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Apploi’s annual Top 20 Nurses Award recognizes the healthcare workers leading their communities in providing outstanding care. This year we focused on celebrating nurses who embody some of Apploi’s core values: making space to be who we are, crafting solutions for real people, and growing alongside healthcare. Our nominees showed these values through their dedication to building workplace communities, connections with their patients and residents, and their determination to keep on learning. This past year wasn’t an easy one, but the nominations for the nurses’ award make it clear that these nurses provided a bright spot for both patients and coworkers. 

Meet the Top 20 Nurses of 2021

The nurses we recognize here were nominated by their coworkers, managers, family, and friends. The entire Apploi community reviewed their nominations and voted on who best represents the core values we work with every day. We’re thrilled to announce the winners of the Top 20 Nurses of 2021 Award, including the top winner for each of our core value categories. 

They are human-centric

These nurses always bring the focus back to what matters most: connecting with patients. They understand that providing great care starts with recognizing the complexity of their patients’ lives. Because of this, they approach every interaction with empathy, curiosity, and kindness. 


Vincent Otungo, Director of Nursing, Hanover Terrace Health and Rehabilitation Center

According to his nominator, Vincent is remarkably in tune with his patients and their needs. He treats each resident with the highest level of respect and kindness and recognizes the complexity of their lives by developing individualized care plans that take their whole person into account. 

Vincent serves as both the Director of Nursing and the Infection Preventionist, performs wound rounds, as a certified wound care specialist, and is certified by the AHCA and the CDC. While working full time, Vincent also pursued and obtained his Bachelor of Nursing degree, feeling that he could serve residents and patients even better by continuing his education.

Every day, Vincent takes the time to meet with residents to discuss not only their medical needs, but also their emotional needs and what he can do to make their quality of life more excellent. Vincent can be heard asking residents “How is your spirit today?” and offering a level of empathy that makes him widely trusted by residents and families alike. He actively encourages family involvement, participating in family Zoom calls, and providing families with education on specific issues and updates on new facility programming. During the pandemic, Vincent has spent many hours educating staff, residents, and families about the current guidelines and best practices. 

As a leader in his facility, Vincent helped the community earn a 5-star rating from CMS, including a 5-star in quality measures, and 3 years of a deficiency-free state annual Health Survey. His expertise is respected and trusted by all who work with him, including staff and medical providers, who he supports with an ongoing open-door policy. The level of compassion and connection that Vincent shows to both residents and coworkers is part of what makes him one of the best nurses his nominator has ever known.

Honorable Mentions

Angela Hayes, Director of Nursing, Cordova Wellness & Rehab

Angela knows every one of the residents in her 240-bed facility by name. Not only does she have personal relationships with her residents, she also gets to know their families, making everyone feel welcome.

Stacey Lerner, Field LPN, Caring Angels Home Health

As a full-time worker and a wife and mother, Stacey has many responsibilities of her own, but she always makes time to assist her patients. She volunteers after hours to clean their homes, do their grocery shopping, prepare meals, and anything else required to make their lives easier and for them to age in place. 

Shameka Odoms, Director of Nursing, Avante at Ocala

Shameka is a compassionate listener, genuinely interested in hearing what the patients and family members have to say. She started out as a nurse working on a cart and she quickly moved her way up to first an ADON and now to DON, thanks to her dedication and excellent personal and business relations.

Sima Patel, Registered Nurse in the ER, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center

Sima shows integrity, courage, initiative, and the ability to handle stress, all with a fantastic sense of humor. She was on the front line when the pandemic started, seeing patients with the risk of exposure daily, but never once did she waver in her dedication to providing superb care.

Brandi Rabida, ​​Hallmark Healthcare of Carlinville

Brandi loves every single patient as if they were her own family and shows this in her empathy, kindness, and sense of fun. She is one of the 3 members in the company who has helped to put together and implement the Veteran’s program for the veteran staff, and she goes above and beyond every single day to help the whole facility provide better care. 

Elizabeth Russell, Registered Nurse, Blueridge Vista Behavioral Hospital

Elizabeth is a young nurse, but her passion and patient-centered thinking make her a leader amongst her peers. Liz has forged unbreakable bonds with individual patients, tending to their health and their spirit, and maintaining these relationships long after the patients leave the facility. 

David Williams, Director of Nursing, JTown Rehabilitation

David’s natural warmth and attention have a way of making everyone he meets feel special and loved. He prevents anyone from feeling isolated and helps his residents feel like a part of a family, even during a tremendously difficult time.

They are growing alongside healthcare

These nurses are healthcare visionaries who think deeply about improving their workplace, their industry, and the care they provide. As healthcare evolves, so do they. They are lifelong learners always seeking opportunities to grow, and they approach challenges with ingrained curiosity and tenacity.


Melina Hoffman, Director of Nursing, Bear Mountain Healthcare

Melina started working as an LPN over 20 years ago, but her nominator says she has never stopped learning. She has worked every shift available to her and returned to school to obtain her RN. After becoming an RN, Melina was promoted to Assistant Director of Nursing, and finally, Director of Nursing. She has also continued to pursue outside education, obtaining her BSN while working full-time as the Director of Nursing. 

Melina never backs down from a new clinical challenge. She is excited by a new diagnosis, clinical need, or procedure, and ensures that she and her team are prepared to meet patients’ increasingly complex needs. A self-proclaimed healthcare nerd, she also takes the time to explain the clinical rationale to those around her. She bridges the gap between practice and theory.

Throughout the pandemic, Melina has adapted and led her clinical team through multiple changes in practice and policy. Melina has spent personal time scouring academic and industry literature to better understand the virus in order to best protect both her residents and her staff. In short, her nominator says, Melina takes a wonderfully academic and curious approach to healthcare. She uses her expertise to continually improve her patients’ outcomes.

Honorable Mentions

Tonya Jean-Baptiste, Director of Nursing, The Bristol Care Center

Tonya is on-call 24 hours a day at her 266-bed building, and she gives her all each day to improve the care and quality of life of the residents. She maintains her compassion even during difficult times, including amid staff shortages or upset staff or residents. 

Lorilee Kay, Charge Registered Nurse, Ten Broeck Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing

Lori has adapted her clinical skills from paramedic experience to excel at a clinically complex unit in a skilled nursing facility. She is professional, kind, and a reliable worker who you can always count on. 

Irene Nzita, MDS Nurse, Windsor of Oakland

In Irene’s nursing career, she has grown from charge nurse, to treatment nurse, to nurse supervisor, to MDS nurses—and has returned to school, pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse consultant. She is a mother, a friend, and a great role model to the incoming nurses at Windsor of Oakland. 

Jimmie Carol Prater, Director of Nursing, Middlesboro Nursing

Jimmie has worked in Long Term Care for 25 years, seeing everything from regulatory and acuity changes to COVID-19. When others ran from healthcare, her blood, sweat, and tears helped make her facility one of the state’s best.

Taylor Saltzman, Cardiology Nurse Clinician, Northwestern Medicine

At times, Taylor covers five cardiologists who specialize in different subspecialties; despite this, she is able to keep up with numerous disease states and patient populations. She is extremely knowledgeable, complete, and concise in her work, and is a tremendous asset to the team.

Davrie Turner, RN, New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital 

Davrie hasn’t stopped finding ways to connect with patients since she made her career pivot to pursue her passion. She recently applied for a position in the ER, and when asked why she’d want to take on a stressful role, she simply replied, “I’ll get to help more people.” 

Mary Woods, Director of Nursing, Bear Mountain at Reading

Mary has been vital to identifying team members who have strong leadership abilities and growing them into new positions. She is always looking for ways to set her facility apart and researching program offerings the facility may benefit from.

They make space for every member of their community

These nurses have a knack for making others feel welcome. As strong collaborators and active listeners, they help forge bonds between their peers. Where others see conflict, they see opportunities to create connections. They are always happy to learn from coworkers, friends, and members of the community. 


Chantelle Hudson, Executive Director, Cascade Living Group

Chantelle has helped turn her community into a shining example of how to care for people with memory impairment. While Chantelle serves as her community’s Executive Director, at her core she is a nurse, relentlessly striving to make peoples’ lives better. 

Chantelle takes the time to give her all to every person who comes through her facility’s doors. That means everyone—from the mailman, to the associates, to the residents, to the families, and anyone and everyone in between. She lifts up her community, calling out her coworkers’ strengths and always encouraging them to do even better.

With Chantelle’s help, her facility has become a real family. Her nominator says that they’re certain Chantelle is responsible for this, as the anchor of their thriving community. What Chantelle has accomplished, and what her team has become, is a reflection of her hard work and dedication.

Honorable Mentions

Cynthia Beckhorn, Director of Nursing Wedgewood Nursing and Rehabilitation

Cindy transformed a small, at-odds nursing facility into a warm and cooperative family. Her influence helped staff spend less time bickering and more time loving and caring for residents.

Afshanti Ra Hunter, RN (Travel Nurse), Aya Healthcare

Brilliant, hard-working Afshanti has a way of making others feel welcome, heard, and loved. When not being an amazing nurse, she is in the kitchen baking delicious cakes or hosting monthly check-ins with her friends and family to ensure their lives are going smoothly and offer any help she can.

Jada Young, Staff Development Coordinator, Laurelwood Healthcare Center

When Jada saw the need for a CPR instructor on staff, she went and earned the certification on her own. She independently earned the Train the Trainer certification so she could lead CNA classes and help out with staffing shortages.

Thank you!

Our recognition here cannot begin to cover all that these star nurses have given back to their communities. We are so grateful for every healthcare worker who was nominated. Thank you to everyone who showed their appreciation by sending in a nomination for 2021’s Top 20 Nurses Award.

About Apploi

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