Second Place Winner – Sue Thorne, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Sue Thorne,
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Sue Thorne is the epitome and the pure definition of a Nursing Hero. She is a nurse with a heart so big and full of love for human beings, that you can see it bouncing out of her chest with every step she takes though the endless hallways of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Sue has been a nurse for over 30 years, with an impressive 22 years of these at Sunnybrook. She is an Emergency Room nurse to the core, and spent a great many years caring for every type of patient imaginable in this capacity, both at the bedside (where she loves to be) and as a dedicated Clinical Care Leader in the ED.  In recent years, she has taken her skills, talents, and pure dedication to quality and safe patient care to other areas of the hospital.  She has brought her extraordinary nursing experience, patience and compassion to the Sunnybrook roles of advisor in the Office of the Patient Experience, working in EMAT (Emergency Medical Assistance Team), a clinical coordinator in Infection Prevention and Control, and most recently as a Risk Manager.

We have come to know Sue as her Risk Management colleagues, and every single day we learn from her more and more, and endeavor to lead by her example of putting the patient and the family first.  There are countless stories we can share about how Sue exemplifies the attributes of a true Nursing Hero, but we will focus on but a few that we believe showcase her tremendous heart, spirit and advocacy for every patient and family member she encounters.

Firstly, Sue is known lovingly to ALL staff in this building, no matter their role in the organization, as ever smiling and friendly. One cannot pass her in the hallways without her happily sharing a greeting and a simple expression of thanks to staff for the hard work they are doing, whatever that might be. However when it comes to patients, always a nurse at heart, Sue will inevitably stop to share a warm hello, funny joke, direct them to their appointment location and brighten their day just by virtue of the fact that she has the opportunity in front of her. We can hear her saying: “Why wouldn’t I stop? Meeting patients is the BEST part of my day! If they are here, that means they are going through so much already…and it’s our job to bring a little sunshine!”

As Risk Managers, much of our time is spent focused on developing hospital processes and improvements that enhance quality and safety for all of our patients. Through conducting quality reviews and managing everyday safety concerns brought forward by staff or patients’ families, Sue brings her unique nursing lens and knowledge to ensure that the health system within which we provide care is held to the highest standard of excellence. We also get unusual requests that Sue describes as challenges that do not necessarily fall under anyone else’s responsibility, therefore if it needs to be done for the betterment of the patient and family, she will do it, no hesitation. Examples include lost patient belongings and valuables, challenging legal, ethical and safety issues, locating a patient who may have gotten lost in the building, resolving unfolding conflicts and unanswered questions, and ensuring that someone’s rights to self-determination and decision making capacity are honored. If she sees a patient standing in line looking fatigued waiting for a clinic to open, Sue will immediately offer a chair or a hand, along with that great smile that tells people – SHE CARES for them as human beings.

What resonates with me the most is related to a concept we have in my culture known as “the ultimate kindness”- defined as a kindness which can never be reciprocated, i.e. after someone has passed away. When we think of nursing and healthcare, we often think of caring for the living of course. However for Sue, great care extends beyond a person’s death, by ensuring dignity and honored wishes. There are some very unfortunate situations where a deceased patient does not have any family to assist with burial plans. Sue takes it upon herself to ensure that these patients still have the very same opportunity for a dignified burial process as anyone else, by liaising directly with city officials and the Public Guardian and Trustee. She also takes great care to ensure that if there are any cultural or religious rituals associated with death and burial that these are fulfilled to the best of our ability.

When it comes to patient advocacy, whether she is at the bedside or in an administrative role, there is nothing she wouldn’t do to ensure transparency, safe care, empathy, and accountability. As many have heard her say : “This person is not just our patient, this is a human being, and all we need to think about right now is: what would WE want to happen if this was OUR family member?”

For those of us who are privileged know and work alongside Sue, we know she is a true friend and confidante.  Selfless and caring beyond belief.  She will pause and listen, lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on for anyone, regardless of who they are or where they come from.  Patients and families would come back to the ED many years after their healthcare event specifically to thank Sue.  They remember her unique ability connect with them as a person, and they share that this is what makes all the difference. This exemplifies a true nursing hero.

Nominated by Elise Goldberg, Risk Manager, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Bronwen Edgar, Director of Risk Management and Clinical Services Collingwood General and Marine Hospital (formerly at Sunnybrook)


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