Cari James, LPN
2005 Grand Prize Winner (LPN/LVN Category)
Staff LPN Pre-Procedure Clinic and Minority Veterans Coordinator
Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ
“ Being a bedside nurse at times is difficult. We as nurses know we cannot always change the future of our patients. Often our job is to help people and families reach a peaceful journey. My patients, the veterans of this nation, have given their all. I can do no less. The person looking up from the bed inspires me to continue.”
Cari James, LPN

In her 15 years of nursing, Cari James has been described as a devoted caregiver, a community volunteer, a peer-educator and an ambassador to the minority veteran community – but to hear Cari tell it, such titles and accomplishments are “mere opportunities that just happened naturally.” So imagine her surprise when she was recently awarded the prestigious Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award – an honor given to only 14 people nationwide in 2005.

An American Indian from East Haven, Conn., Cari James was taught to be humble. “We believe that all our efforts are for the greater good,” she explained, elated at receiving an award for something she loves to do. “I’m just amazed at the caliber of people in this profession and feel honored to be associated with such an impressive class of nurses.”

“Cari is a skilled, determined and compassionate nurse who has made a profound difference in the health and quality of life for our country’s Native American veterans,” said Wendell Mobley, who directs the national awards for Cherokee. “We are proud to honor someone of her caliber. She represents to us the heart and soul of the nursing profession.”

The award is granted annually by Cherokee Uniforms – a leading designer and manufacturer of healthcare apparel – to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others’ lives.

While James initially planned to become a journalist, her interest in medicine was triggered after the tragic death of her mother at age 48. “I was in pursuit of learning about the rare blood disease that led to my mother’s death,” James explained. Her curiosity led to a degree in nursing, and this April marks James’ 15-year anniversary.

As an LPN in the pre-procedure clinic at Carl Hayden, she has developed a “one-stop shop” – or so her colleagues call it – performing EKGs, phlebotomy services, medication reviews, pre-and-post operative education, advance directives, transport, lodging and psychosocial assessment needs for veteran patients scheduled for surgery and their families. But when her shift is over, it’s what she does off the clock that categorizes her for national recognition.

As the minority veterans’ coordinator at Carl Hayden, James is the only female American Indian nationwide to hold such a position. Her advocacy for ailing minority veterans throughout Phoenix, Laburnum and Tuscon, Ariz., was cultivated when she received a phone call that an ill veteran would soon arrive via public transportation. “I just couldn’t believe our rural veterans had no source of transportation,” she said. “I immediately saw a need and began contacting organizations to help finance hospital transportation.”

After 8 months of collaboration, a major donation of $52,000 given by Veterans Ensured Through Services (VETS) helped with the purchase of a 15-passenger, wheelchair-accessible van. “Cari served tirelessly as a critical liaison between VETS and the representatives of the Navajo Nation to coordinate the donations for the vehicle,” said Cindy Terwillinger, who nominated James for the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award. “We saw a major decrease in medical appointments missed by veterans living in rural areas.”

Another chance to help emerged after James realized that a process was lacking for American Indian veterans to learn the policies and criteria of their pension and benefits. “I asked for one representative from each of the 21 reservations to help me form a grass-roots committee where we could talk healthcare, benefits, housing and education,” she said. The committee’s vision to be “one voice, under one governing body” became a reality when the Arizona Inter-Tribal Veterans Association (AITVA) was founded in 2004.

The AITVA was an immediate success, inspiring a national initiative and a model for the newly founded National American Indian Veterans, Inc. Cari James hosted the inaugural national meeting in Phoenix. “I’m humbled to say that National American Indian Veterans is a large organization with more than 200 people working together,” James said. “Government entities now have a venue for addressing issues related to American Indian veterans.”

James is passionate about teaching others, and she employs her leadership development in classes to help veterans realize their career opportunities. On a larger scale, James has seen major advancement in the VA hospitals as a nationwide entity. “Continued education classes are provided as the VA program is continually improving as a whole,” James said. “This is exciting to me because I can see movement toward better understanding and respect for veterans.”

The United States is home to 185,000 American Indian veterans – one of whom is James’ father, a Korean War veteran. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, so James keeps that in mind when caring for her veteran patients. James has been an irrefutable contributor to improved healthcare for veterans. However, it’s her grandmother’s old adage that, she believes, enabled her to make an impact: “The Creator does not call the equipped, He equips whom He calls.”

As a Grand Prize Winner in the award’s LPN/LVN category, James receives an all-expense-paid cruise for two to the Cayman Islands; a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Rockers Footwear worth more than $1,000; a 2005 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award trophy; and placement in Cherokee’s 2006 Inspired Comfort Award calendar.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, more than 3,400 healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of nursing professionals and Cherokee representatives evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination in 2005, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurses House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Cherokee donated $1,300 to Nurses House in 2005.
Nominated by: Cindy Terwilliger, Staff RN PeriAnesthesia Care Unit  
Ms Cari James, LPN, has been an employee of the Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) since 1991 and at the Carl T. Hayden VAMC in Phoenix, AZ since 1992. Cari believes it is an honor and privilege to care for the men and women that have served our great country.
Cari can best be described by a quote on an award she received from Victory Ensured Through Service (V.E.T.S) “Your professional inner spirit of warmth and compassion that daily enables you to instantly befriend the stranger, provide care and counseling to the ill and displaceD. Your ability and dedication to honor the tradition and serve the needs, not only of the minority veteran community, but all with whom you come in contact with”.
Cari is a LPN and works in the Pre-Procedure Clinic. To facilitate patients, needs Cari has developed a “one stop shopping” concept where she performs, EKGs, phlebotomy services, medication review, pre and post operative education, advance directives and transport, lodging and psychosocial assessment needs for veteran patients scheduled for surgery and their families. In addition to her assigned duties, Cari frequently volunteers to work overtime to assist other wards.

Cari serves as the Minority Veterans Coordinator for the Carl T Hayden VAMC. Cari is the only female Native American in this role nationwide. As this facility’s coordinator Cari helps patients access their appointments, provide education on their entitlements and helps educate their spouses on benefits and pensions. This role also includes outreach to many area reservations with regard to healthcare, continuing education programs, amputation prevention and diabetic education to Native American communities.

To accomplish these goals Cari has been actively involved in “Operation Desert Foot”. This program targets Native American Veterans that are at high risk for amputation. Cari coordinates nurses, podiatrists and nutrition services outreach to reservations. By using an oscillometer to identify patients at high risk and through early detection and preventative education, data gathered notes a 68 percent reduction in Hopi/Navajo amputations. By educating Community Resource Service natives on the use of the oscillometer and how to identify infection, she allows for tribal autonomy. Cari was invited as a speaker at the National Congress of the American Indian to discuss this very successful program.
Cari identified a need for assistance with travel for rural Native Americans. Cari served tirelessly as a critical liaison between V.E.T.S. and the representatives of the Navajo Nation to coordinate a donated $52,000 wheelchair accessible 15 passenger van to enable the Veterans of the Navajo Nation to access VA medical facilities from their very rural locations. This has shown a reduction in missed medical appointments not only in Phoenix, but also Laburnum and Tucson. Cari received an “Award of Appreciation” in recognition of her dedicated service to the Western Navajo Agency, Veterans Organization and Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs.
Ms James identified that there was no one group to address Indian Veterans concerns. Cari served on the planning committee and the Interim Board for the newly formed Arizona Inter-Tribal Veterans Association. This association consists of veteran representatives of the 21 Arizona tribes to unite under one governing body, one voice, one vote process. The goal is to develop an alliance of Arizona Native American Veterans among the 21 tribes to address concerns in the areas of healthcare benefits, housing and education. This committee was so successful that it was the inspiration for a national committee, National American Indian Veterans, Inc (NAIVI). NAIVI’s purpose is to unify American Indian veterans from across the country into a national group, allowing Indian veterans to speak with one voice. Ms James serves as a resource staff and contact person for both the national and state organizations. Identified as the Hopi liaison, Cari was very honored when the Hopi Nation sent a letter to the hospital director requesting her attendance at the funeral/memorial service for Lori Piestewa, the first Native American women to be killed in action.
Ms. James was selected to attend a Leadership Development Institute course. She used knowledge obtained from this course to develop a class to promote advancement geared towards entry-level employees.
As a Registered Nurse in the PeriAnesthesia Care Unit (PACU), I have had many patients comment on the excellent care they received preoperatively from Cari. To follow through on care initiated in Pre-Procedure Clinic, Cari frequently visits patients in the PACU. Most patients instantly recognize Cari and call her by name. Cari has a way of making a positive lasting impression on everyone she meets.
East Valley Tribune - "Mesa nurse wins for work with veterans"