Rhonda Aihara, a Perinatal Services/Labor and Delivery nurse at Northern Inyo Healthcare District (NIHD), was named the healthcare facility’s 2016 winner of the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses.
The recognition is part of an annual international program honoring nurses for clinical skills and compassionate care.
Aihara, clearly humbled by the honor, said she feels she could share the award with a number of “incredibly fabulous and fantastic nurses who equally deserve such recognition. Each one has their own special touch and their own compassionate heart, and they think nothing of going above and beyond for our patients. I am honored to be able to stand beside them.”
For Aihara, nursing has been a way of life for the past 37 years. She says she knew at age seven that she wanted to be a nurse. She credits her mother, a Licensed Vocational Nurse who cared for burn patients at the UC Irvine Medical Center, with inspiring her to follow in her footsteps. “I think I subconsciously decided to take the same path she did,” Aihara said. “As a child, I remember wisps and shades of stories she told about her patients and how she cared for them. Her compassion for her patients affected me.”
Aihara began her career at UC Irvine, working first with trauma patients before moving into Labor and Delivery, serving almost 15 years in each department. She retired from UC Irvine in 2008 and discovered she had more to give. She became a traveling nurse.
“I can still hear my recruiter telling me about NIH,” she said. “My recruiter said, “it’s this little, tiny place in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if you’d be interested.’”
Aihara was more than interested. She fell in love with the Eastern Sierra corridor as a young woman and jumped at the chance to call Bishop her home. She joined the hospital and worked as a “traveler” for one year, the longest term she could work under that job title. She was required then to take three months off.
“It was the best year of my life, I mean, I woke up every day in God’s County,” Aihara said. When a full-time position became available, she quickly applied and has been at the hospital ever since. “I’m living the dream I had three decades ago,” she said. “Every day I wake up here is a gift; living here is a joy.”
The DAISY award honors the super-human work nurses do for patients every day, explained Tracy Aspel, NIHD’s Acting Chief Nursing Officer. Patients and their families, as well as other nurses within the organization, nominate nurses for the DAISY award. In Aihara’s case, two patients nominated her for the honor.
In a letter to NIHD, one of the patients called Aihara “one of the most compassionate persons I have ever met.” The letter went on to say that Aihara’s “every act and word is intentionally kind, empathetic and truly without pretense. I know her job must be difficult on many levels, but she sets her heart into action just as readily as she does her hands. Her heart is beautiful.”
The second letter detailed the care Aihara gave a young patient, including twice being called in from home to assist with the child’s care.
“She did not have to do the kind things she had done for (us), but she did,” the letter said. “She treated us like she truly cared about our (child). She went above and beyond for our (child) and put (our child’s) needs above hers. She showed us and talked to us and treated us like family, and that means everything to me. I cannot say enough about Rhonda. This letter does not explain half of what Rhonda has done for our family. She is an inspiration to us. I’m glad Northern Inyo Hospital has nurses like Rhonda.”
As Aspel read the letters to those assembled at the hospital for the DAISY presentation, her emotions became visible, her voice cracking. “I don’t mean to get emotional, but I am touched because this is what makes Northern Inyo special, it has a team that cares about patients and who put patients first,” Aspel said.
Also nominated for the DAISY award were Emergency Department nurses Brenda Brewer and Cindy Knight; Acute/SubAcute Nurses Brent Obinger, Ron Daywalt and Sasha Smith; Post-Anesthesia Care Unit/Outpatient Infusion nurses Cathy Chuey and Oscar Morales, and; Intensive Care Unit nurses Jane Steele and Scotty Vincik. Aspel said all nominees are given a special DAISY pin and most wear them on their hospital employee badges.
Previous DAISY Award nurses at NIHD include Christine Hanley (2012), Joey Zappia (2013), Deborah Earls (2014) and Diane Stevens (2015). Northern Inyo Healthcare District has been recognized as a DAISY organization since 2013.
Aihara received a certificate of recognition; a DAISY Award pin; a sculpture entitled “A Healer’s Touch,” which is hand-carved from serpentine stone by artists of the Shona Tribe in Zimbabwe; and, a DAISY Award tote bag.
The presentation was the kickoff to the hospital’s observation of National Nurses Week, May 6-12, and National Hospital Week, May 9-13.
DAISY is an acronym for Diseases Attacking the Immune System. The DAISY Award is part of the DAISY Foundation’s efforts to recognize the super-human efforts nurses make in direct care of patients and patient families every day. The not-for-profit DAISY Foundation, based in Glen Ellen, Calif., was established by family members in memory of J. Patrick Barnes.
Barnes died in 1999 at the age of 33 from an autoimmune disease. The care Barnes and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired the award as a means of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patient families.
About Northern Inyo Healthcare District: Founded in 1946, Northern Inyo Healthcare District features a 25-bed critical access hospital, a 24-hour emergency department, a primary care rural health clinic, a diagnostic imaging center, and clinics specializing in women’s health, orthopedics and neurology, pediatrics and allergies and general surgery. Continually striving to improve the health outcomes of those who rely on its services, Northern Inyo Healthcare District aims to improve our communities one life at a time. One team, one goal, your health.