News & Events

Recognizing nursing excellence: MNA 2009 award winners

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
November/December 2009 Edition

View The Awards Photo Gallery

Elaine Cooney Labor Relations Award

Elaine Cooney was a nurse who believed passionately in both the central importance of the role nurses play in the health care industry and the role collective bargaining plays in protecting and servicing the interest of nurses. When Elaine was hired into a staff position at the MNA, she became one of the first RNs in the Massachusetts to negotiate contracts on behalf of RNs. The Massachusetts Nurses Association proudly remembers Elaine Cooney and her dedication to both our members and profession by recognizing members who make a significant contribution to the professional, economic and general welfare of nursing. This year’s recipients included:


Sheila C. Ainsworth, RN, has been an active member of the MNA for more than 40 years. As a positive and professional role model, Sheila provides superior care to her patients and demonstrates clinical competence while fostering an environment of respect, collaboration and effective communication within a multidisciplinary team. She has consistently exhibited a strong commitment to the labor relations program by serving in a leadership role of the bargaining unit at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center from its inception until 2002.


Jackie Brosnihan, RN, CNOR, has been an advocate for nurses in the UMass Memorial system since 2001. She was the lead organizer and was instrumental in a positive vote leading to the nurses at the Memorial, Hahnemann, Home Health and Hospice campuses of the UMass Memorial Hospital system joining the MNA. Brosnihan defended the employment rights of the RNs within the system, fighting mandatory overtime, low wages, high patient workloads and unfair work practices that the RNs of the UMass Memorial Hospital system were facing daily. Since becoming chair of the bargaining unit, Brosnihan has been dedicated to achieving fair employment practices for all RNs in the system.


Patty L. Comeau, RN, has been chair of the Methuen School Nurses bargaining unit for the past 12 years. Comeau drew the line in the sand when facing an employer that viewed school nurses as the equivalent of clerks and custodians and not “real nurses” as the bargaining unit sought parity with teachers and other healthcare professionals. She was the heart and soul of the 11-member public sector unit throughout a 22-month battle involving state mediation and fact-finding, complaints of unfair labor practices against the nurses for picketing a school committee meeting, and political advocacy to oust unyielding school committee officials during a town election. Within days of a new school committee taking office, the parties agreed to a contract and nurses had parity with the teachers within the system. Comeau’s dogged determination and tenacity were an inspiration and an example of how dedication to a principle can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.


Mark Garmalo, RN, has served his unit at Baystate Franklin Medical Center (BFMC) for almost two decades in a number of capacities. He has served as treasurer of the unit, manages the unit’s newsletter and coordinates the unit’s annual dinner. He also reaches regional members through his contributions to the MNA’s STAT Team and he has worked tirelessly in support of safe staffing. Garmalo also represents BFMC at Jobs with Justice area meetings and at Hampshire Labor Council gatherings.

Kathryn MCGinn Cutler Advocate for Health and Safety Award

Kathryn McGinn Cutler, RN, was one of the main MNA union activists who called together hundreds of nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the early 1990s to talk about their respiratory and neurological illnesses associated with exposures at work. Although sick herself, she worked with others to coordinate meetings of other sickened nurses, develop health surveys of their co-workers, reached out to MassCOSH and other activists and worker advocates to identify a host of problems in the hospital that were causing their illnesses. Over time, more than 150 nurses left work due to occupationally related illnesses and most have never returned to working in an acute care environment. This award recognizes individuals or groups that have performed an outstanding service for the betterment of health and safety. This year’s recipients included:

The MNA was pleased to recognize her contributions and presented Mary Bellistri with the Kathryn McGinn Cutler Advocate for Health and Safety Award shortly before her untimely death in August.


Mary Bellistri, RN, worked tirelessly as an MNA advocate for the health and safety of nurses. With many years of experience at Boston Medical Center, Bellistri brought the unique perspective of a staff nurse in a hectic work environment to all discussions and deliberations. Her experience in oncology, neurology, emergency, and medical nursing provided an understanding of the front line safety issues that are created in today’s clinical setting. Bellistri had been an active member of MNA’s Congress on Health and Safety since 2003 and Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force since 2000. Thanks to her advocacy work, Boston Medical Center was one of the first units to incorporate workplace violence protection language into their contract. The language has been used as a model in other contract negotiations throughout the commonwealth and it is expected to be used across the country. Bellistri addressed the issue of poor indoor air quality in the healthcare environment at her workplace and served on local committees to follow through on proposed changes and to eliminate sources of exposure. Bellistri participated in the development and review of the MNA Congress on Health and Safety Continuing Nursing Education online programs, which have been accessed by nurses across the globe, further impacting the welfare of nurses Bellistri never met. Her sense of humor, tireless dedication and continued optimism in the face of critical health and safety challenges faced by nurses contributed to the accomplishments of the MNA, the Congress on Health and Safety, the Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force and at BMC. Bellistri’s work will have a lasting effect on nurses’ health and safety well beyond BMC and Massachusetts


Mary Anne Dillon, RN, BSN, is a longtime advocate for nurses’ health and safety. She has practiced at Brigham and Women’s Hospital since 1982 and served on the MNA Congress on Health and Safety since 2001. As a senior staff nurse, she has tirelessly fought for the advancement of a healthy, safe work environment. A true agent of change, Dillon spearheaded a unit project that addressed failing intravenous infusion pumps and worked within a multidisciplinary team from a variety of departments to change medication delivery throughout Partners Healthcare System. When nurses were directed to utilize cumbersome and poorly designed multi-pieced systems for venous access, Dillon was a catalyst in moving BWH toward implementing needle-less equipment and safe nursing practices, preventing untold numbers of needle stick injuries and potential infectious disease consequences to employees. She represents the staff through her participation on the hospital-wide Health and Safety Committee and at the Air Quality Advisory meetings with senior hospital management.


Sandra E. LeBlanc, RN, CNOR, has long been an advocate for the health and safety of nurses. A career operating room nurse, LeBlanc has practiced at Newton Wellesley Hospital since 1967. She witnessed and worked tenaciously to rectify dangerous on-call and mandatory working policies and conditions for OR nurses and all nurses by extension. As part of her work on the MNA Congress on Health and Safety, Sandy championed the development of the MNA position statement regarding on-call and extended work. Sandy has effectively advocated for safe nursing practice at Labor/Management and effected a change in policy that directed nurses to work outside of their scope of practice. LeBlanc protected both nursing practice and patient outcomes. A great supporter of nurses’ welfare, LeBlanc has worked vigorously with the Congress, having served as past chair, and continuing as an active and engaged member for many years.


Ellen M. Farley, RNC, is a member of Unit 7, practicing at Taunton State Hospital for the Department of Mental Health. As facility manager of the Assaulted Staff Action Program (ASAP), Farley advocates for her colleagues through the goals of the program to address workplace violence, documenting assaults on staff and supporting employees who have been victims of workplace violence. Farley works diligently to maintain the program at her facility, tracking data related to assaults on staff for presentation at DMH statewide meetings of ASAP managers. She is consistently available for employees who have been victims of assault in the workplace, including nurses, mental health workers, social workers and psychiatrists. Farley addresses workplace violence in multiple forums. She continues to pursue utilization of ASAP within the hospital, despite a lack of support from management. She routinely voices her concerns related to safety issues at labor/management meetings and has testified at legislative hearings on bills related to workplace violence in the healthcare system.


Kathleen M. McDonald, RN, CS, MS, has been a staff nurse at Tufts Medical Center for more than 30 years. There, she pioneered the beginnings of an air quality campaign that was long overdue. She demonstrated courage, knowledge and activism when she initiated multiple meetings with administration and held them accountable for creating a safe environment. By initiating a survey of staff, McDonald showed that more than 90 percent of her co-workers experienced problems related to poor air quality, then pursued a solution to improve conditions. She has successfully eliminated the risk for her colleagues of exposure to certain damaging chemicals. She identified potential assault risks on her acute psychiatric unit, informing administration of the risk to staff and assuring a response that included appropriate support systems to improve a risk-filled situation. McDonald has been a crusader for change in her workplace, garnering respect from nurses, social workers, mental health workers, occupational workers and managers appreciative of her multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving and change.


Kate Opanasets, RN, has practiced at Faulkner Hospital since 1978. She has spent the majority of her career in the emergency room and has witnessed the need to protect patients and staff from potentially unsafe situations. Opanasets has been active in the MNA Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force since its inception in 2000 after a co-worker was violently attacked by a patient. In response to that attack, Opanasets assisted her bargaining unit in composing a letter to OSHA: a groundbreaking and courageous action at a time when nurses being injured at work was considered simply “part of the job.” Her efforts helped to change attitudes about workplace violence. She also is a member of the MNA Congress on Health and Safety.

MNA Nursing Education Award

This award recognizes a member who is a nurse educator who has made significant contributions to professional nursing education/ continuing education or staff development. This year’s recipient was:


Theresa (Terry) Melnikas, MS, NNPBC, an experienced maternal-child health educator and neonatal nurse practitioner has been practicing at Lawrence General Hospital since 2002. She is an experienced provider, having cared for fragile newborns at Level II and III nurseries in large teaching hospitals and smaller community hospitals. Her skills in assessment, stabilization, and care of neonates are coupled with her enthusiasm for excellence as she inspires nurses to continually learn. Melnikas has spoken regionally as part of the Northeast Perinatal Team and nationally as a member of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses and most recently, Melnikas collaborated with Northern Essex Community College on a joint project to develop a simulation program to better prepare nurses to care for “the infant with supraventricular tachycardia.” She also advocates for her colleagues as a unit representative, has been a member of the negotiating committee, and has a powerful impact on new staff as she explains the importance of MNA at their facility.

MNA Human Needs Service Award

This award recognizes an individual who has performed outstanding services based on human need, with respect for human dignity, unrestricted by consideration of nationality, race, creed, color or status. This year’s recipient was:


Harvey G. Clermont, MD, is a well-known humanitarian in central Massachusetts, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Philippines where he established free medical clinics staffed by healthcare professionals and nursing and medical students from area colleges and universities. His service to his local community and abroad has had a significant impact on the health and well-being of under-served populations who would otherwise have no access to preventative or other healthcare services. Over the years, Dr. Clermont has served as a clinical preceptor for nursing and medical students, allowing them the experience of working in a true public health environment and fostering a new generation of volunteerism. Dr. Clermont provides healthcare services to the poor and uninsured, those living on the “fringes” of society such as the homeless, as well as a diverse population of immigrants. As a general and vascular surgeon, Dr. Clermont shared his surgical skills with some of the many children he and his wife welcomed into their home through adoption and foster care. A strong proponent of the advancement of the nursing profession, Dr. Clermont possesses an incredible respect for nurses and treats nurses and nursing students with dignity and respect.

MNA Image of the Professional Nurse Award

This award recognizes a member who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in enhancing the image of the professional nurse in the community. This year’s recipient was:


Debra J. Holmes, RN, exemplifies the image of the professional nurse by looking well beyond herself and choosing to advocate for and support the central Massachusetts community. Holmes participates in the United Way Annual Food Drive, assisting postal workers to collect and deliver donations to designated food banks. She joins her neighbors in yearly fundraisers to fight cancer and heart disease, and she is generous with her time and donations of food and toys to annual holiday collections, providing gifts and meals to “adopted” families during the winter holidays. Holmes consistently stands by other union members in her community by picketing on behalf of the Central Mass AFL-CIO and the Regional Transit Company in Worcester, and she was a weekly standout in opposition to Question 1 during last year’s election season. Holmes has spent endless hours advocating for MNA members by phone banking other nurses, local and state officials. She has advocated for legislative candidates who support MNA initiatives and has participated in briefings with elected officials. She is the executive secretary of her UMass-Memorial bargaining unit; sits on the unit’s negotiating committee; and is a member of the MNA’s STAT team.

MNA Bargaining Unit Rookie of the Year Award

Established in 2008, this award recognizes a Labor Relations Program member who has been a member of the bargaining unit for five or less years and has made a significant contribution to the professional, economic and general welfare of a strong and unified bargaining unit. This year’s recipients included:


James R. Gahan, Jr., MSPT, MBA, is a staff physical therapist at the Irving Glavin Regional Center and has been active in the MNA since becoming a member in 2008. His enthusiasm and willingness to assist bargaining unit leadership is both appreciated and highly successful. James has been actively involved in the fight to save Glavin and other state facilities by participating in Statehouse rallies, bargaining unit meetings and COFAR gatherings. Aware of the benefit to patients, Gahan opposed the closing of the Glavin Regional Center by providing testimony at the Statehouse in May despite the potential ramifications from management. He is a valued participant at monthly sessions held at Glavin with family members strategizing to keep facilities open. In addition to contacting his state legislators, Gahan has encouraged other bargaining unit members to do the same and has inspired his colleagues to become more actively involved in union activities.


Vaughn P. Garabedian, RN, has been a member of the Westborough State Hospital bargaining unit since 2006. He is a professional role model for peers and consistently takes time to precept new nurses and assist bargaining unit members as a true team player. He is actively involved in advancing the goals of the MNA, working both to engage other members in the effort to pass safe staffing legislation and participating in rallies at the Statehouse. Despite the risk of negative ramifications from management, Garabedian presented data regarding assaults and staffing issues to the commissioner of mental health and the Legislature on two occasions this year in an effort to promote safety for patients and staff. A member of the STAT Team and Pact Team, Garabedian actively promotes the goals of the MNA membership and works tirelessly as a truly dedicated professional.


Olivia Peters, RN, began her career as a public health nurse and tuberculosis nurse case manager for the city of Worcester in May 2007. She was actively involved in a media campaign seeking to restore a number of public health nurse positions after state budget cuts crippled the city’s payroll, leading to layoffs and virtually eliminating the Department of Health and Human Services in Worcester. Credited with writing the first letter to a city councilor that led to a broad- based labor interest and discussions on talk radio, Peters has been involved in press interviews with local newspapers, radio programs and television shows. Her work on the “Save Public Health” campaign was pivotal and exemplary. Peters showed passion and courage as she testified at public hearings, was interviewed and quoted by the media, and made trips to the Statehouse to lobby for the campaign.

Doris Gagne Addictions Nursing Award

Established in 2008, this award recognizes a nurse or other healthcare provider who demonstrates outstanding leadership in the field of addictions. This year’s recipients included:


Ann Marie Wendler, RN, has practiced addictions nursing at Norcap (Detox) Unit since 1975, having worked in the field of addictions for more than 44 years. Wendler‘s compassion and understanding of the disease has made her a strong voice for people whose lives have been destroyed by addictions. Herinsight and input into patient care is sought by many members of the interdisciplinary team, helping to heal both body and spirit. Committed to excellence and human compassion to this under-served population, Wendler advocates for patients and her peers alike and her in-depth understanding of the disease makes her a role model for other nurses. When caring for nurses as patients, Wendler is firm and compassionate, supporting her colleagues through a very difficult admission or relapse. She is a source of inspiration and hope to other nurses, helping them to return to work and regain their life.


Donna M. White, PhD, RN, CS, CADAC, has been a recognized leader in the field of addictions for more than 25 years. Her professional dedication and commitment to her patients and fellow nurses has gained her the respect of her nurse colleagues and patients. White has worked at the Lemuel Shattack Hospital as an addiction specialist since 2001, providing consultation to hospital clinical teams for the assessment of patients with addictive disorders. She is a group facilitator for a professional group that meets weekly and focuses on recovery from addictive disorders and related behaviors at Bournewood Hospital. As the chairperson of the MNA Addictions Nursing Council, White works to enhance addictions nursing and has given tremendous time and support to strengthen the Volunteer Peer Assistant Program. At the local, state and national level, she shares her brilliant sense of humor and vast knowledge by presenting to a multitude of audiences on compassion fatigue, addictions and impaired practice, and is a speaker frequently requested by MNA members.