For these reasons and more, Ray was presented with the AJC Nurse Leader Award on Tuesday afternoon, after being nominated last fall.
“She can do it all because she has done it all,” said John Brieske, Piedmont’s internal communications newsroom editor and the colleague who nominated Ray as nurse leader.
Ray has been the hospital system’s CNE since 2015. In that role, she has made good on her promise to focus on the needs of front-line nurses, Brieske said.
“Under her watch, the salaries of many of Piedmont’s nurses have increased; key patient care policies have been updated and standardized; an online staff scheduling system has been implemented; and a new charge nurse orientation program has been launched,” he said. “She has championed professional development for nurses throughout the system, promoted shared governance for nurses, standardized processes, and found novel ways to recognize and appreciate nurses.”
One of the things Ray is most proud of is the annual nursing summit she created to bring leaders from throughout the Piedmont system together for fun, education and recognition. Attendance at the summits has grown from 300 to 1,200, she said.
The summits haven’t been held during the pandemic, but Ray said she hopes they can resume soon.
In her role as CEO of Piedmont Mountainside, Ray oversees 500 employees, 300 physicians, and a 58-bed acute care hospital with two outpatient facilities.
As if that weren’t enough, Ray also embraces doing double duty as system CNE.
“It gives me the opportunity to have influence at a different level than if I were just the CEO or CNE,” she said.
One of her initiatives as CNE was to change from having an office of nursing educators to having unit-based educators. By working clinically, the unit-based educators stay relevant and “know where the bumps in the road are,” Ray said.
Brieske said Ray never misses an opportunity to ask a nurse: “How can I make your job better?”
“What makes Denise special is who she is as a nurse. And that’s what she is at her very core -- a nurse,” he said. “She is both a leader and a servant.”
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Read more about the nurses honored at this year’s ceremony:
Shannan Browning, Piedmont Healthcare
Lauren DePietro, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital
Sarah Harper, Wellstar Cobb Hospital
Rose Horton, Emory Healthcare
Damar Lewis, Northside Hospital Duluth
Gina Papa, Clarkston Community Health Center
Deepa Patel, Wellstar Shared Services
Andrew Perea, Kaiser Permanente
Cherish Ramirez, Piedmont Healthcare
Julie Singleton, Northeast Georgia Health System
Educational background in nursing: MBA, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tenn.; BS, Nursing, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; BS, Organizational Management, Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Ga.; AS, Nursing, Dalton State College, Dalton, Ga.Lean-Healthcare Certification Program, Belmont University, Nashville, Tenn.
Current job title: Piedmont Healthcare chief nursing executive (the entire system) and chief executive officer of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital
Years of experience: 44 years
Family: Married to Bill Ray, who is retired. She has one daughter, Katie Duffy, who is the executive director of the System Pharmacy at Erlanger Health System, and two grandchildren, Finn Duffy and Brooks Duffy.