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Dr. Bruce Conmy helps present awards during the first physician and caregivers awards banquet at St. Mary's Innovis Health. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)

St. Mary's Innovis presents awards

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When the clinic and hospital merged to form St. Mary's Innovis Health, officials saw it as a way to make some changes.

"We had an opportunity to define how we wanted to practice medicine in Detroit Lakes," Dr. Abigail Ring, chief medical officer, said.

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So the Physicians Culture and Values Committee was formed, "in order for our physicians to define what are our values and what culture we want to practice medicine in."

Through the committee, members decided to recognize the physicians and caregivers and the work they do. So last week, for the first time, the Physicians Culture and Values Committee honored two doctors and a caregiver with awards for their achievements.

Linda Earley was named Caregiver of the Year, Dr. Michael Stewart as Colleague of the Year and Dr. George Portilla as Community Doctor of the Year. Many doctors were also acknowledged for their years of service at St. Mary's as well.

"Nowadays, everyone's focus is on what's going wrong and what we're doing wrong, and we always look for improvement," said Ring. "We also realize we have a lot of people that do great work and it's very beneficial for everyone to take a moment and sit back and recognize those people and the work they're doing."

Dr. Talitha Sannes-Venhuizen gave out the Caregiver of the Year award. She said it was the most challenging category to award because there were no duplicate nominees.

Earley, who has been at St. Mary's since 1974, was described as "respectful, hospitable, kind and selfless" in her nomination.

Early said she likes every aspect of her job, and after 35 years of working in the obstetrics department, she's done it all.

"It doesn't matter, it's all pretty enjoyable -- from patient care to ward clerking, whatever the job requires," she said.

Earley said she knew she was a nominee before the award ceremony, but was pleasantly surprised at the results.

"I saw there were nine nominations (once she got to the banquet) and thought 'Oh, this is really cool, nine people are going to be recognized.' Never thought they were picking one.

"That was kind of a mindblower for me."

Earley said she has to thank the physicians because she comes to work each day, not doing it for recognition, "but then when something like this happens, it gives you a whole different feeling about things -- that they would think enough of you to recognize you."

"She has been untiring, ceaselessly strong and beneficial and good employee to have. She brings such a positive attitude to her job," Ring said. "She really lives our values. She's truly compassionate, demonstrates teamwork in everything she does. She's respectful of each and every individual within the organization and those we take care of, and she's done this consistently for 35 years."

For Colleague of the Year, Stewart was described as a "godsend, accommodating, non-judgmental and knowledgeable" in his nomination. Presenter Dr. Bruce Conmy asked, "Do you sleep?" after reading the list of organizations Stewart is involved in.

Stewart has been with St. Mary's for over five years, coming to them through shared programming. He works for Lakeland Mental Health and provides psychiatric services to both Innovis and MeritCare clinics in Detroit Lakes.

"The whole idea is to try and improve access to psychiatric care, mostly for adults, but I do see some younger patients," he described.

He also visits patients in the nursing homes.

"Working with the patients and physicians and nurses and the supporting staff," he said is his favorite part of his job. "Just working with the people."

It's that willingness to work with everyone that likely brought him the Colleague of the Year award.

"It was a shock and an honor," he said of receiving the award. "I work with a whole group of absolutely wonderful colleagues at both clinics, and in my mind, any one of them would be at least as deserving of this award as myself.

"It's an excellent medical community here in Detroit Lakes."

"He does just an outstanding job," Ring said.

And for Community Doctor of the Year, Portilla was described as "competent and enthusiastic."

"Personally, I have never seen him in a bad mood," presenter Dr. Julie Pazdernik said.

Portilla was also described as a supplier of good wines, which of course brought a loud applause from those in the room.

Portilla has been a physician with St. Mary's for 22 years, serving as a general surgeon. He is also involved in some of the administrative aspects of the clinics.

"I work with a great bunch of people. I enjoy very much working in Detroit Lakes. It's a nice place to live and work, and people are nice here," he said with a laugh.

"It was a very nice honor," he said of the Community Doctor of the Year award. "As physicians we work as a community, we raise our families here, we need to give back some to the community so I always encourage new physicians to get involved in community activities."

"He's been very involved in the community," Ring said, listing raising his family here, involved in his church and with the American Cancer Society as just a few of his community services.

"He's been involved for years without asking for anything in return," she added.

Other nominees included Ellie Francis, Roxanne Friese, Emilie Glander, Geraldine Jensen, Gale LaFerriere, Holley McCawley, Paula Olson and Kylee Schwartz for Caregiver of the Year.

Colleague of the Year nominees included Dr. James Christensen, Dr. Anita Jonason, Dr. Jon Larson, Dr. Julie Pazdernik and Dr. Talitha Sannes-Venhuizen.

Dr. Paul Hendrickson, Dr. William Henke and Dr. Randel Stolee were the remaining nominees for the Community Doctor of the Year award.

Ring said all of the medical physicians at St. Mary's Innovis Health were welcome to nominate candidates for each category. After the nominations were closed, the committee evaluated the nominees and narrowed the field down to one recipient.

"All the nominees were exceptional. I think without a doubt, the biggest challenge for the committee was to narrow down the choices to one person for each award," she said.

Ring said the committee plans to award these honors each year.

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