Lutheran Medical Center Associate CNO retires after 35 years of service
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and it seems like the perfect phrase to describe Sue McKellips’ retirement from Lutheran Medical Center. Sue dedicated her life to serving others, and spent 35 of her 50 years in the field of nursing at Lutheran, where she took outstanding care of her patients and those around her.
When Sue was 12 years old, she would grocery shop with her mother and since it was a small town at the time, she would always see nurses while she was there. She recognized their white uniforms and Lutheran badges and told her mom that one day she was going to be one of them. After college, she applied at Lutheran, but was told they weren’t hiring new grads. As a result, Sue worked the first 10 years of her career on Telemetry and then on Pediatrics in a hospital in Denver. When Pediatrics at that hospital closed, she decided to apply at Lutheran. Her perseverance paid off in March 1987, when she was hired as a clinical nurse in Telemetry.
Over the years, Sue has held a variety of nursing positions, including many leadership roles. She was a primary preceptor for new caregivers, an SSC on Telemetry, then the Manager of Telemetry for 15 years, and for the next five years, the Director of Nursing, Acute Care Services. Most recently, she served as the Interim Associate Chief Nursing Officer.
“Working at Lutheran has been an amazing honor,” said Sue. “Thirty five years has gone by so fast and I’m grateful to have been part of an organization that allowed me to grow in ways I never thought possible. We’re truly a family here and this place has been my home away from home.”
Grant Wicklund, Lutheran President and CEO, recalls the time when Sue was one of the first people to seek him out when he started at Lutheran in 2010, telling him that she needed something for her patients. She took him on a tour of her unit to show him the aging, unreliable and defective old TVs in patient rooms that needed to be replaced.
When he told her it wasn’t in the budget, Sue said, “Okay, I’m going to have to remind you about this every time I see you, though.” He knew she meant it, and he found a way. Over time, she pressed him to provide other important upgrades on the units, including lighting, new floors, new paint and more, all because she needed it for her patients.
“I love that about her,” Grant added. “We should all be more like Sue, every day.”
Sue says the thing she likes most about working at Lutheran is the people. “There’s such a wide diversity of people with a variety of ages, backgrounds and experience levels, but everyone is here for the same mission and purpose, and that is to take care of our patients,” she said. “We all want to provide the best care possible to patients and to the community. I love how collaborative our providers are. You don’t have to look far to see opportunities all around you, and there’s always a space to challenge yourself and to grow.”
One of the biggest things Sue says she’ll miss is the long-term relationships she’s formed with her teams and with leadership over her decades of service.
“Our senior leaders are so committed to us and what they do here,” Sue said. “They’re unbelievably responsive and present, and support us in so many ways.”
Grant echoed the sentiment, saying, “Sue epitomizes the culture here. I knew when I first met her that she would be kind, smiling, gentle and relentless in doing the right things for patients. I have been a fan ever since.”
Like all healthcare workers, COVID-19 had a dramatic impact on the work Sue and her team did. “It was an extraordinary challenge for everyone on earth,” she explained. “We learned during that time that none of us knew what tomorrow would bring and that it takes an entire team working together to get through it. It made us stronger because we really rallied together, and people from all different departments stepped in to help.”
One of Sue’s proudest career accomplishments was bringing the inpatient teams together to work as one cohesive unit. “We built this remarkable team,” she said. “All the units used to be separated and it took five or six years to fully change that, but the barriers were finally removed. Now, all the members of the inpatient units are represented equally and we all take care of each other because we know we’re all here for the same reason. I hope that never goes away, even long after I’m gone.”
When asked what advice she would give to new nurses starting out in the field, Sue said, “Don’t be afraid and know you’re never alone. You need to ask questions and lean on each other. If you don’t know the answer to something, no one is going to think any less of you. You’re all on the same team and you’re safe here.”
Sue admits retirement will be an adjustment. After all, it will be the first time in her adult life that she’ll have nothing to do workwise, but says that her first order of business will be to learn how to become comfortable with that. She and her husband, Nick, have several trips planned in the coming months across the country and to Canada and she’s very much looking forward to her first vacation where she can fully relax.
“To all the caregivers I’ve worked with throughout my long career, thank you,” Sue said. “It doesn’t feel like thank you is enough, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your undying commitment to our patients and our community and for the hard work you do every single day. You all work magic every time you walk through our doors. Keep up the great work.”