Driving Patient Care



Heidi Waters strokes the head of a six-day-old baby who sleepily stretches his legs as he lies cradled in his father’s arms.

The nurse Case Manager, who helped the newborn’s parents in her role as Lactation Counselor, smiles at the little boy and celebrates with his new mom and dad their transition to being first-time parents.

Later that day she’ll meet with an elderly woman’s relatives, helping to coordinate care that will help the patient make the transition from hospital to home with the services she needs. Every day is different for the nurse Case Manager at the Sanford Vermillion Hospital, but one factor is always the same.

“You have to look at the whole patient and see the whole picture,” says Waters. “I have the resolve to find that information, to do my research and be able to find what I need to do my best for each patient.”

Serving “at home”

Waters, who has spent nearly her entire nursing career with Sanford Health in Vermillion, loves working in her home community, often in ways that utilize all of her skills. She builds bridges as a liaison between families and medical staff, helps expectant parents and new moms and assists her colleagues to provide the best type of care they can for their friends and neighbors.

“There’s something about being in your home, your community,” Waters says. “Living in a small community is comfortable and I get to help give that comfort back by taking care of these people.”

She tracks some of her earliest interest in the career to the birth of a younger sibling. When she was 11 years old, she came to visit the new baby born early at 32 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. Although it was a little scary, it was also fascinating to see the hospital procedures and nurses at work, she said.

“I was mesmerized by everything in the NICU,” she says. “I loved the washing of the hands and putting on gowns. It made a big impression.”

When Waters was in high school in rural Nebraska, she was inspired by her school nurse to think about a career in the field. That nurse allowed Waters to shadow her, which helped her decide between nursing and teaching as a career.

While she was still in her teens she took a job as a housekeeper in a nursing home, going on to get her certified nursing assistant certification. The job helped “solidify” her decision, giving her experience that led her to know that nursing was the right field for her to pursue.

Different every day

After graduating with her nursing degree from the University of South Dakota she’s done many things and enjoyed them all, she said. She worked in obstetrics helping deliver new babies and teach childbirth classes. For six years she also taught a class at Vermillion High School designed to help students learn more about health careers.

For the past four years, Waters has served as a nurse case manager. The job utilizes all of the skills she’s learned over the years in different roles in the hospital. She coordinates clinical plans for patients, making calls to insurance companies, reassuring families and communicating with doctors, therapists and other caregivers.

“It is a challenging position, but I enjoy my part of it,” Waters said. “I see my role as the person who looks at it all and makes sure every part of the puzzle fits.”

Waters also coordinates the hospital’s swing bed program, which provides acute skilled care for a hospital patient who has been officially discharged after their stay, but needs further rehabilitation or recuperative care before they can move to a new facility or return home. She helped lead the hospital’s transition to electronic medical records, a system that is very helpful for a small regional facility, she said.

An expanding role

Waters and her colleagues are often the face and the hands that patients rely on in the hospital room, but they are also increasingly involved with decision making and helping get patients the services they need, the nursing leader says.

“We really are the coordinators of care,” Waters said. “We work with an entire medical team, but today’s nurse is the driver of safe, reliable patient centered patient care.”

Over the years, she’s been touched by the way her care becomes part of life’s most important moments. On any given day, nurses are there to assist with and witness births or deaths, she says.

“It’s an incredible responsibility to be part of this all,” Waters says. “This is the reason I do this.”

Posted Date: October 2012

Driving Patient Care

Nurse case manager Heidi Waters helps make the pieces of the puzzle fit for patients at Sanford Vermillion Hospital. She has a dedication and resolve to provide the best care possible to everyone in her home community.