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UTHSC Nurse Leader Honored And Humbled to Be Chief Nursing Officer for Alternate-Care COVID-19 Hospital

Terri Stewart, second from left, who is the chief nursing officer for the region’s alternate-care COVID-19 hospital, speaks with UT System President Randy Boyd during a tour of the building May 18. UTHSC College of Nursing Dean Wendy Likes is to her left, and Dr. Regan Williams, associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at UTHSC and medical director of trauma at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, who was instrumental during the planning of the hospital, is at far right.

Terri Stewart, MSN, RN, retired once as a chief nursing officer (CNO), but she has been called upon to take on the CNO role again as Memphis prepares an alternate-care hospital to accommodate a possible surge in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart is a nursing instructor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Nursing, and her 42-year nursing career includes more than 25 years at Baptist Memorial Hospital and nearly eight years as a CNO of Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis.

“This is my time to give back to nursing. Nursing has been a wonderful profession,” Stewart said.  “I believe that every opportunity you have in life prepares you for the next challenge that you face. This is my opportunity to give back to nursing and give back to the community.”

The 401-bed, alternate-care hospital built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the former Commercial Appeal building at 495 Union Avenue was completed on May 18. UTHSC was charged with providing the medical and nursing leadership. Richard Walker, MD, from UTHSC, will serve as the medical director and chief executive officer, and Stewart will be the CNO.

Stewart received her nursing diploma from the Baptist School of Nursing, attained her BSN at Union University, and earned her MSN at UTHSC College of Nursing, where she now is a faculty member who teaches leadership.

When Nursing Dean Wendy Likes, PhD, DNSc, APRN-Bc, FAANP, was asked to provide a CNO for the field hospital, she thought of Stewart.

“I immediately knew who the right person would be,” Dr. Likes said. “Terri has a great skill at leading and participating in teams and has real world practical experience that is essential to this operation. She was a CNO during the time of Ebola and spearheaded the hospital’s emergency plans. We are fortunate to have her on faculty and to have someone of her level leading the alternate-care hospital facility.”

Stewart said, “I felt very honored and humbled that she felt like I had the knowledge and ability to do this.”

Stewart’s career has included a wide variety of roles, such as head nurse and nurse manager in oncology, nurse manager in home health and hospice, director of a hospital’s staffing office and ancillary services, ACNO, and CNO. “I have had the privilege of being in leadership positions since very early in my nursing career,” she said.

The role of CNO encompasses all aspects of patient care. “When I was CNO (at St. Francis) I used to laugh because the CEO would say, ‘You all report to Terri.’ Anything that touches a patient falls under the CNO’s jurisdiction, even though that person did not directly report to me.  This just underscores the importance of the role in nursing in health care.”

Stewart, left, unpacks supplies for the hospital with Diane Pace, a professor and the director of Special Academic Programs for the UTHSC College of Nursing.

As part of the leadership team for the facility, Stewart is responsible for a vast array of details. “The medical team is having to make a multitude of decisions because we are building a hospital from scratch,” she said.

Stewart said she is grateful to serve during this time of crisis.

“At end of the day, it’s not about me. It’s about the patients and about the staff who are going to go into that hospital, if we open it, to take care of the patients,” she said. “My role as CNO is to remove barriers, make sure that the patients receive the care that they need, and make sure that the staff have what they need to take care of the patients safely.”