this movement doesn’t stop. That’s something that keeps me up at night — that we’ll become complacent. People have said to me, “We’re good now. Can we stop?” And I say, “Stop what? When do people stop changing? When does the world stop?” At Novant Health, I know we’re not going to stop, no matter what.

If you’d like to support the work of Novant Health, consider a contribution today.

Your gifts play a role in all the lifesaving care we provide across our organization, during one of the most challenging times in recent history. People need us, and we need you.

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‘When I come to work at Novant Health, they see a nurse. They don’t see a Black nurse’

Angela Davis faced her share of discrimination — until she came to Novant Health

When Angela Davis was 18 years old, she met a nurse who changed her life.

She was living in Sumter, South Carolina, and had just given birth to her first child.

“As a young and new parent with a premature baby, I had no idea what to do,” she said. “I remember being in the nursery, and the nurse there, Ms. Elaine, took the time to show me what to do and how to do it. She took the time to explain all these big fancy words they were using. She really started something in me, and I remember wanting to make people feel the way she made me feel.”

Davis made it through those first few uncertain months and all the years of motherhood that followed, recently celebrating her son’s 19th birthday. Davis’ career grew, too, over the years, and she is now a clinical supervisor at Novant Health Huntersville Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. She’s a nurse and a clinical leader, during one of the most challenging times in healthcare. She’s also Black, and as the national movement for social justice and racial equality has gained unprecedented momentum, she’s found herself in a whole new reality.

“Before I came to Novant Health, I had patients who literally told me to my face that I’m not as smart. I’ve had a patient yelling up the hallway saying he didn’t want the ‘n-word’ nurse taking care of him,” Davis said. “It’s hard enough dealing with the demands of a changing healthcare system and making sure that you care for patients from different cultures and backgrounds, and then for people to say things like that just because of the color of your skin, it just blows my mind.”

Although those behaviors defined her past as a Black nurse, they do not define her present.

A few weeks ago, Davis and her team members took part in a peaceful protest that is part of a broader movement across healthcare institutions called White Coats for Black Lives. For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Davis knelt outside Novant Health Huntersville Pediatrics & Internal Medicine. Next to her was a colleague — a white physician named William Flannery.

“As I’m kneeling there, I saw him praying, and it just brought tears to my eyes,” Davis said. “I just imagine that his prayers are for this world to be a better place for me and my children and people who look like me and for our patients. It was just a really eye-opening moment: It’s not just people who look like me who want change and equality; it’s everybody.”

In truth, that has been her experience since she joined Novant Health.

“I had no idea when I started with Novant Health how big they were with diversity and inclusion. It’s not just saying it for show. We really do this,” Davis said. “I look at people who are way higher up than me, and I see women, Black women, Black men, Asians and Hispanics. And it really means a lot because, for me, it shows me that I can go as far as I want to with this organization. My race, my gender — they don’t limit me at all.”

But gender and ethnicity are increasingly a subject of conversation as longstanding, systemic issues about race and discrimination grip the nation. As a result, Davis has instituted a policy of transparency within her team.

“I told my team there is nothing off limits for me if they need me or they want to talk to me,” Davis said. “We’re here to help heal people, and we don’t realize that our words can be a lot more healing than our actions. I tell my team to try to be understanding. And if you don’t understand, we’re here to help each other understand.”

As a mother, Davis encourages that technique among her children, as well. In addition to her 19-year-old son, she has two daughters, ages 15 and 13. And she tells them to treat people the way they want to be treated, no matter what.

“You never treat people the way they treat you because, when you fight fire with fire, you’re no better than them,” Davis said. “My daughter and I had that conversation. I asked her, ‘When you fight fire with fire, what happens to the fire?’ She said, ‘It gets bigger.’ And I said, ‘You have to start fighting fire with what’s going to put that fire out: water.’”

On the day Davis and Flannery knelt to recognize the White Coats for Black Lives movement, a colleague took a photo of them. His head is bowed as he holds a sign that reads “White Coats for Black Lives.” Davis’s head is lowered, too, and her fist is held high in the air.

Davis posted the photo on social media in the hours after the silent protest. In that post, she wrote: “Today, I got to kneel with this doctor who believes my voice and life matter. I watched him turn his hands to God and pray for a better world for me, his clinical supervisor and his patients. It gave me the strength to raise a fist to be proud of the Black woman and nurse God made me and called me to be. I am proud to say I work for an organization that prides itself on diversity and inclusion and has gone above and beyond to help me and others that look like me know that we matter!”

Davis recognizes the social justice work is not done. At the same time, she takes pride in the fact that her organization is taking a stand, in public and powerful ways.

“At Novant Health, they see a patient. They don’t see a Black patient. When I come to work at Novant Health, they see a nurse. They don’t see a Black nurse. They embrace that part of me, and it makes me really happy to be part of this team,” Davis said.

Support the work of Davis and other front-line workers like her.

A donation to the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation allows us to support vital patient care, as well as to support workers who spend every day fighting to ensure those patients lead long, healthy lives. Join us and make your gift today.

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His mom made him do it

Gary Niess, MD, on the origins of his cardiology career and what the future holds for cardiac patients in Charlotte

Somewhere in the recesses of the internet is a video of Gary Niess, MD, giving an interview as part of a promotional campaign for Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

In the video, the interviewer asks Niess, now the senior vice president of the Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute, why he decided to become a doctor. In a moment of levity, Niess offers a simple answer.

“My mom told me to.”

The remark was intended to be a joke, but as with all jokes, it contains a kernel of truth. Growing up, Niess had a younger brother who was born with a congenital heart defect. Doctors told their family he wouldn’t live to be 8. But in the years after his birth, researchers developed a heart operation that gave him years of life. Age 8 came and went, and his brother lived well into his 40s, eventually passing away due to causes unrelated to a bad heart.

Niess remembers those doctors’ visits, especially how his mother would push him into the room to watch the physicians in action. It made an impact, and when Niess returned to Charlotte after medical school, he joined Presbyterian Medical Center. He has been “a loyal Presby doctor” ever since.

“It turns out, our mothers have an inordinate influence on our lives,” Niess said with a laugh.

In his time at Presbyterian Medical Center, Niess has been part of some significant milestones. He performed the second heart catheterization ever done at the hospital. He has treated and counseled patients and families across the community. And in time, as his physician colleagues saw it, he became “a suit” — part of the Novant Health administration — which took him out of regular practice and put him into opportunities that allow him to transform care at a broader level.

The new building that will house the John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart & Vascular Institute, as well as the Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Institute, will be a perfect example when it opens later this year.

“We’re going to have cardiac rehab there, dietary services, cooking classes, recovery — all of it bright and shiny and new and high-tech,” Niess said. “It’s just invigorating to go into a new space full of new opportunities.”

The new building will also create more opportunities for direct collaboration with Novant Health’s cancer specialists, Niess said.

“Cancer creates a whole collage of potential problems for the cardiovascular system, either from the cancer itself or the treatment of it,” Niess said. “So having patients jointly managed by cardiology and cancer is very important.”

The efficiency of a shared location also plays an important role in the patient journey, Niess said. 

“Regina Hartung, my previous business partner, once tracked a patient’s journey with a pedometer for the full process of all of their treatments, between cancer and getting heart studies. The total was something like 10,000 steps. That’s a worthy goal on a daily basis — unless you have cancer. Then, it’s a nightmare,” Niess said. “The beauty of this center is that there won’t have to be this long, complicated journey because we’ll be cohabitating. As a result, the facilities and the synergies will be much better for patients.”

While the new institute will create opportunities for better care, Niess knows healthcare providers are facing unprecedented challenges. Although the country has begun to reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic has come with a dangerous side effect: Many people are reluctant to receive the lifesaving care they need.

“We want patients to know you’re safe. You are much safer at Novant Health than you are at your grocery store. However, patients know that COVID-positive people go to the hospital. We isolate those areas completely, and that message is out there. But it is changing how people perceive healthcare,” Niess said. “People aren’t coming to us. We are wide open for business, and yet we aren’t seeing many of the sick patients who only get worse at home without care.”

Statistics across the country show that people with a variety of non-COVID-related ailments are avoiding care in the current healthcare environment. Some of them are waiting too long to visit the emergency room, delaying critical medical interventions for issues such as strokes and heart attacks. Some are dying at home.

“The number of people coming in with heart attacks has dropped significantly, and it’s not like stress is less. The things that make you have a heart attack haven’t gone away, but people are coming in less and less. And that’s because they’re either dying at home or toughing it out at home,” Niess said. “If they’re willing to tough out a heart attack at home, you can understand why they wouldn’t come in for other acute and serious problems.”

Niess also understands that fear may not be the only factor at play. The pandemic is stripping many people of their jobs, and without jobs, there is no health insurance or ability to pay for lifesaving medical care.

“People are having to make choices now that they’re out of work. They’re in this terrible dilemma of, ‘Do I lose my healthcare or my mortgage?’” he said.

That’s part of the reason why Niess has been so loyal to Novant Health for so long: It’s a not-for-profit health system with a commitment to providing remarkable care to everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.

“Our dedication to continually keeping an eye on the underserved is another huge piece that is even more important in the COVID world. They are not getting the same level of care as the insured,” Niess said. “At Novant Health, we’ve been testing those patients free of charge. That’s a reason to be proud of Novant Health. It’s not cheap providing free care, and at a time when revenues to hospitals are plummeting and the red ink is just flowing, maintaining that dedication to serving everyone equally is so important.”

You can do your part to support those efforts.

With a gift to the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, your contributions allow us to continue providing remarkable care throughout our community, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay. And, as Dr. Niess explains, that’s more important now than ever before.

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Making #CLTStrong

Caroline Elliott is on a mission to feed healthcare workers on the front lines

Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline Elliott has raised more than $85,000 to feed front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. It’s a campaign that has taken on a life of its own since its launch back in March, gaining momentum, attracting volunteers and making an impact.

The first week in May, it also landed her in the Oval Office of the White House, in a group of her fellow nurses, listening to President Donald Trump sing their collective praises in celebration of National Nurses Day.

“It was wild. It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Elliott said. “It’s such an honor to be a nurse. The fact that I’m considered in the same category as so many people I’ve met who have these incredible stories is just mind-blowing to me. I’m doing what I can, and that’s important. But as I kept saying over and over at the White House, I definitely don’t deserve this.”

The front-line workers she’s been feeding, as well as the restaurants she’s been able to support in the process, would beg to differ.

Elliott is a fertility nurse. She lives in Charlotte but works remotely for a clinic in Washington, D.C. She is not on the front lines, but she has friends and colleagues who are.

“That’s what sparked my initial urge to do something. I just started to think, ‘What can I do to help?”’ Elliott said.

One of her friends on the West Coast had purchased bagels and coffee for a local hospital, and Elliott decided to do something similar. Healthcare workers need to eat to do their jobs. With cafeterias and restaurants shut down, they have to bring food from home or rely on vending machines with limited options. Elliott thought she could take that worry off their plate, while helping them eat well throughout their shifts.

At the same time, local restaurants needed business as the state-mandated lockdown forced them to close their doors and lay off workers. So Elliott decided to try a campaign that would pull double duty: She’d raise money to buy food from local restaurants, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. Then, she would donate that food to front-line medical workers at facilities across the Charlotte region.

She started out taking donations via Venmo. Within 24 hours, she’d raised $8,000.

“I quickly booked some lunches and some dinners, and it took off from there,” Elliott said. “People heard my story and spread the word. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. We’ve raised a lot of money, had some fun partnerships and worked with some generous, gracious people.”

Those people have given life to the campaign, now known as #CLTStrong, and its mission even when Elliott couldn’t. On the day of her first delivery back in March, she found out she’d been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I was heartbroken,” Elliott said.

Soon, her husband, Frank, tested positive for COVID-19, and while Elliott was never officially tested, she fell ill soon after.

“We had to call on our friends and family and strangers to do our deliveries. Now it’s all strangers — people I’ve never met. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for,” Elliott said. “It’s just complete strangers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to do something to help. Nobody has to do anything, but they are.”

Elliott put herself on self-quarantine for six weeks and relied on the generosity of volunteers to continue deliveries. Local businesses, such as jewelry maker Twine & Twig and Glory Days Apparel, have joined the effort to raise funds. Young Plantations filled her car with 600 bags of cookies.

Those donations have gone out across the healthcare community in Charlotte, including Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Alex Funderburg, chair of the Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation board of directors, has become one of her champions, and the entire team at Presbyterian Medical Center has been tremendously grateful for the support #CLTStrong has been able to provide.

“Caroline knew a lot of these workers were facing tough hours and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Funderburg said. “Now, the campaign has served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort.”

At the same time, the money she’s raised has provided critical support for local restaurants. One restaurant owner told her he was able to hire back one of his employees, knowing that a big order was coming from #CLTStrong.

“Now I’m learning about which restaurants really need the help right now, and we’re doing our best to help those places out,” she said.

Even as we edge our way into a new and less restrictive normal, Elliott plans to continue this work, providing meals, helping restaurants and collaborating with others in the community. It’s not her job, but it is part of what being a nurse means to her.

“When I was a pediatric nurse, there were so many nights when I lay in bed with patients and scratched their backs to help them go to sleep. As nurses, we’re constantly stepping in to do whatever is needed to help,” Elliott said. “Throughout all of this, I have not heard one person complain. Everybody is just so eager to get in there and do what they can do.”

She’s seen that same resiliency throughout the broader Charlotte community, as well.

“Everyone has come together. It’s been pretty amazing,” she said.

You can do your part to support front-line healthcare workers with a donation to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

The fund provides critical resources for those workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.

Join us and make your gift today.

Donate now

‘Leaders are made in moments like this’

From Hurricane Florence to COVID-19, Rob Stumbo is on a mission to help, no matter what

When you ask Rob Stumbo about the most poignant moment in his nursing career, he takes you back to 2018, when he was standing on the helipad of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in the hours immediately after Hurricane Florence had battered the surrounding community.

Stumbo had been on lockdown in the hospital with the rest of the medical team for six days while the hurricane raged. The North Carolina National Guard was conducting search-and-rescue missions and then bringing sick or injured patients to the emergency room.

“That was one of the hardest moments, professionally and personally, I ever had to go through,” said Stumbo, a nurse and house supervisor at Brunswick Medical Center. “There was a lot of fear. Everyone has their family in the community and their homes, and we left all that to be at the hospital and to provide for the community.”

Over the course of those six days, a patient came into the hospital who was in bad shape. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and, at a certain point, it became clear that she needed to be moved to a larger healthcare facility. Under normal circumstances, the team would call in a helicopter right away. In a hurricane, they didn’t have that option.

So Stumbo and his team dedicated all the resources they could to stabilize her condition until the hurricane passed. As soon as the storm broke, they sent for a helicopter, which landed at the hospital a short time later.

“I remember being out there when the chopper took her. I remember high-fiving everyone as they flew away. The sun was parting the clouds. It was like a movie,” Stumbo recalled. “It felt like we finally helped her.”

And helping people is all Stumbo has ever wanted to do.

It started when he became an EMT in his early 20s, after a friend had a diabetic seizure right in front of him. Seeing that made him feel helpless, and he hated it.

“I don’t like not knowing what to do,” Stumbo said.

So, he learned. Being an EMT taught him how to respond in a crisis, how to help. Then, when he met his wife, a nurse, she encouraged him to do more. She told him he’d make a great nurse, and he listened. Stumbo got his LPN, his RN, his BSN, and now he’s one month away from receiving his master’s degree in nursing.

“I do feel like nurses are the backbone of healthcare. We’re there for people in their worst moments. These are not experiences those people necessarily want to remember, but we get letters all the time thanking us,” Stumbo said. “It’s been challenging, but we feel a sense of duty. My dad will ask me sometimes how I do what I do, and I tell him, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ That’s the attitude that nurses have. We need to step up because we’re willing to be that person.”

Since Stumbo joined Brunswick Medical Center five years ago, he’s had to step up a lot. He’s the youngest house supervisor on staff by more than a decade — a promotion that he considers one of the highlights of his career. But more than that, the past few years have brought some of the most significant challenges the young hospital has ever faced.

Hurricane Florence was one of them. The COVID-19 pandemic is another.

“I was there during several early cases when we suspected COVID-19. It was a very scary time for everyone. We had great backup from our leadership, but no one knew how serious this situation was going to be,” Stumbo said. “When all this was really starting to ramp up, I went to every department and asked if they needed anything. I looked them all in the eye and told them, ‘Whatever happens, we’re going to figure it out.’”

House supervisors are the engine of the hospital, Stumbo said. They ensure everyone and everything stays on track. A big part of that involves making sure team members have a place to turn when they have questions or need assurance.

“I spend a lot of time consoling people,” Stumbo said. “Everything is changing every day, but we’re all in this together. And we really have become a more cohesive unit for the whole facility. It’s amazing to see how we’ve all adapted.”

He’s also been amazed at how different members of his team have risen to the challenge, Stumbo said.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, a man came to the emergency room at Brunswick Medical Center in cardiac arrest. Stumbo and his team didn’t know if he had tested positive for the virus. They just knew he needed help.

“This was very early on, when we were still figuring everything out, and there was no hesitation. Everyone jumped in. We fell right back into our practices of helping, even though at the same time we were taking a huge risk compared to what we were taking two weeks before,” Stumbo said. “The charge nurse risked his life to try and save that patient, and we see that every day with our people. They just care, and that’s the biggest thing that we’ll take away from this. Leaders are made in moments like this.”

Stumbo, too, is among those leading the charge. He’s on the front lines every day, so when he comes home to his wife and four dogs, he leaves his clothes on the front porch and heads straight to the shower. To protect others, he tries not to go anywhere except work and home. And he hasn’t seen his parents or his grandmother, all of whom live nearby, in a month.

He acknowledges that it’s hard, but at the same time, he doesn’t complain. He loves what he does, no matter how difficult the job can be.

“Helping people is all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” he said. “This job gives me an opportunity to make a difference, and I can see it every day.”

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as “Year of the Nurse” in celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. We are proud to celebrate and recognize our Novant Health nursing team members this year, and always, for the remarkable care they deliver to our patients and their loved ones every day.

Nurses like Rob Stumbo need our support more now than ever.

You can make a difference, too, by contributing to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), which was established to help nurses and other team members on the front lines of the pandemic with rent assistance, child care services and more.

Donate now

Hard choice for parents on the front line: work or stay home? Here’s how Novant Health is helping

When schools shut down in Stokes County, Christina Mabe was left in a difficult position.

Mabe’s job is essential: She is a registered nurse who works in the Coumadin clinic at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine, managing patients who may have suffered strokes, pulmonary embolisms or blood clots and who are now on the Coumadin blood thinner.

She loves what she does — the patient interaction more than anything — but she can’t do it from home.

Like many of our frontline healthcare workers, Mabe has two young children at home who need care.  Schools for her 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son are both closed to comply with the district’s order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Mabe thought of ways to make her available child care options work. Her husband also works outside the home, but her parents live next door. Her father owns a construction business, where her mother does the bookkeeping. They could watch the kids some if this were only for a few days, or even a week — but not every day for weeks at a time.

“What I really needed was dependable child care that I knew I would have every day,” she said.

Then, as she read through her email one day, she found another way forward.

“We get these emails every day from Novant Health with updates, and one of those emails asked us to fill out a questionnaire about what we needed during all of this,” Mabe said. “One of those questions asked about child care. I filled out the survey, and about a week after that, I got an email saying that I could sign my children up for child care at no cost.”

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, new and unprecedented challenges have been placed on healthcare workers. Spouses have lost jobs, putting their families’ livelihood on the line. For some, rent is hard to make and food is difficult to afford. The prospect of paying for supplemental child care is daunting.

“The cost definitely played a big role. When you’re used to not paying child care and then all of a sudden you don’t have anywhere for your kids to go, that’s an extra expense that we weren’t expecting,” Mabe explained.

Through the newly established Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation was able to use funds to cover those expenses and provide Mabe with quality child care services through the YMCA. Her kids play and do school work. Her son’s current passion is basketball, and he can’t get enough of it. He talks proudly about the progress he’s making with “his numbers.”

“They love it,” Mabe said. “With Novant Health Foundation offering that and covering that, that took a lot of stress off. I know I don’t have to worry about it financially, and I know my kids are somewhere safe.”

That frees Mabe to do the work she loves. She joined Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in December to get back into family medicine, which she had done for years as an LPN. She became an RN about a year ago and did some work in a hospital setting. But family medicine kept calling to her. 

“I wanted to get back in it because of the patient-nurse relationship that you establish,” said Mabe, who recently joined Salem Family Medicine “The patients that come to family medicine, they’re not like your hospital patients who you have for a couple days. We see these patients on a weekly or monthly basis — even every three months — and you get to build a relationship.”

In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Mabe has seen her patients come to the clinic nervous and scared.

“We don’t see the people in person as much, and when they do come in, they wear masks. It’s for everyone’s health and safety, of course, but it is a big difference,” Mabe said.

It’s also a time when those relationships matter more than ever before. That’s why, in addition to advice like washing hands and listening to recommendations from healthcare providers, Mabe advocates for helping others as much as possible.

“If you’re going to the grocery store, drop something off for someone else so we don’t have as many people going out. Reach out to see if there’s anything you can do to help,” she said. 

One way to help Christina Mabe and other healthcare professionals like her:

Make a gift to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. Contributions to this fund help pay for the things our front-line workers need now so they can focus on the important work of helping patients and saving lives.

Donate now

Caring for those who care for us

What happens when a critical care nurse on the front lines of COVID-19 is also a mother to a son with special needs

Latazia Harris is a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Her unit was recently converted into one specializing in the testing and treatment of COVID-19, and that change put Harris on the front lines of a global pandemic.

The part of her that loves what she does remains fiercely committed to the oath she took when she graduated from nursing school. As videos proliferate online of overwhelmed, exhausted and terrified nurses elsewhere in the nation walking away from their posts, Harris is level-headed, focused and digging in.

“It’s a mental, emotional and physical response that comes from having to be on the front line of a pandemic,” Harris said. “It’s high anxiety. It can be chaotic. And we have to be mentally OK to be physically OK to be able to deal with everything that we’re facing.”  

That’s hard when you’re also a mother, as Harris is, to a son with special needs. His name is Josiah. He has a tracheostomy and is prone to respiratory issues. And as the COVID-19 crisis began to take shape within the walls of her hospital, Harris had to carve out a plan — one that would allow her to do her job to the best of her abilities while keeping her son safe.

Harris is resourceful by nature. In high school, she dreamed of being a trauma surgeon. But, as she puts it, “that wasn’t part of God’s plans for me.” She gave birth to Josiah when she was just shy of her 19th birthday.

Harris knew she still wanted to be in medicine, so she got her nursing degree from Winston-Salem State University and embarked on an impressive career, as a traveling nurse and then as a critical care assistant nurse manager at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

“I love people, and I love helping people. That’s the main thing that drives what I do and why I’m still here,” Harris said. “When you get news of a diagnosis — it could be good or bad — that puts the patient at a very vulnerable place. You need to be strong for that patient and help them understand the news or just to be there to listen to them as they talk or cry. That’s a very rewarding experience. It’s not something that I take lightly in that moment. They are trusting me, and I’m essentially a complete stranger.”

At every stage of the career she loves, Josiah, now almost 16, has been by her side.

“He is all that I’ve known my whole adult life. Outside of going on a vacation here or there, we’re not apart from each other. He’s my best friend,” she said.

So as the pandemic took hold in her community, she found herself in a difficult position: She knew she had an important role to play within the walls of the hospital. She also knew she couldn’t expose her son to the risks of COVID-19. So she reached out to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center Foundation to ask for help.

“It was a huge burden to think about what I was going to do when I got home. This is my job — to take care of people — and especially during a pandemic, you can’t run from that. You have to face it head-on,” Harris said. “But if I have to be at work and be worried and then go home and be worried, it’s not conducive to anybody involved.”

The foundation heard her concerns and responded, using contributions from its COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund to pay for Harris’s stay in a hotel while she worked in the impacted unit to avoid putting her son at risk.

That first hotel stay lasted for four days and three nights. For now, Harris’s unit has temporarily stepped back from COVID-19 testing, giving her the chance to spend a few nights at home with Josiah. But she knows she’ll soon be back on the front lines — and back in the hotel, away from her son.

It’s hard, but Harris counts herself fortunate. She has an amazing system of support in place for her son, and the help she received from the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund allows her to do her job without worrying about endangering her son and best friend. That’s part of the mission of the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, which was set up by Novant Health Foundation to provide financial assistance to team members for necessities such as food, transportation, utilities and/or housing due to the COVID-19 crisis and to make sure that help is available for those who need it NOW. The fund has already raised generous support from fellow team members, community leaders and businesses.

“To work for an organization that does make those resources available, it’s definitely something that is appreciated because it alleviates some of that stress. And it continues to help us stay where we are, in the hospital, doing our jobs,” Harris said. “It also speaks to one of the reasons why I chose to come to Novant Health: They appreciate their team members. And this is just another example of that.”

Want to support our healthcare workers on the front lines?

Consider making a gift to our COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund. We are committed to helping our workers with whatever the need while they do the noble and vital work of battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Donate now

How you can improve access to life-saving healthcare in the fight against the coronavirus

For our healthcare community and our world, it appears we have a long road ahead of us.

COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has forced us into a fierce battle against its global spread, and healthcare professionals across the Novant Health system are on the front lines.

That’s why we need your support, now more than ever.

Novant Health foundations provide critical funds and resources across our network, which includes more than 1,600 physicians and over 28,000 team members who provide care at more than 640 locations. Last year, our team provided care to more than 4.4 million patients.

Our primary goal is to provide the lifesaving care our community needs, and we want to let you know we’re ready. We are working closely with state and local health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to stay on top of this fast-moving situation. And we’re taking all precautionary measures to protect every member of our team.

The good news is, help has already begun to pour in. The David A. Tepper Charitable Foundation donated $1 million to Novant Health and Atrium Health. Novant Health foundations will receive $350,000 to support our team’s response to the pandemic across the state of North Carolina. Words alone cannot express our gratitude for such generosity.

And yet, in the coming days and weeks, we know we will need more. The impact of this disease is unprecedented, and we will need financial assistance to provide testing and medication to support patient care, as well as medical supplies and staff support to take care of our team members on the front lines. Their ability to care for our patients is critical, and we are committed to doing as much as possible to meet our team members’ needs.

Please stay safe and healthy. We will get through this crisis – together.

If there were ever a time to donate to our Novant Health foundations, it is now.

We are committed to helping our community every way we can, now and always, and we ask that you consider making a contribution today. Every dollar you donate helps us continue the important work of saving lives.

Donate now


For up-to-date resources and support on novel coronavirus, visit NovantHealth.org/coronavirus.

Our Mission

Novant Health foundations engage and connect donors to Novant Health programs and initiatives that save lives and improve the health of the communities we serve.

Novant Health team members buy-in to helping others by donating more than $1.2 million

Each year, team members donate their time and money to local Novant Health foundations and community engagement nonprofit partners through our annual team member giving campaign, Giving. Serving. Together.

This past year, more than 4,700 team members pledged $1,290,176, as part of our commitment to saving lives and improving the health of our communities. Of that total, $645,923 was donated to support the work of our nonprofit partners, and $596,252 went directly to support Novant Health foundations, funding additional resources to continue providing remarkable care to those we serve.

Novant Health team members are an inclusive team of purpose-driven people inspired and united by our passion to care for each other, our patients and our communities.  In caring for each other, we pledged $125,082 last year to assist team members in crisis and more than $82,500 to support team members through programs like the Novant Health Upward Mobility RN Scholarship. Kimberly Hall and Brittney Samuels know firsthand how these donations impact lives: Giving. Serving. Together. donations helped Kimberly’s family rebuild after Hurricane Florence devastated their home, and contributions to the Upward Mobility scholarship allowed Brittney to accomplish her dream of becoming an RN.

In addition to monetary donations, team members also contribute their time as part of our collective effort to accelerate our mission, while contributing to the nonprofit partners whose missions align with our own.

In 2019, team members dedicated more than 1,600 hours to giving back through a variety of events focused on different community organizations and initiatives. Fifty hours of service, for instance, went toward planting 150 trees in the Hidden Valley community.

Volunteers devoted 350 hours to building an outdoor classroom and learning garden for students through the Out Teach “Big Dig” at Devonshire Elementary School. And more than 500 hours went toward helping the Second Harvest Food Bank prepare for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

Supporting those in need is a time-honored tradition at Novant Health — one that shines especially bright during Giving. Serving. Together. Thank you to our team members for contributing your time, talent and resources through this critical campaign. Your dedication exemplifies our commitment to improving the lives of those who work and live in the communities we serve.

By giving and serving together, we make healthcare remarkable.