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PICU Wins Beacon Award for Excellence from American Association of Critical-Care Nurses 

By Annie Oeth

UMMC Communications

Children’s of Mississippi’s pediatric intensive care unit is a beacon for the state’s ill and injured children and their families. Now the title is official. 

Providing high-quality care in a healthy work environment won the PICU an American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Beacon Award for Excellence—Silver Level—the only PICU earning the status in Mississippi and one of 20 in the country. The honor is open to adult and pediatric intensive care and acute care units in the U.S. and abroad. 

Children’s of Mississippi stands among other well-known children’s hospitals, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital in holding the Beacon designation. 

Among the PICU team members at Children’s of Mississippi are, from left, registered nurse Lauren Gordon; Wesley Smith, director of nursing children’s hospital services in the PICU and the Pediatric Emergency Department; nurse educator Colbie Baird; and nurse manager Gordon Gartrell.

“We are so proud of the care our PICU team provides every day,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair and professor of pediatrics, whose medical specialty is pediatric critical care. “Having the Beacon Award designation recognizes excellence in health care and the workplace environment and teamwork that makes that possible.”

The PICU, part of the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower, is one of only 33 PICUs in the country recognized with the honor. Of those 33 PICUs, 20 hold the silver Beacon Award for Excellence. Recognition is for a three-year term. 

“The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes the expertise of our professional nurses and the high-quality patient care they provide every shift in our PICU,” said Ellen Hansen, chief nursing and clinical services officer at Children’s of Mississippi. “Our nurse leadership support of our highly skilled front-line nurses and our culture of excellence are essential to providing the best care for our patients, an important reason we achieved this honor.” 

The PICU won at the award’s silver level, demonstrating continuous learning and the presence of effective systems to achieve optimal patient care. The award also has bronze and gold levels.  

The award is a first for the PICU. “To achieve the silver level Beacon Award on our first application is an honor,” said PICU nurse manager Gordon Gartrell. “When we reapply for the Beacon Award in 2026, we’re going for gold.” 

To be eligible to receive the Beacon Award, a unit must report defined criteria in patient outcomes, work environment and nursing workforce. 

“Receiving the Beacon Award for Excellence demonstrates the teams’ commitment to providing safe, patient-centered, and evidence-based care to our most critically ill patients and their families,” said Wesley Smith, director of nursing children’s hospital services in the PICU and the Pediatric Emergency Department. 

Smith and Gartrell said the unit’s 18-month application process included gathering information on patient care and satisfaction, quality metrics, staffing, employee recognition, our leadership structure and more. 

From left, accelerated bachelor of science in nursing student Julianne Deweese and registered nurses Emily Wade, Rebekah Scitzs and Ben Tarver collaborate during a PICU shift.

“One of the things I am proudest of is that our application was a group effort that involved our nursing team,” Gartrell said. “Charge nurses gathered data and answered questions, which were reviewed by Wesley and me. We all worked on the application together, and it was written by all of us.” 

The application process starts with the completion of the Healthy Work Environment Assessment Tool, which measures units in communication skills, collaboration, decision-making, appropriate staffing, meaningful recognition and authentic leadership. 

AACN President Dr. Amanda Bettencourt praised the efforts of the 185 units across the country that achieved the Beacon Award for Excellence 

“During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beacon units were truly a light showing the way forward, as these teams demonstrated an ongoing and steadfast commitment to providing safe, patient-centered and evidence-based care to patients and families,” she said. “This achievement is not only a tremendous honor, but it also provides meaningful recognition of their efforts to achieve excellence in patient care and create a healthy work environment.” 

Results from AACN’s most recent national nurse work environment study show that nurses who work in Beacon units and units obtaining Beacon recognition report healthier work environments and higher quality of patient care than nurses who don’t work in Beacon units.

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