SafeWorks Illinois and North Bay Health Systems has established an occupational health nursing award in honor of Wanda Ellithorpe-Fletcher, RN BSN COHN-S, who was tragically killed in a motor vehicle collision in September 2019, that will be given out at the annual NAOHP national conference.
A cash prize of $1000 will be given to the recipient of this annual award that honors Wanda’s passion and drive to grow the occupational health industry as an occupational health nurse manger.
The award will recognize an occupational health nurse that provides exemplary leadership with emphasis on administration of the occupational health program and its associated roles as Clinician, Manager, Educator, Consultant and Case Manager.
For three decades, Wanda Ellithorpe-Fletcher, BSN, COHN-S, was an innovator and leader in the field of occupational health. She broke the glass ceiling for nurses and proved that nurses have the leadership skills and business acumen to fill C-suite positions beyond chief nursing officers in the healthcare industry. Grounded in 10 years of critical care nursing in multiple hospitals, Wanda and David Fletcher started Midwest Occupational Health Associates (MOHA) in 1989 in Decatur, Illinois. Their start-up of their private occupational health practice was assisted by Frank Leone and NAOHP.
Wanda’s innovation and leadership led MOHA to become the first clinic in the United States to utilize the cutting-edge STOLAS operating system for occupational health practice management which included electronic records and disability management tracking. After three years in business, MOHA was serving more than 300 employers in Central Illinois offering pre-employment physicals, periodic employee physicals, Federal Aviation Administration exams, HAZMAT surveillance exams, commercial driver medical exams, drug testing, injury care and other services.
In 1992, Wanda created a mobile medical unit to provide onsite services in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana to help companies decrease the cost and time associated with worker absences for health screening. When Wanda left MOHA to return to her native California, MOHA had grown to 40 employees and she was well respected by client companies and known as a valuable mentor and a creative problem solver.
In 2005, Wanda left MOHA to move back to her native California to serve as Occupational Health Nurse Manager at Campbell’s Soup in Sacramento, where she managed occupational health services for more than 900 employees and contractors and led a team of 6 medical technicians and 2 physical therapists. At the plant, Wanda was able to utilize her nursing skills and regularly held office hours at all hours of the day (and night) to treat patients recovering from injuries. Under her leadership, she reduced injuries by 70 % and saved the plant approximately $1.2 million dollars in workers’ compensation costs.
For the last six years of her career, Wanda was the Practice Manager at NorthBay Medical Center in Northern California. She oversaw its Occupational Health, Employee Health, Orthopedic and Pain Management Services in Fairfield and Vacaville, California. Under Wanda’s leadership the Occupational Health business at NorthBay flourished. Wanda led her team to realize triple digit grown in patient volumes, surgical procedure volume and ancillary services from Occupational Health. Wanda’s multi-disciplinary focus tailored to the needs of the patients and employers led to embedding a neurosurgeon within the practice. An innovator, she implemented a rapid return to work program helping to keep employees engaged within the workplace.
Wanda was a role model to all that she worked with from her staff to those she reported to. She had a collaborative leadership style and inspired her team to take risks knowing that she would be there to support them. She was gregarious and always willing to roll up her sleeves and do whatever needed to be done. Wanda epitomized a growth mindset and could teach herself anything, both in the workplace and generally in life. She never stopped learning and adopting innovative ideas and technology to improve patient care.
Wanda earned an Associate Degree in Nursing from Triton College (1979), a BSN from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1989), a certification in Occupational Health Nursing and Applied Ergonomics (COHN-S) in 1995, and a certification Applied Ergonomics in 2008.
Nominations for the Wanda Ellithorpe-Fletcher nursing award can be sent to NAOHP.