The Emergency Department at the Milwaukee VA has been named one of the best in the country by the Emergency Nurses Association.

Milwaukee VA is among 29 emergency departments honored with the prestigious Lantern Award, which is dedicated to showcasing emergency departments for their outstanding work.

Milwaukee VA is the only hospital in Wisconsin to earn the honor

“This is a huge honor,” said Andrea Sharbutt, nurse education coordinator. “It shows our commitment by our staff to provide high-quality patient care.”

“It’s so prestigious,” said Mary Degenhardt, assistant nurse manager. “It really speaks to our staff and all the changes that have taken place. We’ve all done it for the right reasons.”

The Emergency Nurses Association Lantern Award was created to recognize emergency departments that demonstrate exceptional and innovative performance in leadership, practice, education, advocacy and research.

Culmination of years of work

At Milwaukee VA, the award is the culmination of years of work at improving the Emergency Department and creating a culture that embraces change and continuing education.

Ben Thelen, program manager for the Emergency Department said the award criteria looks at a number of areas, including:

  • Quality of care for patients.
  • Innovation and excellence in nursing.
  • Patient flow: making sure patients are seen efficiently and in a timely manner.
  • Education: keeping current staff trained on the latest processes and techniques, and also training new staff.
  • Leadership: not only by supervisors but by staff as well.
  • Advocacy and community outreach.
  • Research.

Multi-year journey

“It’s been a multi-year journey to get here,” Thelen said, noting it was about two years ago – when the COVID pandemic was at its height – that he knew the department was worthy of the award. “Our staff really stepped up and did a phenomenal job, taking care of patients and continuing to improve their own practice. They kept getting better. The outcomes they provide to patients are the best.”

Thelen said collaboration among everyone in the department – including health techs, doctors, social workers and mental health experts – made it possible.

Emergency Department nurses agreed, saying the team approach and family atmosphere make the department a special place to work. “We love to laugh and crack jokes, but when a patient comes in who is critical, it’s like a bumblebee effect: We all go in and work well together,” said nurse Tanya Rutherford.v“And respect is a really big thing. We respect each other and respect what we do in taking care of the Veterans. They are truly number one.”

“Teamwork is a huge dynamic here and a big factor in the award,” assistant nurse manager Degenhardt said. “There isn’t a better team out there.”

“We love nursing and we love Veterans.”

Continuous education is now ingrained in the department. Nurses research and learn new processes and procedures and share them with their colleagues. There’s an atmosphere of speaking up when problems arise. And the staffers readily support one another.

Kami Fritz, a registered nurse who pushed for better care for female Veterans, said the department has changed radically, and all for the better.

“It’s crazy to think how different it is now to when I first got here four years ago,” she said. “Everyone’s pretty engaged. They like working here and they want to be here. In our department, if you run into a barrier, you can change that. When you have people around you making change, you can do that. And you just keep doing that, and it rubs off on other people. We love nursing. We love Veterans, so we work at the VA emergency department, where you get to do that 24 hours a day.”

By David Walter

Public affairs specialist, Milwaukee VA

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Published on Aug. 3, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3 min.

Views to date: 578


  1. Mark Foreman August 20, 2022 at 5:12 pm


  2. Robert Kelly August 9, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    This is an excellent article. Before moving to Kaukauna / Appleton Wisconsin I was patient at the Milwaukee hospital; this article adds to how great the Milwaukee system is.

  3. Stephanie Black August 5, 2022 at 8:28 am

    Congratulations from the Durham VAHCS! We hope to follow in your footsteps one day as we are just starting our journey.

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