Newton Medical Center’s Karen Lehman, DNP, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, was recently named as a recipient of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners' 2018 State Award for Excellence. Lehman was honored at an awards ceremony and reception held during the AANP 2018 National Conference.

"It came as a complete shock and surprise for be to be named as an honoree from the state of Kansas," Lehman said.

The State Award for Nurse Practitioner Excellence recognizes nurse practitioners who demonstrate excellence in practice.

"A nurse practitioner is a nurse who went on for advanced training," Lehman said. "...It allows us to function at a higher level; it allows us to diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, order tests and consult other providers. We're part of the comprehensive health care team that includes physicians, physician's assistants, nurses, aides, the whole gamut. We work together to provide the best care possible for our patients."

Lehman became a personal trainer and gymnastics coach after attending college.

"I realized I was missing something. I wanted to know more about anatomy and physiology, I wanted to help people more than what I was doing as a personal trainer," Lehman said.

Lehman went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Bethel College and completed her Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner Program, from Wichita State University. In December 2017, Lehman earned her Doctorate of Nursing Practice, also from Wichita State University.

Lehman started working at NMC's emergency room in 2007 and joined the hospitalist department in 2011.

"My primary role is I take care of hospitalized patients. I see them every day," Lehman said. "I see them when they come in and then follow up with them and see how they're doing."

Lehman also co-developed the "Right on Track" transitional care program, which evaluates high-risk patients to identify barriers to achieving optimal health and reduce hospital readmission.

"I will go to people's houses if they're at high risk for being readmitted to the hospital, because that carries very large penalties for the hospital and health care system, not to mention reduced quality of life for the patients," Lehman said.

Going to a patient's home gives Lehman a chance to observe factors affecting their health.

"That not only includes a physical exam but also an assessment on their environment and looking beyond just the person and maybe looking into some social determinants of health or some other qualities that may affect their ability to maintain their health status," Lehman said.

Looking at a patient's pantry to see what they are eating, watching them check their blood pressure, and seeing how medications are taken are a few things Lehman notes during the assessment.

"Very simple things can sometimes make a world of difference," Lehman said.

The home visit can also give Lehman an opportunity to spot the early stages of health problems and coordinate with a patient's doctors for an earlier response.

"Usually, I know the patient from the hospital stay, so it makes it very easy," Lehman said.

Lehman also works with the hospital’s home health agency and case management department to help patients plan ahead for medical care by completing advance directives.

"I can talk with people about that in the comfort of their own home," Lehman said. "I think it's huge to do it at home, and not in the hospital, where stress is already very high."

Lehman's nomination also recognized her work with other organizations in the community.

"I work fairly closely with Newton Fire/EMS and have helped them create some of their protocols for care...and done some education with them with their fall prevention program," Lehman said. "It makes more sense for us to partner up in prevention efforts and keep people healthy in their home versus having them suffer a fall and potentially never going back home again."

Being at a smaller hospital not only gives her the opportunity to partner with other community organizations, it also promotes a camaraderie with other employees.

"I really appreciate that I know all of the faces here. I can walk into the cafeteria and call them by their names. I know almost every single person who works here and they all greet me with a smile," Lehman said. "...It's almost like we're our own family and we take care of the patient and their family all the better for it."

“Karen is a huge asset to Newton Medical Center,” said Heather Porter, NMC’s chief clinical officer. “She continually searches for ways to address patients’ needs, before, during and after a hospital stay or emergency room visit. We are proud to see Karen nationally recognized for her work."

"I'm very grateful that I work here, where it seems there's a never-ending supply of support and well wishes from everybody," Lehman said. "It's very much appreciated."