The medical professionals we work with have a significant and direct influence on donation outcomes. Just as the geography and demographics of our vast service area differ from place to place, so does the donation experience. In an effort to celebrate the successes and highlight the unique obstacles of our donation partners, we interviewed leadership from around our region to ask why donation is important to them and what they enjoy most about living and working where they do. We are proud to feature Theresa Braungardt, Senior Vice President/Chief Nursing Officer, Valley Medical Center as our June “Leader in Donation”.

Valley Medical Center is the largest nonprofit healthcare provider between Seattle and Tacoma, serving over 600,000 residents. In addition to the hospital, the Medical Center operates a network of more than two dozen primary care, urgent care and specialty clinics throughout Southeast King County. Year to date, Valley has seen three organ donors and saved the lives of seven people through donation. This is already a big increase over 2017 in which they had only one organ donor. Theresa’s commitment to donation is a strong contributing factor to the recent improvement in their donation program.

What does organ and tissue donation mean to you? I think it means being able to offer our families the opportunity to give a gift to someone else in light of something really tragic happening. It’s a silver lining for them so that someone they love didn’t die for nothing. That they were able to help others.

Key point: Donation not only offers families hope but also offers healthcare providers some meaning in otherwise senseless deaths.

Why has your donation program been so successful? What drives you to make donation a priority in your hospitals? I think leadership is dedicated. We don’t have a lot of potential donors, but with the potentials we do have, we are able to make donation happen. It’s more important because we have small numbers. We keep it on our priority list. We don’t want to let any potential go unmet. I think that every time it comes up we want to do our very best.

Best practice: In hospitals where donation potential is minimal, a leadership team that is supportive and engaged in donation outcomes can influence bedside staff to prioritize donation so that no opportunity is lost.

What makes you most proud of working for Valley Medical Center and why? The team at Valley makes me very proud. Because we are aligned around the mission and serving the patients and families of this public hospital district. The teamwork is very good because of that. There is never a time when asked that people say, “I can’t, I won’t” “I don’t know how”, it’s “we’ll figure it out”. No matter what the challenge is! The teamwork here is outstanding.

Best practice: Teamwork and a “can do” attitude is critical to the success of a donation program. Hospitals that have this culture across the board see it impact the donation program in positive ways.

What is unique about healthcare in your region? South East King County is culturally diverse. We have a very large immigrant population and here are a lot people moving to this area. We seem to be seeing an increase in our ED visits, and Clinic, specialty, and primary visits have been climbing exponentially over the past five years that I’ve been here. We are seeing a lot more patients in this area. Not sure that’s completely different than other areas, but if you look at public hospital number one, the patients are very poor, very old and ill. Lots of people with chronic medical illness that surround the nucleus of the hospital. And I’d say for our district the 600K lives that we know of it is challenging and there are regions in our district that are more challenging. It’s a very different and more vulnerable patient demographic. It’s important that we have the best services for people who often can’t advocate for themselves.

What do you love about living in this community? I like going to Seattle but I love leaving it more. I love living away from the parking and traffic congestion. It’s important that we exist in Renton. Healthcare is local. When I talk to people in my community here, Valley is their hospital. There is a strong commitment, attachment, and loyalty to the people who utilize our clinics and all our services. Growing all those services is important because we bring that care locally. And, of course, our affiliation with the University of Washington offers the ability to refer patients for more highly specialized care, but if there are services we can provide locally, that is the best way to reach people without the hassle of driving another 45 minutes, paying for parking, and finding where they are going. It’s a much better option.