‘Strong and brave’
Kari Jones leads UnityPoint nurses
When Kari Jones stepped into the role of chief nursing executive at UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge in July 2020, she was worried that she may not be able to have the same impact on patients as she did when she was a nurse.
But then one of her colleagues reminded her that her leadership skills as a CNE could affect even more patients.
“I really missed the contact with patients and feeling like I really affected the care and she reminded me that as a nurse leader you affect more patients,” Jones said. “It’s not just the one right in front of you, it’s the processes you implement and the leaders you lead. That really resonated with me and I hope to have a positive effect on many patients.”
Jones, a Rockwell City native, has been a nurse for about 27 years. It’s the career path she believes was her true calling.
“I come from a long line of nurses,” she said. “My grandma, mom, sister, sister-in-law, are all nurses. I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. I would listen to my grandma talk about being a nurse — there was just never a doubt that’s what I wanted to do with my career.”
But to be sure, Jones took a nursing assistant course through Stewart Memorial Community Hospital when she was in high school.
“I wanted to be sure it was work I could do and I absolutely loved it,” Jones said.
After graduating from Rockwell City- Lytton High School, she attended North Iowa Community College in Mason City for two years to earn her general education credits. Next, she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Iowa in 1994. She is currently enrolled at the University of Phoenix, where she plans to earn her master’s degree in nursing in November.
Prior to working at UnityPoint, Jones worked at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital in Lake City beginning in 2001. Her experience there included director of home care and hospice. She also served as director of nursing before becoming chief nursing officer about five years ago.
Jones, now of Twin Lakes, said she likes the size of the hospital in Fort Dodge.
“One of the things I have found to be incredibly important are focus values,” Jones said. “I really like the focus values UnityPoint has as an organization.”
Fostering unity, owning the moment and championing excellence, are just a few examples of those focus values.
“I think quality outcomes and best practices are vital for our patients,” Jones said. “Championing excellence is so important.”
She’s impressed with the resources available to nurses. And the size of the hospital still allows her time with patients.
“I have enjoyed the work as a system,” Jones said. “It’s been fantastic to have so many resources available to us. To still have it be an organization that is small enough to round on patients or get to know patients has been really exciting for me.
“In this role it’s about leading the nursing staff so we do the best for our patients every day. I like that UnityPoint is small enough that I still get a lot of patient interaction. I am very involved in our patient experience.”
According to Jones, good nurses demonstrate kindness, compassion and empathy.
“I think you have to be strong and brave,” she said.
Jones said the nurses at UnityPoint have been especially brave throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nurses are the eyes and ears for providers at the bedside,” she said. “They provide compassion and empathy for patients. They care for those patients’ families. Nurses provide care when patients are sick. They are care coordinators, collaborators.
“This last year of COVID, we have found how great and strong our nursing teams are. Nurses are advocates for patients and families to help them through whatever illness they have. This last year, we have had so many moments where nurses have made a difference with our patients, especially in critical care — patients who were positive for COVID and were thankful for the care our team provided. We were able to vaccinate our own staff members and patients as well.”
Jones credits the staff for their hard work during the pandemic.
“We have implemented all the treatments our patients need all while wearing face masks, shields, gowns and gloves,” she said.
Jones said the best part of nursing is time spent with patients.
“Just recently in my patient experience role, I sat with a patient while they waited for a surgical procedure,” she said. “We visited and looked at pictures. It was a very touching, fun moment to be able to connect with a patient in that way. Help spend some time with them so it went a little faster.”
Jones said her nursing background has been valuable not just at work but in other settings.
“There’s been many times in my life I felt like I was the right person in the right place at the right time,” she said. “And many times because I was a nurse.”
One of the more difficult but rewarding aspects as a nurse is being there for someone at the end of life.
“There’s times when patient outcomes aren’t what we want them to be,” she said. “Sometimes it’s shedding tears with your patients or holding hands with them during those difficult times. I think for all nurses the most difficult time is when the outcome is not what the patients or families were wanting them to be. Those times can also be rewarding because you can provide the reassurance or the care that patient needed.”
Because of her experience, Jones was able to help her own mother-in-law at the end of her life.
“I was able to care for my mother-in-law,” Jones said. “She passed in 2018. I was able to care for her at the end of life because I was a nurse. I’ve always felt really passionate about caring for people. And I really feel like I was called to do this work.”