Caring for Alaska’s kids: Meet the team at ANMC

SPONSORED: Celebrating the nurses who help support Alaska kids and families when a health crisis hits.

Presented by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

There is no typical day at Alaska Native Medical Center’s (ANMC) inpatient pediatric unit. Kids may arrive with sports injuries or illnesses, infants come in from the maternity ward – or a patient may need help with their homework.

Pediatric nurses and support staff help care for their patients, their families, and each other, whatever the situation. In May, ANTHC celebrated National Nurses’ Week in honor of its teams. Now, four people who serve ANMC’s inpatient pediatrics patients discuss what it means to support Alaska’s kids and what drives staff to care so deeply for them.

Andrea Akerelea, Clinical Nurse Manager

Clinical Nurse Manager Andrea Akerelrea calls pediatrics “the best place to work.”

She has worked in ANMC’s pediatrics unit for 15 years. “I love being able to connect with the patients and families,” she said. “I’m making a difference for the people we serve.”

ANTHC - 6/21/22

ANMC has a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and a newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Akerelrea helps oversee roughly 90 people on staff. The team has overlapping responsibilities and shared workloads, she said. As a result, everyone, from nurses and lactation consultants to housekeeping and security, dramatically impacts patients’ quality of care.

Teamwork is everything. “Nothing would get done without it,” Akerelrea said.

Ruby Clark, RN and Clinical Shift Supervisor

Resident Nurse and Clinical Shift Supervisor Ruby Clark “can’t imagine not doing pediatrics” after spending 16 years in the field.

Clark moved to Alaska from Houston, Texas, in June 2018. She loves to garden during the summer while being followed around her yard by her four redland chickens. She enjoys the open space and slower pace of life in Anchorage.

“I’ve been able to focus on things I find important,” she said of living in Alaska.

Clark, 39, began working at ANMC as a bedside nurse. Six months ago, she was promoted to clinical shift supervisor. In this role, she works 12-hour shifts, overseeing the transition from day to night shift nurses. She’s there to answer questions, help with patient intake and discharge, and ensure nurses, patients, and families have all the necessary resources.

About half of her time is spent as an RN, giving direct care to patients and filling in as needed. “Even if it’s as small as making sure people have their lunches, or playing with the kid when the parents are out of the room, or the nurse is away,” she said.

For Clark, working with children is profoundly rewarding.

“Kids are so resilient,” Clark said. “They can confront horrible circumstances with an illness or injury, and they either just kind of adapt and overcome it or they bounce back so quickly it’s hard to believe they had any problem in the first place.”

The team at ANMC is phenomenal, Clark said, full of caring, compassionate nurses and staff.

ANTHC - 6/21/22

“The kids are the patient and we’re their advocates and their voice,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many great people.”

Alexa Williams, CNA

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Alexa Williams worked in Anchorage’s retail industry while attending a CNA program in pursuit of her goals. Her parents worked in the health care industry, and she loves kids, so pediatrics was a natural fit.

As a CNA, Williams helps patients with daily needs like vital signs, minor procedures – and homework.

“Because we work in pediatrics, we do things that CNAs in other areas of the hospital never do,” Williams said. Schoolwork, supporting siblings and keeping patients company are all part of the job. In addition, she enjoys helping patients who have a wide range of ages and development.

“We are really privileged in our unit because we get to witness all these really cool stages of life,” she said. Williams said that when caring for newborns, much of the support goes toward the parents.

School-age children may need help understanding what is going on. Teenagers “bring a different flavor to the unit,” Williams said. They want providers and staff to treat them like adults.

The staff at inpatient pediatrics love all the good times – but it also means that families can be devastated when a patient’s health declines, which can also impact staff.

“We do have a lot of fun with our patients and our patients bring us a lot of joy. But there are also some really difficult moments,” Williams said. That means supporting each other and adapting to changing needs is even more critical. It’s one aspect that the team excels at, Williams said.

Judson Colburn, MSN, RN, Director of Inpatient Pediatrics

Director of Inpatient Pediatrics Judson Colburn worked at an Alabama children’s hospital before moving to Alaska in 2021.

As director of the unit, Colburn takes pride in helping teach tomorrow’s nurses. Nursing students from Alaska Pacific University, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Charter College train at ANMC’s inpatient pediatrics unit.

ANTHC - 6/21/22

“We have an obligation to the next generation of nurses to teach them and provide them an opportunity to learn,” Colburn said. As a result, some students have returned to work on the unit after finishing their programs.

Colburn said the staff’s responsibilities are “beyond just treating patients.” ANMC practices family-centered care, which seeks to support the entire family’s well-being.

Staff ensure families are equipped with all the tools they need, including access to resources, support and telehealth connections when appropriate, after discharge. As a result, when families arrive back home, they are more equipped to navigate any challenges that may lie ahead.

For Colburn, being able to impact a child’s life during their hospital stay is part of what makes pediatrics so rewarding.

“Kids want to laugh, and they want to smile and have a good time,” he said. “I think that’s good for the patients. And that’s good for me.”

This story was sponsored by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, a statewide nonprofit Tribal health organization designed to meet the unique health needs of more than 175,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska.

This story was produced by the sponsored content department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with ANTHC. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.